DETROIT — General Motors Corp.'s Powertrain division is “80% done” with an all-encompassing North American product-portfolio revamp that should be finished by 2003, says Arvin Mueller, Powertrain's group vice president.

In an interview, Mueller tells WAI that GM Powertrain's North American initiatives are combined with ongoing activities in its European joint venture with the Fiat Group to form a two-pronged global strategy that will deliver world-class powertrains for GM and its many affiliates and “associates” — without stifling unique engine-related attributes for brands such as Alfa Romeo and Saab.

The cornerstone of GM Powertrain's strategy is flexibility in design, application and manufacturing. To that end, Mueller stresses a North American plan to deliver world-class — yet cost-effective — engines and transmissions.

Those three components, architectural, manufacturing and application flexibility, all are necessary to “mitigate the (cost) risk” in conceiving, developing and building powertrain components in an increasingly fractionalized and uncertain automotive market, he asserts. In North America, that means consolidating GM's engine range to five:

  • The L850 “global” 4-cyl., currently used in applications as broad as North America's Saturn LS and Europe's Opel Speedster.

  • The “High-Value” V-6 based on today's longstanding 3.8L pushrod V-6.

  • An all-new “High-Feature” V-6 that will match competitors' sophisticated double-overhead-cam V-6s.

  • Inline 4-cyl., 5-cyl. and 6-cyl. engines based on the recently launched and well-regarded Vortec 4200 inline 6-cyl.

  • V-8s based on the renowned “small block” V-8 currently used to power nearly all of GM's large pickups and sport/utility vehicles, as well as the Chevrolet Corvette.

The second prong of the powertrain strategy is directed through GM's JV with Fiat that covers all European and Latin American powertrain operations, plus GM's Adam Opel AG and Saab Automobile units.

GM Powertrain recently adopted a crucial program called PACE (Powertrain Alliance Capacity Exchange) to leverage its strategic moves and maximize capacity utilization among GM and its affiliates.

GM and its equity alliances “comprise 24% of world powertrain capacity,” Mueller says, and PACE's goal is to make more manufacturing “transportable” — that is, to tool plants worldwide with the flexibility to produce a wide range of engines.

“The capital need is going to cause people to bind together (in powertrain development and manufacturing ventures),” Mueller says, adding that experience is proving that good diesel engines can be used by many manufacturers regardless of origin — helping companies fill small volume niches more economically.

“Nobody knows how to economically do a new diesel at 20,000 starter units,” he says.

“With gasoline engines, it's a little bit more tender. (But) from an economic standpoint (with PACE,) there's the opportunity to avoid a lot of redundancy and excess capacity.”

Mueller assures that PACE will not kill individuality, particularly the reputation of brands such as Saab and Alfa Romeo to produce unique powertrains.

“Saab and Alfa will generate a specific number of derivatives of fundamental architectures (being developed by GM Powertrain worldwide). These were conditions of the joint venture,” he adds.

This will be accomplished through applications of technologies like turbocharging (a Saab hallmark), specific intake and exhaust treatments and other “tuning” techniques, Mueller says.