Tom Stephens: Improving internal combustion
But powertrain chief Tom Stephens says most fuel economy savings in the near term will come from internal combustion engines.
"If you look at the volumes of gas and diesel in the future, they're going to have a bigger impact in reducing our dependence on foreign oil than any of the sexy technologies that we hear about," says Stephens, who is group vice president for powertrain.
He adds that even if hybrids become widespread and fuel cells prove workable, those propulsion systems will co-exist with internal combustion engines.
"All of them are going to be around for the foreseeable future," Stephens says. "There is no silver bullet."
In the next few years GM plans several incremental improvements to internal combustion drivetrains. GM's goals:
Stephens says GM is increasing its diesel capacity. GM Daewoo Auto & Technology is building a Korean plant that will be capable of making 250,000 1.5-liter and 2.0-liter diesels annually.
But Stephens says federal air-quality regulations and gasoline prices in the United States make it unlikely that GM will put diesels in cars here anytime soon. GM's strategy is to have diesels that it could put in production in the United States if conditions change, he says.
That means GM could bring a domestically produced diesel to market in three years or less, as opposed to six years if it had to develop an engine.
"You're getting it down to the point where all you'd have to do is add capacity," he says.
Bringing in diesels from overseas is unlikely, Stephens says. "I don't think anybody's got any excess diesel capacity right now," he says. "We're building and selling every one we make."