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Sunday, January 06, 2008

CAFE Foreshadowing: GM Kills DOHC V8

The Edmunds news blog InsideLine has posted that GM has decided to cancel its future DOHC V8 intended for Cadillac, apparently to concentrate on its direct injection V6.

There may have been any number of reasons for this decision, and I am guessing cost was a big factor. GM probably decided it could make more money on its high-tech V6, while getting better fuel economy numbers as well.

As the new CAFE rules ramp in, I expect we will see a move away from V8 engines in cars and light duty trucks. I predict the automakers will try to meet the early CAFE standards in approximately this order:
  • By adjusting powertrain mix. This is relatively easy and can be done now. Push consumers towards smaller engines, swapping I4s for V6s and V6s for V8s. Build fewer large engines, and bundle them with expensive options, to increase sticker price (and reduce demand). The I4 will become the most common powertrain in small and mid-sized vehicles. Timeframe: now.
  • Adding technology to up-market engines. A base "appliance" sedan will be sold with a naturally aspirated I4 in the 1.8-2.5L range. The sport or luxury model would get an I4 with lots more power from turbocharging, direct injection, and other currently available tricks. Timeframe: 3 years out.
  • Reducing weight. This one is tricky because doing it too aggressively can cause higher crash fatalities, one one hand, or dramatically increase vehicle cost on the other. Aluminum unibodies are fine if you are building $60,000 Jaguars, but they are not currently feasible for a $25,000 family car. Low hanging fruit include going to aluminum engine blocks and more high-strength steels for bodies. I think you will also see some tricks with interiors, such as thin mesh seats. There will be a move away from large, low profile wheels towards lighter weight designs. NVH may suffer as sound insulating materials are pared down to a competitive minimum. Timeframe: 3 years out.
  • Reducing size. To reduce weight, and still have decent performance from a smaller engine, the key is to build a smaller vehicle. I expect more designs like the Honda Fit, where a high roof and upright seating position is used to compensate for a reduction in length. Large vehicles will still be built, but they will be up-market and low-volume. Timeframe: 5 years out.
In summary, what I predict is a more severe stratification of cars between economy and luxury, starting in the next 5 years or so. Most people will drive smaller cars with less powerful engines than they are used to buying now. People with more money to spend will be able to flaunt V6's and V8's, and larger body styles. Old school muscle cars like the Mustang and Camaro will be low volume, high price toys for wealthy (or very determined) buyers.


Anonymous said...

What you have described here is essentially common knowledge to the auto world. I am an American auto engineer working in Europe. Your synthesis is essentially describes the European model. So, welcome, wilkommen et bienvenu. Ironically, all EU OEM's are beefing up their product lines with SUV's, trucks and cars with big powerplants.

Anonymous said...

MotorWeek's review of Cadillac's newest CTS praised the car quite impressively for a usually left-leaning PBS program.
With the 3.6-liter direct-injection V6 VVT engine SAE-rated at 304 hp. who needs more?
"Rivals the best from BMW," I believe their comment was.

El-Visitador said...

«Your synthesis is essentially describes the European model.»

Exactly. The masses drive Polos and Twingos. The rich could not care less and drive Cayennes. Stratification. The king lives in a castle and the serf in a hovel. Welcome back to the middle ages.

«Ironically, all EU OEM's are beefing up their product lines with SUV's, trucks and cars with big powerplants.»

Despite all the regulation and disincentives, Europe as a whole keeps getting richer. Therefore, more and more people are able to afford politically incorrect leviathans, despite incredibly high license plate taxes and gas taxes.

The V8, V10, and W12 will be around for a long time: they simply won't be accesible to most people.

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Concerned American said...

Question: What's wrong with the picture you are describing?

Answer: Government is designing cars for people to drive instead of the consumer getting what they want and need. This should not be something the Federal Government should be involved in. One thing you can count on with the Feds in effect designing cars for the American public is terrible cars.

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