EcoMotors International, the suburban Detroit company developing an opposed piston-opposed cylinder engine, has signed a $200 million deal to build the engines in China.
EcoMotors' partner, Zhongding Power, will build a plant in China's Anhui province and will sell the turbodiesel engines to its customers. The plant will have capacity to build 150,000 engines per year, with high-volume production scheduled to begin in 2014.
EcoMotors CEO Don Runkle, 67, a former General Motors and Delphi executive, said a portion of the capacity will be reserved for EcoMotors to sell to its own customers. The two companies signed a letter of intent to work together in 2010.
"We've been working under contract with them to help develop the engine over the past year and a half," Runkle said. "So this was the next logical step."
Because of its lightweight design and other advantages over conventional engines, opposed piston technology could produce 30 percent fuel economy gains, its backers say. EcoMotors, Pinnacle Engines and Achates Power Inc. are trying to market the engine technology.
Zhongding plans to sell engines to makers of electrical generators and off-road and commercial vehicles. Runkle said that initial EcoMotors sales likely will be to generator manufacturers as well. The company has a letter of intent with Generac Power Systems, a Waukesha, Wis., generator company.
Runkle said that EcoMotors also has letters of intent with three Chinese manufacturers. He said he expects the engines to begin appearing in vehicles in 2015 or 2016. Chinese automakers are aggressively exploring new powertrains, making China an attractive market, he said.
"From our standpoint, it's a big target because of its size and its growth rate," Runkle said.
Advocates of opposed piston engines say the engines can produce sharply increased efficiency and lower costs. The technology, which dates to the early 1900s, operates two pistons in a single cylinder. Because of that, opposed piston engines don't use all the parts that today's engines use. There is no valvetrain or cylinder head, for instance. That cuts costs and reduces heat loss, friction and weight, giving the engines an advantage in power-to-weight ratio.
Automakers have passed on the technology because of high emissions. But Runkle says the EcoMotors engine will meet government regulations on emissions.