GM Bets Big on Big V-8’s

In an age of electrification, GM places their bet on a major investment in ICE production.

Is the internal combustion engine dead? General Motors thinks otherwise and the company announced an $854 million investment in four U.S. plants to manufacture the company’s sixth generation of small block V-8 gasoline engines. Jim Anderton comments. 

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Episode Transcript:

Here at and in newsrooms all over the world, the replacement of internal combustion engines (ICE) by electric motors is reported daily. But is the internal combustion engine dead?  

General Motors certainly doesn’t think so, and the company has announced an $854,000,000 investment in four U.S. plants to manufacture the company’s sixth generation of small block V-8 gasoline engines.  
Flint Engine Operations in Michigan, currently the home of GM’s 3.0L turbodiesel used in light trucks, will get most of the money to retool for block, crank and head machining and engine assembly.  Also in Michigan, Bay City will make camshafts, connecting rods and will also machine blocks and head assemblies for Flint.  
The Defiance facility in Ohio will retool for block casting and will add a casting development center for future EV work.  
In New York, Rochester Operations will build intake manifolds and fuel rails for Flint and add battery pack cooling lines for EV models.  
This is a massive investment in not just internal combustion engines, but also normally aspirated V-8 engines. While big V-8 engines are uniquely American phenomena in mass-market cars and light trucks, what makes this interesting to me is that even within internal combustion engine design practice, the focus isn’t on highly turbocharged, small displacement four and six-cylinder engines, but on a basic engine architecture that dates back almost a century.  
The basic physics suggests that for a given engine displacement, more and smaller cylinders means more internal friction, although shorter stroke does mean higher RPM’s and more horsepower. Turbocharging also recovers lost heat energy from the exhaust stream, and I expected to see future internal combustion engines to employ some form of turbo compounding, like Curtis Wright did in the ‘Forties with high-performance aircraft engines.  
So why is GM sticking with a basic engine architecture they debuted in 1955? Well, if you check the numbers, modern American V-8 engines produce surprisingly good fuel economy numbers with power levels that used to be reserved for Corvettes. Today, 300 horsepower is common in Mom’s grocery-getter. With digital control, it’s now possible to have multiple injection events for precise control of engine stoichiometry, plus cylinder deactivation and—little discussed but vitally important—modern lubricants have enabled surprisingly small bearings and low-tension piston rings that significantly reduced parasitic drag.  
These factors, combined with much closer machining tolerances today, also mean that engine durability commonly exceeds 200,000 miles with basic maintenance.  
General Motors is spending almost a billion dollars in the assumption that there will be strong demand for big gasoline engines for another decade at least. GM is investing billions in electric vehicles, but they’re clearly hedging their bets. In horse racing, they call it a box bet, and I’m betting that it will be a source of considerable profitability for General Motors for the next 15 years.

Written by

James Anderton

Jim Anderton is the Director of Content for Mr. Anderton was formerly editor of Canadian Metalworking Magazine and has contributed to a wide range of print and on-line publications, including Design Engineering, Canadian Plastics, Service Station and Garage Management, Autovision, and the National Post. He also brings prior industry experience in quality and part design for a Tier One automotive supplier.