Ford Motor Co. and General Motors plan to produce engines that until now have been considered an anomaly more appropriate to niche automakers: inline five-cylinder engines.
Both Ford's and GM's I-5s are offshoots of new modular engine family programs that also will produce inline fours and inline sixes for future sport-utilities and other light trucks, and possibly compact and mid-sized cars.
Neither automaker has disclosed its plans officially. But the new I-5 engines are expected to appear in vehicles beginning around the 2004 or 2005 model years, starting with compact pickups and sport-utilities.
The driver behind the new engine programs and the creation of I-5 variants is the automakers' struggle to balance customers' desire for powerful engines with legal constraints on emissions and fuel economy. An I-5 can offer performance similar to that of a six-cylinder engine but with fuel economy and emissions closer to those of a four-cylinder engine.
'There's no question that almost all of our technology is being driven by fuel efficiency,' says Rod Tabaczynski, Ford's director of powertrain and vehicle technology.
The popularity of light trucks has put the Big 3 in danger of having to pay fines for missing the U.S. corporate average fuel economy light-truck standard of 20.7 mpg.
In 1999 Ford's light-truck fleet averaged 20.4 mpg, an improvement from 20.1 in 1998. GM's light-truck fleet averaged 20.0 mpg in 1999, down from 21.1 mpg a year earlier. DaimlerChrysler's light-truck fleet, which includes Mercedes-Benz, averaged 20.7 mpg in 1999. In 1998 the former Chrysler Corp.'s truck fleet averaged 20.5 mpg.
Volvo is the only automaker now offering I-5 engines in the United States. In the early 1990s, Acura equipped its Vigor sedan with an I-5, and the engine configuration was a cornerstone of Audi marketing in the 1980s.
But not many are rushing to follow in the footsteps of Ford and GM. Saab Automobile AB is developing an I-5 with its variable-displacement engine concept. DaimlerChrysler offers an I-5 diesel in Europe in the Jeep Grand Cherokee. No Japanese automakers are known to be pursuing I-5 engines for the future.
Ford and GM are spending more than $2 billion to develop the aluminum engines and plants to produce them.
GM is building an engine plant in Flint, Mich., and is refurbishing a plant in Tonowanda, N.Y., to build its new inline engine family. The first iteration of that engine family, the Vortec 4200 I-6, will debut in the redesigned 2002 Chevrolet TrailBlazer, Oldsmobile Bravada and GMC Envoy sport-utilities. The new engine produces more power and torque than the 4.3-liter V-6 it replaces, but with better fuel economy and emissions.
'The customer will never give up the comfortable drive and acceleration,' said Fritz Indra, executive director of advanced engineering for GM Powertrain. 'The real task is to have more power and reduced fuel consumption.'
Ford is retooling engine plants in Dearborn, Mich., and Chihuahua, Mexico, to build its new engines. The first variant is an I-4 that is already in production in Mexico for the redesigned Ford Mondeo in Europe.