Automakers test three-cylinder engine market

With more vehicle purchases trending toward compact cars, the next big thing may be small engines.

According to the Los Angeles Times*, automotive expert Steve Cropley of Autocar magazine believes three-cylinder engines are the wave of the future, as they provide just as much pep as automotive enthusiasts have come to expect from four-cylinder engines.

“This engine is a game-changer,” Cropley told the paper, referring to a Ford Focus with a three-cylinder engine that recently went on sale in Europe. “You barely hear the thing start, and it idles so smoothly you’d swear it had stalled.”

Noticing its popularity in the continent, German automaker BMW is testing the three-cylinder engine market as well. The paper reports the company is in the midst of developing a vehicle that houses a three-cylinder engine, which could go on sale in the United States by 2017.

Not to be outdone, Ford says it will offer its customers a three-cylinder model by the summer of next year, as will Mitsubishi.

Automakers have had mixed results with smaller engines in prior years

However, the paper reports that automakers are treading lightly into smaller-engine waters, as previous attempts have often proven to be unpopular with the general public.

For example, the LA Times reports that Suzuki and General Motors sold the Swift and Chevrolet Metro, respectively, in the 1990s, but owners often complained that their tiny size left them unsatisfied, as the engines made a racket and had very little pickup.

Rebecca Linland, IHS Automotive analyst, told the paper that automakers have learned from their mistakes, and understand now that if they want to be able to sell three-cylinder engine cars, they have to make performance and fuel economy two top priorities.

Roughly half of vehicle purchases last year were four cylinders

As it is, many car buyers are purchasing more four-cylinder cars. According to data the paper compiled from automotive research website Edmunds.com, nearly 50 percent of the vehicles bought in America last year had four cylinders, up considerably from 37 percent in 2007.

In addition to smaller engines being more popular, automakers are trending toward building cars with smaller power units so consumers can save fuel. Last summer, 90 percent of all vehicle manufacturers that sell in the United States made an agreement with the Obama administration to increase the fuel efficiency standard for new car and light-duty trucks, which could potentially save consumers $8,000 per vehicle**.

In the meantime, the paper reports that Ford will ship its three-cylinder Focus to its Michigan-based headquarters this month to gauge consumers’ reactions and determine what modifications need to be made based on reviews from engineers.

*according to the Los Angeles Times on March 16, 2012
**according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on July 29, 2011
 
via Peter Montanez

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