General Motors to Turbocharge Its Engine Offerings for 2018, Literally

Rising emissions regulations are forcing many automakers to adopt forced induction across the board. While some, like Mazda and Honda, have been milking naturally aspirated engines for all their worth, even they have turned to turbochargers to do some of the heavy lifting. General Motors has more than doubled North American sales of vehicles with turbo motors — going from roughly 288,000 units in 2011 to 712,000 in 2016, 23 percent of its total volume.

GM’s powertrain lineup has changed dramatically. A decade ago, only a handful of its models came with a turbo option, while just under half of today’s fleet uses some form of forced induction. The trend is set to continue for the 2018 model year, boosting the carmaker’s share of turbocharged offerings above the 50 percent mark.

Both the GMC Terrain, due out this summer, and the 2018 Chevrolet Equinox will be exclusively offered with turbocharged engines while most other GM models receive them as an option.

“Turbocharging is really an important technology,” Dan Nicholson, GM’s vice president of global propulsion systems, told Automotive News. “It’s enabling smaller, really smaller engines, without sacrificing peak power or peak torque.”

Turbochargers have always worked like magic at improving power and efficiency, but automakers have only recently managed to implement them without tacking on unacceptable cost or glaring reliability problems. It isn’t a perfect solution, but clever engineering has diminished the unseemly turbo lag griped about in the 1980s and early 1990s and public wariness of the technology has mostly dissolved.

Like many car companies, GM is throwing the setup into just about everything to improve economy. Currently, all but the bare bones Buick Regal 1SV is furnished with a 2.0-liter turbo and stands to become standard kit for 2018. Similarly, the Chevrolet Traverse’s 3.6-liter V6 will have to make room for the boosted 2.0 next year as the midsize SUV begins using both.

One of the few areas General Motors has yet to apply turbochargers is under the hoods of its largest SUVs and non-diesel pickups. However, that’s likely to change, as Ford has made it work in its F-Series. In June 2016, Ford said it had sold 1 million EcoBoost F-150s in the U.S. since 2011.

“Ford has just done a really good job of marketing EcoBoost as a brand across a group of loyal customers who otherwise would not have considered downsizing an engine with a turbocharger,” explained Paul Lacy, IHS Markit senior manager of Americas powertrain and compliance forecasting.

IHS Markit assumes turbo engines will represent 55 percent of all North American production by 2024, up from an expected 33 percent this year.

Nicholson didn’t specify if GM would utilize turbochargers on its trucks more broadly, but he did indicate the automaker had committed itself to adhering to regulatory benchmarks as they get progressively more stringent. “We’re never going backwards,” he said. “It’s only a matter of how fast we can move forward in improving fuel economy.”