OPINION: Detroit Three Should Merge Engine Operations? Not So Fast

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As Detroit automakers continue to find ways to make more profit without losing customer interest, many have begun to look towards consolidation as the answer.

One of the most expensive areas of the modern car, and will probably continue to do be so, is its engine and powertrain. John McElroy of Autoline on an Autoblog segment has presented a case and it’s a very good one. However, I offer a dissenting opinion and a possible solution.

The idea of consolidating engine development and operations isn’t new. Quite the opposite as it’s something that has been done many times in the past. Hyundai, Chrysler, and Mitsubishi have done it with the G4KC Theta/4B1(X)/Tigershark I4 engine through the Global Engine Manufacturing Alliance joint venture.

Ford and Mazda shared engines between platforms. Again, the idea isn’t new. What’s wrong about it is what manufacturers have been trying to tout in this modern era of automobiles: increasing fuel mileage.

While it is a fact that most consumers don’t care what’s under the hood, the number one issue they do look for that separates Ford from GM, GM from Fiat/Chrysler, Fiat/Chrysler from Ford are MPGs. Each manufacturer demonstrates their brand dominance by introducing a design or technology that makes them different and a lot of that happens at the top end of the engine.

Creating a different swirl pattern, injecting fuel in a different manner or timing, turbocharging, or even the amount of valves; these are all things manufacturers will speak of ad nauseam even if the layman doesn’t quite get it. Even the least enthusiastic of Prius owners will point out how little fuel their engine spits into the cylinders from some sort of new technology from Toyota.

Everyone does this to say, “I have the best and this is why” even for simple appliances. Consolidation not only removes that but possibly removes innovation from the gasoline powered engine since one manufacturer is no longer trying to push for better since it’s all the same in the end.

So, enough of the problem, what do I suggest as a solution. Well, the UAW won’t like it but it’s time to start looking at taking out more and more of the human equation in engine manufacturing. Now, understand this isn’t easy and won’t be cheap in the short run.

However, by removing more and more of the human cost of labor, pensions, and pay, you reduce the costs of engine manufacturing. You can also speed up the process as a machine is more able to move at a quicker and, more importantly, consistent rate and they don’t need breaks for rest or feeding. You could even make a plant run around the clock with no human element save for the maintenance men and women who make sure those machines continue to run.

The other solution? Go electric. Most automobile consumers who buy their vehicle as an appliance work commute is under 100-miles daily. Even when I lived in the backwoods of Dinwiddie County, my commute to work in Petersburg or even Richmond or Ashland was less than 50-miles one way.

Why does electric make sense in saving costs over engine manufacturing? A NetGain Warp13, a 13.25-inch diameter DC electric motor, is under $7-thousand and produces enough torque on its own to drive most any passenger sedan at 140- lb/ft. If you really want more, for just under $8-thousand from EV West you can get a pair of siamesed Warp11 DC motors and produce 1000-lb/ft of torque.

A Ford Focus with a 2.0L Ti-VCT engine produces 146-lb/ft of torque but can cost more than double of the single Warp13 to produce. The thing that kills the electric car, in terms of selling to the consumer, is the cost and range of batteries. As Tesla and even Ford continue to prove, that cost is reducing and that range is increasing.

Justin Banner is a regular contributor to LS1Tech and JK Forum, among other auto sites.

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