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GM's new diesel is powerful, efficient

August 25, 2006

General Motors Group Vice President Powertrain Tom Stephens announces Thursday that GM will produce a new light-duty diesel engine that will improve fuel efficiency. (JEFFREY SAUGER/General Motors)

• GM's Duramax engine to get overhaul
If you peered over Charlie Freese's shoulder toward the horizon Thursday, you just might have seen the future of the American muscle car. Or, at least, the powerful and fuel-efficient diesel engine Cadillac needs if it's ever going to be a major player in Europe.

Freese had just revealed the first tantalizing information about General Motors Corp.'s 360-horsepower V8 turbodiesel, which will debut sometime after 2009 -- probably 2010 or 2011 -- in a full-size pickup. Freese is the automaker's executive director of diesel engineering.

Details are scanty, because GM is waiting to receive patents on some of the engine's technology, but Freese promised it would meet emissions requirements in all 50 states when it goes on sale. That's a significant accomplishment. The United States will have the most stringent limits on diesel emissions in the world in 2010.

Other automakers, primarily German brands with a century-plus history of diesel development, have said they expect to be able to meet the requirements, but they don't know how yet.

GM's figured it out, said Freese, but it's not telling anybody until the ink dries on the last digit of the patents.

Here's what the rest of us know now:

• GM promises the engine will use 25% less fuel than a comparable gasoline V8.

• GM developed the engine to match or beat the world's finest diesels on power, fuel economy, sound and vibration. That makes it what Freese calls a premium diesel, like the ones that power most luxury sedans like the Audi A8, BMW 7-series and Mercedes-Benz S-class in Germany.

• The turbodiesel features high-pressure direct fuel injection, dual overhead cams and four valves per cylinder.

• GM developed it for use in a variety of vehicles, not just big pickups.

• The engine fits in several different families of GM vehicles.

• It may be used in vehicles GM sells around the world.

• It fits in the same engine compartment as GM's wildly successful small-block gasoline V8, which powers everything from the Chevrolet Corvette, Impala SS and Silverado full-size pickup to the Cadillac Escalade luxury SUV and Pontiac GTO muscle coupe.

• It will be smaller than the 6.6L Duramax V8 GM already builds for heavy-duty versions of its big trucks.

• Emissions of particulates and oxides of nitrogen will be at least 90% lower than current diesels. Carbon dioxide emissions will be 13% lower than from a comparable gasoline engine.

"Diesels are critical to GM," Freese told me this week. "Globally, diesels are very much in demand," particularly in Europe, where they account for about 50% of new car sales, and South Korea, where 90% of SUVs roll out of the factory under diesel power. He expects diesel sales to grow in other booming markets, particularly China.

Diesels haven't been much of a player in North America. They're used primarily for tractor-trailers, work-oriented heavy-duty pickups and agricultural and construction equipment.

GM was a leader in diesels once, but it lost that position through inattention and eventually sold its Detroit Diesel unit, now owned by DaimlerChrysler.

GM spent the better part of the last decade making up for those mistakes. It builds more than one million diesels a year today. Its model line stretches from a little 1.3-liter diesel that powers small cars in Europe to the 6.6-liter Duramax V8. GM builds the Duramax in Moraine, Ohio, for use in workhorse trucks like the GMC Topkick and Chevrolet Silverado HD. Moraine built about 200,000 Duramax engines last year.

The engine will debut in a pickup because diesel's combination of power and fuel economy is especially appealing in big, heavy vehicles. Diesel engines cost more than gasoline power plants -- nobody will say exactly how much, but $1,000 to $2,000 is a reasonable estimate -- but owners get a return on their investment much quicker when a diesel is in vehicles with low fuel economy, such as pickups and SUVs.

The new V8 will plug a gap in GM's diesel lineup between the 3.0-liter V6 it sells in European cars like the Opel Vectra and the Silverado HD pickup's stump-pulling 6.6-liter Duramax.

GM's not saying where the new V8 will come from, but you can bet production will be somewhere in North America and it will be used in high-end vehicles.

That's why Freese is so adamant when he calls it a premium diesel.

"We benchmarked it against the finest diesels in the world," including the smooth and powerful ones in top luxury sedans like the Mercedes S-class and Audi A8, he said.

"Our engine needs to be the best," Freese said. "The alternative for North American buyers is a gasoline engine. The owners of the vehicles that will use the engine have never been exposed to a diesel, so the noise and vibration need to approach the levels of gasoline engines."

And that opens the door for diesel muscle cars and Cadillacs.

Without a smooth and powerful diesel for cars like its STS sedan, Cadillac is doomed to remain a marginal player in Europe, brand general manager Jim Taylor told me earlier this week.

And imagine a 2010 Chevrolet Camaro with a 360-horsepower V8 and highway fuel economy over 40 m.p.g. That's my guess on fuel economy, but it's not unreasonable. It would make the nouveau muscle car appealing to many more buyers, and give GM's corporate average fuel economy figures a boost from an unexpected corner.

Freese told me the technologies in the V8 may be used in other engines, and I know GM's Saturn brand is looking for fuel-efficient, low-emissions diesels for some of its upcoming models.

The pickup truck is the start, but keep your eyes on the horizon. There's more coming.

Contact MARK PHELAN at 313-222-6731 or [email protected]

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1,390 Posts
diesel Camaro...something about that leaves a bad taste in my mouth

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Discussion Starter #5
diesel Camaro...something about that leaves a bad taste in my mouth
So does V6 Camaro, which is why of the speculation of this engine finding it's way into the Camaro, it would be a base engine option. It answers all the reasons why they put a V6 in a Camaro:

- Low insurance - Non-high revving, not really high speed diesel, something you wouldn't find in a Fast & Furious movie, so insurance companies would dole out the low premiums.

- Gas mileage - Need I even touch on gas mileage in a turbo diesel versus gasoline?

- Price - Completely up to GM.

Why would people buy it, other than the reasons above?:

- Low sulfur requirements of diesels starting in 2007 and full effect by 2010 (Lower than European requirements), appeals to those who want to protect their environment.

- Present day availability of bio-diesel at gas stations, very cheap, very clean alternative fuel which requires no special engine or modifications. No one likes being at the mercy of the oil industry barons.

- Ease of modding solves the boredom the kids who buy V6 Mustangs and Camaros get after awhile, get more power, cheaper, easier than a gasoline base engine variant.
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