TRAVERSE CITY, MI – General Motors may be known best for Corvettes, big SUVs and potent small-block V-8s, but Steve Kiefer, vice president-Global Powertrain, confirms at the Management Briefing Seminars here the automaker is focused on building a future global engine portfolio populated mostly by small, high-torque 4-cyl. gasoline and diesel powerplants.

Big, bruising V-8s won’t be going away anytime soon, but they will be balanced off by a variety of hybrid-electric, battery-electric and fuel-cell vehicles and other fuel-saving technologies, with at least some developed through collaborative partnerships.

After recently developing an 8-speed automatic transmission in-house for the Corvette, GM is collaborating on a new generation of 9- and 10-speed transmissions with archrival Ford. It also has a longstanding agreement with Honda to co-develop fuel-cell EVs, Kiefer says, even though it has been road-testing its own fleet of FCVs for years.

When a full-line automaker like GM sells more than 9 million vehicles around the world every year, a one-size-fits-all strategy won’t work, he says.

Like most major automakers, GM is struggling to find a delicate balance between performance, customer satisfaction and meeting global emissions rules while satisfying hundreds of foreign markets with different needs.

And even though some global emissions standards appear to be converging, the solutions to meeting the rules can be very different for each region.

“Fuel-economy rules all around are getting tougher and are looking a little similar for, say, China and Europe in the 2019-2020 time frame,” Kiefer says.

“What you see is rather similar carbon-dioxide-emissions requirements. But in Europe, we have about 50% penetration of highly efficient diesel engines in passenger cars and about zero percent passenger-car diesels in China’s market.”

There are similar challenges around the world, where market and legislative requirements require a complex balancing act by automakers.

“Being a full-line producer can be a bit of a curse sometimes,” Kiefer says. “However, the companies that will succeed are those that can balance all these requirements but still provide a vehicle that delights the customer. And that of course is what we intend to do.”

Part of this strategy is launching a new generation of Ecotec 1.0L to 1.5L engines that will power 27 models of five GM brands in 64 countries, accounting for 2.5 million engines by 2017.

Another part of GM’s strategy is targeting powertrains more specifically to its high-volume, mainstream vehicles. GM used to optimize high-performance engines and then detune them for mainstream vehicles.

“It’s really all about right-sizing powertrains now that are much more focused on torque rather than horsepower. It’s all about optimization and what we call in GM ‛efficient fundamentals.’”

dwinter@wardsauto.com