At GM, the V-6 is dead. Long live the inline-four

In anticipation of federal mandates, GM will reportedly phase out the V-6 engine in its mid-size sedans, instead offering a four-cylinder model. Will consumers bite?
Written by Andrew Nusca, Contributor

The argument not so many years ago used to go a little something like this:

"You drive a Honda? One of those tin-can econobox Asian cars with no power?"

"Sure do. I get 50 miles to the gallon and can fit into pretty much any parking space."

"When you're ready to be a man, call me and I'll sell you my Ford pickup."

"Well, when you burn through all your gas before you get here, call me and I'll pick you up in my Honda."

For sure, the conversation above often had a nationalistic edge to it. (USA vs. Japan! Jobs! Industry domination!) But there was also a different kind of culture war at play -- one between power and efficiency.

Since the 1950s, Americans have prided themselves on big vehicles with big engines that could post incredibly small 0 to 60 mile-per-hour times on a straight track.

Meanwhile, Europeans competed on engineering, top speed and curvy roads. And Asian marques prioritized price and fuel efficiency.

But the reckoning that threatened to come quickly after the 1970s energy crisis has finally materialized in the States: according to a report on GM Inside News, General Motors is going all in on Ecotec, favoring four-cylinder engines over the V-6 models in future mid-size models.

Nick Saporito writes:

Our sources tell us that the real fruit of this movement will be noticed most in the next-generation Chevrolet Malibu, which is slated to launch in late 2011. The new Malibu will sport only four-cylinder engines in North America. It is unclear which four-cylinder mills GM will place in the Malibu, but the direct injected 2.4-liter from the Equinox is a likely contender. GM is currently working on several new four-cylinder engines—both turbo and naturally aspirated—including a non-turbo 2.5-liter.

Like all automakers, GM is under mandate by the U.S. government (specifically the EPA) to transition its fleet to reflect better fuel economy and fewer carbon emissions; specifically, it must achieve a fleet average of 34.1 miles per gallon by 2016 for light-duty vehicles, which includes cars, pickup trucks, crossovers, sport-utility vehicles and vans.

If true, this is GM's big move to meet those targets, as mid-size sedans are the vehicle of choice for most American families.

What GM and other automakers are betting on is that volatile oil prices -- and thus prices at the pump -- have consumers thinking about downsizing, too.

Will they miss the extra cylinders? If the end of V-8 supremacy in the '80s and '90s is any indication, I think not.

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