Monday, September 04, 2006

GM plans diesel engine for 2009

Friday, August 25, 2006
GM plans diesel engine for 2009
V-8 turbo for pickups touted as 25% more fuel efficient than gas version.
Brett Clanton / The Detroit News

MILFORD -- General Motors Corp. one-upped rivals Thursday by revealing plans to offer a fuel-efficient diesel engine for its full-size pickups within three years, a move that competitors in the cutthroat pickup market may be forced to match if gas prices continue to rise.

GM said its new V-8 turbo-diesel will be 25 percent more fuel-efficient than a comparable gasoline engine and hinted the motor could also wind up in a range of vehicles besides pickups. But the engine won't be on the market until after 2009, GM said.

During a media briefing Thursday at GM's Milford Proving Grounds, company officials stressed the importance of diesel engines as part of a broad strategy to address growing consumer anxiety over high fuel prices.

But they stopped short of saying how big a role diesel will play for GM in North America, where demand for diesels remains very small in non-commercial vehicles such as cars and SUVs.

"At this point, we're not talking about anything but trucks," said Charles Freese, GM's executive director of diesel engineering.

GM's announcement underscores the pressure automakers are under to develop more fuel-efficient cars and trucks as gas prices hover around $3 a gallon, and it could give a boost to diesel engines as an alternative to gas motors.

More than half of European drivers opt for diesel engines, but many Americans think diesels are still as loud and dirty as those they remember from the 1970s and 1980s.

Today, sales of diesel engines in mainstream car and truck models represent less than 1 percent of the 17 million vehicles sold in the United States each year.

But that could change if gas prices continue to soar and automakers keep making advances in diesel engines, said Casey Selecman, a powertrain analyst at CSM Worldwide in Northville. The firm predicts diesel sales could rise to 5 percent or more of the market by 2010 if gas prices remain at current levels.

GM said the new V-8 is expected to be best in its class for power and towing and will exceed stricter federal regulations on diesel emissions that take effect in 2010.

GM leapfrogged new diesel standards that kick in next year, and sought to comply with guidelines that will allow it to be sold in all 50 states. Today, California and some New England states have adopted diesel emissions laws that are more stringent than the federal government's and bar diesels from being sold that do not comply.

Other automakers are also working to have cleaner diesels for non-commercial or "light-duty" pickups on the market by 2009 or 2010, Selecman said. But GM is the first to release details of a specific engine under development.

Ford Motor Co., which produces the best-selling F-Series pickup, may not be far behind. "Our aim is to maintain leadership in the truck market," said Ford spokesman Nick Twork, who would not comment on future product plans.

DaimlerChrysler AG's Chrysler Group has been a champion of diesel technology, even as gasoline-electric hybrids gained popularity. The Auburn Hills automaker dropped a diesel in its Jeep Liberty SUV last year and has plans to release a diesel powered Jeep Grand Cherokee for the 2007 model year. But the company has not announced plans for a diesel in its mainstream Ram pickups.

In addition to pickups, GM said the new diesel is compact enough to fit in vehicles that now carry its legendary "small-block" V-8. That list includes the Cadillac CTS-V, Chevrolet Impala and Pontiac Grand Prix sedans.

"We can build them," said Tom Stephens, group vice president of GM Powertrain. "It doesn't mean people are going to buy them."

Also Thursday, GM shared details of an updated diesel engine for its heavy-duty pickups that complies with the stricter federal emissions laws taking effect next year. The 2007 6.6-liter Duramax diesel will be available early next year and boasts a 90 percent reduction in emissions of black, smoky particulate matter and a 50 percent cut in smog-forming NOx.

The announcement comes just days after Ford said it will have a new clean diesel for its 2008 F-Series Super-Duty pickup line.

You can reach Brett Clanton at (313) 222-2612 or

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