Ford and GM have been competitors in Detroit long before I was born at Trumbull Hospital. GM, however, will not overcome Ford, let alone Toyota and Honda in the area of small-engine performance and gasoline mileage; at least not this year.
In particular, the Chevy Cruze won’t tilt the scales back as much as GM hopes for one simple reason: GM’s engine technology is a definite improvement, but nothing to write home about. Point is the field, as far as small-engine technology is concerned, will remain level at best, because the technologies are merely comparable.
All American car companies will certainly provide small cars with engines with vast improvements in fuel efficiency. If GM has any advantage to take market share, though, it’s not obvious.
All companies now use small displacement, turbos and variable-valve timing. GM, in this case, is merely playing it safe; but not stepping ahead.
For certain, GM’s knowledge of small engine technology is far more capable than what is being delivered in the Cruze. It may be new to their marketing team, but not to the world. Point is the technology used in the Chevy Cruze engines is merely the new minimum criteria for all entries into the small-car segment; no more, no less.
For the record, the two Ecotec series engines offered in the Cruze are part of GM’s family of global small-displacement engines designed with fuel efficiency in mind, including technology such as full variable valve timing that optimizes performance and fuel economy across the rpm band. Here is a list of some of the specifications as provided by media.gm.com
Engine Sizes: 1.8L DOHC I-4 and 1.4L turbocharged DOHC I-4
Block Material: Cast iron
Head Material: Cast aluminum
Valvetrain: overhead camshafts, four-valves per cylinder, with double continuously cam phaser intake and exhaust (DCVCP)
Fuel Delivery: sequential multi-port fuel injectors with electronic throttle control (ETC). Yes, you read that right. Hopefully, it works better than Toyota.
Enhanced with its exhaust-driven turbocharger, the Cruze’s Ecotec 1.4L turbo is designed to perform like a larger engine when needed, but will retain the efficiency of a small-displacement four-cylinder under most driving conditions. It is standard on LT and LTZ models, with power ratings estimated at 138 horsepower (103 kW) and 148 lb.-ft. of torque (200 Nm).
As per media.gm.com , backing the Cruze’s new four-cylinder engines are six-speed manual and automatic transmissions. If you’ve never driven a six-speed automatic, you are in for a surprise. Here is where the gains occur; but, again, these are minmum requirements for 2011. Each will contribute to Cruze’s improved fuel economy and, with their carefully matched gears, enhance its supposed “fun-to-drive quotient” with ample acceleration. Only a GM marketer would come up with words like that!
In plain English, the Ecotec 1.4L turbo, Cruze’s fuel efficiency still enables a cruising range of more than 500 miles (800 km); meaning it can go longer between fill-ups. Cruze is also backed by GM’s five-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty – considered the best coverage in America.
Why is GM still holding back with its engine technology for small cars? Why doesn’t GM go for the gold medal with the Cruze? After all, it’s supposed to be a segment changer. The company has the potential to forge way ahead of Ford and Honda here, considering the power-train technology presentations at the GM Tech Center over the last two years. I know, because I attended a few events.
Perhaps GM still suffers from their leftover “Plan to Win” mentality; mostly planning but seldom winning except in their boardroom meetings and bonuses. That’s why GM doesn’t know what to do with a winner, much like a dog that chases a bus but doesn’t know what to do when he catches it.
Winning in GM’s mindset has been a dream since the ’70s. That’s why winning to them only implies being a little better, but never the far ahead, best in class, especially in small cars.
The Volt program has been different and a high note. Even there, GM could have made an HCCI or natural-gas option for the generator engine that uses gasoline. Talk about a quintessentially green opportunity missed. Nevertheless, GM has accomplished much with the Volt, but are again failing to win first place with small gasoline engines in the Chevy Cruze, in my opinion.
That’s why it surprises me that GM is still sticking with cast iron for the engine blocks. After all, small cars are affected by weight; and the engine block is a major contributor. Is it due to the turbo pressures?
It also surprises me that GM has said little about its HCCI engine technology, which would have taken the Cruze to a whole new level. After all, they have the potential to sell far more Chevy Cruzes than the expensive Volts. They sure lauded HCCI at the powertrain tech shows, like it was just around the corner. Engines with this technology function super lean, burn with compression like a diesel, but with gasoline.
With the advent of the Chevy Volt, a more aggressive approach using gasoline with HCCI would have been a good bet; and natural gas for the Cruze would surely place GM on the greenest side of all things petrol. Have they not learned anything from Honda? A natural gas version would have been stupendous, and blown Ford, Toyota and Honda away.
Nevertheless, GM thus far has been mum on the HCCI subject. When GM gives you the silent treatment, something is up; or, in this case, perhaps not yet ready for prime time. OK, that’s fair. GM surely does not want to put out a technology that isn’t ready.
GM’s silence on natural gas, though, is deafening and stupid. Why? Nat-gas cars have been proven in Europe for years. GM doesn’t even have a natural-gas truck as an option for 2010, especially for big trucks. What are they waiting for? $100 per barrel oil again?
What a shame that GM is playing like the Red Wings in last year’s Stanley Cup Final game; safe, waiting for the right time, holding back for who knows what; and, so, will not win the cup for outstanding gas mileage with the Cruze. And the public who suffers from lack of jobs will choose cars with better mileage, because it’s all they can afford; plus, it’s the wise thing to do.
You will, however, be bombarded with marketing ploys on how the Cruze will be the best in its class. I say, hell with the class stuff. Aside from a natural-gas option, make the Cruze the best and cleanest gasoline car period. Isn’t that what a segment changer is supposed to be all about?