DETROIT — General Motors has quietly and rapidly boosted its use of turbocharged engines as the industry seeks to improve fuel economy without sacrificing performance.
GM has more than doubled U.S. sales of vehicles with turbocharged engines from about 288,000 in 2011, or less than 12 percent of U.S. sales, to 712,000 in 2016, or 23 percent. That increase reflects significantly expanded penetration of turbos in GM's car models, to 49 percent of car sales in 2016, up from just 5 percent in 2010.
The company's turbo mix is expected to keep growing with the summer release of the 2018 GMC Terrain and ongoing production of the 2018 Chevrolet Equinox, the most recent vehicles to offer turbos exclusively.
"Turbocharging is really an important technology," Dan Nicholson, GM vice president of global propulsion systems, told Automotive News. "It's enabling smaller, really smaller engines, without sacrificing peak power or peak torque."
Turbochargers use exhaust gases to power a turbine like fan, which drives a pump that blasts a denser mixture of air into the engine. This increases the engine's horsepower output. All diesel engines feature turbochargers.
The technology can make a four-cylinder engine produce comparable performance figures to a larger six-cylinder engine, if not better. Skeptics have criticized turbochargers' additional cost and delayed acceleration, known as "turbo lag" — both issues automakers have worked to mitigate.
Roughly half of GM's 2018 vehicle lineup is expected to offer at least one turbo option, including a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine available in the Chevrolet Traverse and standard on the Buick Regal and Regal TourX.