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GM mulling 3-cylinder engine for Chevy Volt, Cadillac ELR

Move is part of a companywide plan to increase fuel efficiency and reduce vehicle weight.

By Douglas Newcomb Mar 19, 2013 11:17AM

2014 Cadillac ELR. Photo by GM.Get used to engines with an odd number of cylinders, and the fuel savings that come with them.

Last year, Ford introduced a 1.0-liter 3-cylinder EcoBoost engine for the 2014 Fiesta. Now comes word that General Motors is contemplating a 3-cylinder engine for the Chevrolet Volt and Cadillac ELR plug-in hybrids as part of a companywide plan to increase fuel economy and decrease vehicle weight.

The unapproved proposal would swap the Volt's and ELR’s current 1.4-liter 4-cylinder engine with a 1.0- or 1.2-liter 3-cylinder engine that GM is developing with Chinese partners, anonymous sources told Edmunds. If given the green light for production, the 3-cylinder engine would find its way into the Volt by 2015, in the time for the vehicle to receive a refresh.

The Cadillac ELR, a luxury coupe version of the Volt, is scheduled for production later this year and should hit showrooms in early 2014. It uses the same powertrain as the Volt: a 1.4-liter 84-horsepower 4-cylinder engine that’s assisted by an electric motor rated at 149 horsepower (111 kilowatts). The ELR would get the new, supposedly smaller-displacement engine in 2016, although details on weight or fuel savings for the 3-cylinder engine aren’t yet available.

When GM was contacted by Edmunds, the automaker declined to discuss the new engine strategy. GM did announce in October 2011 that it would produce 3- and 4-cylinder engines ranging from 1.0 to 1.5 liters but didn’t go into specifics on displacement, horsepower and the vehicles they would ultimately power.

“We're not ready to talk about any applications,” said Tom Read, a GM spokesman. "We don't have one right now for the U.S., and I wouldn't be able to say that we have one planned for the U.S. at this point, either.”

What is known is that GM is focused on increasing the fuel efficiency of its future vehicles. Speaking at a Houston energy conference last week, GM Chairman Dan Akerson promised that the company “will reduce vehicle mass” and added that everything from powertrains and lightweight materials is being considered in the interest of boosting fuel efficiency.

“A good rule of thumb is that a 10 percent reduction in curb weight will reduce fuel consumption by about 6.5 percent," Akerson said in a copy of the speech released by GM. “Our target is to reduce weight by up to 15 percent.”

GM is already rumored to be considering using a 4-cylinder engine for its marquee muscle car, the Chevy Camaro. Could a turbocharged 3-cylinder be in that car’s future, too?

[Source: Edmunds]

Mar 19, 2013 4:09PM
Fords tripot mill might be brisk but the contribution of its turbo boost towards efficiency improvement is suspect. I think as for IC engine cars, camless engines like seen on the koeingisegg should be the way ahead.
As for hybrids, series hybrids as seen on the BMW i3 looks far more sensible than the existing hybrid plants. They should not need more than 2 cylinders towards the IC engine's contribution.
Mar 30, 2013 8:13PM
"...a 1.4-liter 84-horsepower 4-cylinder engine that’s assisted by an electric motor..."

That's not how the powertrain works. The electric motor is the only thing that drives the wheels. The gas engine's sole purpose is to drive a generator, which makes electricity to run the electric motor.
Mar 20, 2013 5:30PM

With technology advances in engine technology, who knows...a 3 cylinder may be proven to be potent. Look at what's being done with 4 cylinder engines...

Mar 21, 2013 6:01PM

If it is just there to charge/recharge the batteries, I would think that the smallest engine that can get the job done is all that is needed.  If it needs to help turn the wheels, then something a bit bigger might be needed.  This would be a great spot for a small diesel.


When the EV1 was out, wasn't there a trailer with 250 Ninja engine to generate electricity available?  Or maybe someone did that on their own...

Mar 19, 2013 6:52PM
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