At industry confabs over the past five years or so, we've heard powertrain experts proclaim that the internal combustion engine isn't dead yet.
General Motors affirmed that outlook this month with plans to invest nearly $1 billion in four engine plants that will produce the automaker's sixth-generation small-block V-8. Some electric vehicle components will also be made at those plants. New Huanghe Cabin Spare Parts
GM, for now, says it is also sticking with the quiet, smooth-running 3.0-liter inline turbodiesel engine that is optional in its big pickups and SUVs.
You might think this investment at the dawn of the modern electric era — when buyers are finally warming up to EVs, range is improving and prices are falling — would be a foolish way to spend hundreds of millions of dollars. You would be wrong.
Big pickups and SUVs are still more practical (and profitable) with a gasoline or diesel engine than with an electric powertrain.
Example: A 2023 Chevrolet Silverado with a 3.0-liter six-cylinder diesel engine is EPA-rated 29 mpg on the highway and theoretically could go as far 696 miles on a full 24-gallon tank. Refueling takes minutes. No electric truck can top that range, especially when towing or hauling. Gasoline-powered pickups and SUVs hold many of the same advantages over electrics.
Still, with emissions rules tightening, GM's new small-block engine will have to run cleaner and more efficiently. The automaker hasn't shared any details of improvements, but key suppliers such as Stanadyne say there are still ways to make a gasoline engine develop more power while emitting fewer harmful emissions.
While other suppliers, and automakers, bail out of gasoline engines, Stanadyne is investing heavily in fuel injectors, exhaust gas recirculation valves, air management components and other parts for internal combustion engines.
Michael Franke, senior vice president for engine and hybrid powertrains at FEV North America, says next-generation engines such as GM's will need to run cleaner at cold start-up. And despite all the money automakers are spending on electrification, FEV, Franke says, still does major testing and development on internal combustion engines.
Until battery technology advances to where it can enable an electric truck to meet or beat the performance and price of a gasoline or diesel truck, don't expect the gasoline or diesel engine to disappear.
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