GM's next generation Chevrolet Impala will remain FWD-based

GM's 4.5 liter V8 Duramax diesel engine

Honda's 2.2-liter i-DETC diesel engine
GM's Northstar to fade away while Chrysler's Hemi may see less service

In late December, President Bush signed into a law a new energy bill which will raise the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) average to 35 MPG by 2020. Some auto manufacturers balked at the idea while the bill was under construction, but Detroit’s Big Three all committed to complying with the new standard once it passed.

The first victims of the new energy bill are already starting to show up just a month after the new energy bill passed.

General Motors announced that it cancelled plans to build new versions of its Northstar V8 engine. GM's Northstar engine was introduced in the 1990s and has been a staple in the engine bay of high-end Cadillac luxury vehicles.

GM will instead rely on its direct-injection (DI) 3.6 liter V6 engine to power its luxury vehicles. The DI V6 produces 304 HP in the CTS compared to the 320 HP, 4.6 liter Northstar V8 engine used in the larger STS. The V6 engine does, however, have a huge deficit in the area of torque when compared to the current Northstar V8 -- the V6 produces just 273 lb-ft of torque while the V8 delivers 315 lb-ft.

GM claims that the move to the DI V6 will not only improve the fuel economy of its larger vehicles, but will also save weight across the board -- the V6 is anywhere from 150 pounds to 200 pounds lighter than the Northstar V8.

Another big loser in the midst of new CAFE regulations is Chrysler’s Hemi engine. "The Hemi is not the powertrain of the future," said Chrysler co-president Jim Press. "It's the powertrain of today."

The Hemi engine will not be dropped entirely from the Chrysler portfolio, but its role will be greatly diminished. The 5.7 liter V8 Hemi engine was recently upgraded for the 2009 Dodge Ram and now produces 380 HP and 404 lb-ft of torque -- up from 345 HP and 375 lb-ft. Fuel economy was also boosted by 4 percent and emissions were reduced compared to the old Hemi engine.

Despite the upgraded power and improved fuel economy, vehicles like the next generation Dodge Charger and Chrysler 300 will likely miss out on Hemi power. Instead, Chrysler is developing new "Phoenix" high-output V6 engine to take the place of the Hemi. The engines will feature dual overhead cams, variable valve timing and cylinder deactivation. Ranging-topping variants are likely to surpass 300 HP, like its competitors, and provide better fuel economy than its Hemi counterpart.

When it comes to actual vehicle platforms, General Motors is already taking steps to comply with the update CAFE. The company originally planned to resurrect the Pontiac GTO -- again -- using the same underpinnings as the upcoming Chevrolet Camaro and Pontiac G8. Those plans are now shelved.

"I think (the Monaro/Pontiac GTO) is gone for now," said GM's Bob Lutz. "We’ve got nothing in the product plan right now like that. We’d like to have, but you can’t do everything."

GM was to also build the next generation Chevy Impala using the same RWD platform. Those plans were also shelved and the next generation Impala will continue to ride on a FWD platform.

Despite the killings that were mentioned above, manufacturers are looking to new, more efficient powertrains to power their vehicles into the future. All of the major manufacturers are looking to hybrid, fuel cell and electric vehicles to boost fuel economy. Manufacturers, however, are also looking towards an increased use of turbocharging and diesel technology to boost economy.

Ford recently announced its "EcoBoost" engine line which takes advantage of turbocharging. Its new 2.0 liter turbo four produces an incredible 275 HP and 280 lb-ft of torque. The company's new 3.5 liter V6 produced a whopping 340 HP and 340 lb-ft thanks to turbocharging. Both engines produce the power of a V6 and V8 engine respectively while achieving greater fuel economy.

On the diesel front, General Motors will soon roll out a new 4.5 liter V8 Duramax diesel engine destined for its light-duty pickups and SUVs. Toyota is following suit with a new V8 diesel engine for its Tundra full-size pickup and Sequoia full-size SUV. Honda is also prepared to make a 2.2 liter i-DETC diesel four cylinder engine available in its 2009 Honda Accord and 2009 Acura TSX. A larger 3.5 liter V6 diesel will finds its way into the Honda Pilot, Honda Ridgeline and Acura MDX.

The new CAFE regulations were a big wakeup call to all auto manufacturers who sell vehicles in the U.S. It's great to see that manufacturers are adept enough to evolve and adapt to give customers the power they crave with increased fuel economy at the same time.

"It looks like the iPhone 4 might be their Vista, and I'm okay with that." -- Microsoft COO Kevin Turner

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