PONTIAC, MI – When the first batch of the new family of Ecotec small gasoline engines from General Motors arrives this summer, it will represent the broadest and most ambitious use of the automaker’s global engineering might in its 106-year history.

“We’ve definitely transformed into a global company,” says Tom Sutter, global chief engineer-Ecotec engines at GM.

GM has conducted global vehicle and engine programs in the past, leveraging regional engineering hubs, but the new line of Ecotecs flexes the automaker’s worldwide engineering network like never before.

No fewer than 300 engineers from GM development centers in four countries collaborated on the project, which will result in 11 small 3-cyl. and 4-cyl. gasoline engines ranging in displacement from 1.0L to 1.5L for some of the automaker’s highest-volume vehicles.

Design work was performed around the clock at GM sites in Pontiac and Milford, MI; Russelsheim, Germany; Shanghai; Seoul; and Bangalore, India. When one region finished work for the day, it handed the program over to the next group just punching in.

“To date, the all-new Ecotec engine program is one of the most intricate programs GM has undertaken,” says Kendell Fulton, assistant chief engineer-Ecotec engines at GM.

Each engineering center brought local knowledge to the table, ensuring the particular requirements for the global engines were included in the program. But each group also was called upon for their particular engineering strength.

GM India, for example, is strong in design and analysis. GM Europe took the lead on development of the 3-cyl. unit, given its expertise in small, turbocharged engines. The Opel Adam will see one of the 3-cyl. engine’s first installations later this year.

The U.S. team and Shanghai GM focused on the 4-cyl. direct-injection models and China will get the first application of the new 1.4L turbo GDI engine with the launch of the redesigned Chevy Cruze this fall.

GM Korea joined Pontiac and Milford for work on the 4-cyl. port-injection engines.

“These programs were not independent,” Fulton tells WardsAuto. “Many late-night calls and development meetings were conducted to ensure the global learnings were incorporated in all the engines (and) the global requirements were included in the design of all the engine variants.”

Computer simulation and modeling played a key role, GM says, giving engineers the opportunity to design and test parts virtually and then share findings with global colleagues almost immediately.

GM’s global powertrain headquarters in Pontiac served as the nexus for the program, Fulton says, including elements in addition to engineering such as finance, planning, manufacturing, quality and logistics.

The engines will find their way into 2.5 million vehicles globally by 2017, making it the largest global engine program GM has undertaken. That’s nearly twice the size of the next-largest engine program at the automaker, the small-block V-8.

It consolidates three engine families to one, reducing complexity and manufacturing costs, the automaker says.

Fulton says the program demonstrates how GM can use economies of scale to offer value to its customers. The program’s production volumes, for example, allow the automaker to buy parts from suppliers more inexpensively and offer customers the latest technology more affordably.

“This program also allows us to have all-new, state-of-the-art engines in many markets at virtually the same time,” Fulton adds.

jamend@wardsauto.com