The Automotive Amanojaku

This is where you'll find news, random car-related thoughts and personal views from a rabid car nut. "Amanojaku" is Japanese slang that means "person who is deliberately contradictory". I've always found myself drawn to the less appreciated car makes - the "underdogs" if you will. Suzuki, Pontiac, GM Daewoo and Holden, are among my favorite brands to watch and comment on. Let me hear your thoughts!

Monday, January 01, 2007

Pushrod Power: How should GM market its 3.5LVVT and 3.9LVVT Engines?

Should GM market its 3.5LVVT and 3.9LVVT as "Pushrod" Engines?
Commentary by Ming

One might argue that GM has been hiding the OHV "Pushrod" nature of its new 3.5L and 3.9L Variable Valve Timing-enhanced engines in most of the ads and brochures out in the public eye. Where "DOHC" is often loudly trumpeted, GM's OHV engines are rarely advertised as such, but rather just with the displacement, the horsepower, or the impressive fuel economy (31 mpg for the 3.5L in the Impala). Here's a concept, why not play up their uniqueness in the market by linking the image of the 3900 to the GM V8 Smallblock?

Personally I like the 3.5LVVT (especially in the Impala with a no-cost E-85 option) capable of 31 miles per gallon, and available in models like the base Impala where Toyota might use a weaker 4-cylinder. But since GM does not market its Pushrods like Mazda markets its Rotary engines - as an alternative that is just as good in its own way - they have to overcome the negative image of GM's OHV V6's as being "outdated", even though they have undergone some serious revamping recently. Of course, GM didn't help that cause by calling the 3500 (non-VVT) in the 2004 Malibu a "Value" engine - essentially labeling it as "cheap", and if something is "cheap", then you are getting ripped off somewhere, right?

My hope is that if they intend to stick with the new 3.5L and 3.9L engines for years to come that they do a better job of marketing them, without trying to hide their OHV nature. OHV has its benefits, lots of low end torque, good fuel economy, etc. --- flaunt them!

When introduced, the 3.9LV6 was honored by Popular Mechanics for its introduction of variable valve timing, a first for overhead valve engines. At least the tech-heads there, if not at the car magazines where Honda sets the rules, got it right:

“General Motors keeps finding ways to advance overhead valve engines and the 3.9-liter V-6 used in the Impala reaches new levels,” said James Meigs, editor-in-chief, POPULAR MECHANICS. “For their continued success and innovation, we’re proud to recognize GM with a 2006 Breakthrough Award.” LINK

Also, the negative image doesn't affect the Corvette pushrod V8 -- so a little pride in engineering and some marketing could help the redesigned OHV V6 engines too.

Of course I'd love to see 2.8L and 3.6L Cadillac CTS DOHC V6 engines in more vehicles, but apparently GM can't crank them out for the right price to put them in lower cost sedans like the G6, Impala and Malibu (at least not without some kind of "Ultra" trim label and high price tag). If it isn't going to happen some time soon, then the Pushrod V6's could use a little investment and advertising.

And the non-VVT 3500 and imported 3400 should be phased out and replaced with the 3.5LVVT as soon as possible, or the 3.5LVVT will be forever linked to them in the public's mind as just another variation of "GM's Venerable 60-degree Overhead Valve V6" -- an engine family that is not about "moving forward" but about hitting the lowest price point. It doesn't help that the 3.5LVVT engine has the same displacement as the OHV 3500 (non VVT) in the CSV's, Malibu, G6 and Rendezvous.

Rotary-Pushrod-Diesel-DOHC-Hybrid, this market is broad and deserves choices. Why not market it as another choice, and not something GM tries to cover up while it plans how to move away from them? Or is GM just afraid of launching its new Euro-flavor Saturn Aura with "a Pushrod and a 4-speed", if it comes to that?

Now of course you can find some great examples of DOHC V6's in the Import competition that get impressive horsepower AND torque and are in affordable cars -- Nissan comes to mind -- and GM could indeed improve on its 3900's fuel economy and power. But one must look at the whole spectrum of the competition and what they offer for the money, not just a few of the best DOHC V6's tuned to the maximum and picked from a handful of shining examples in an Infiniti or an Avalon.

And look at how far GM has come since the 3800 - which supercharged in my 2000 Bonneville SSEi got the same HP as the (unrelated - don't get confused by the naming) 3900 gets now. And the 3.5LVVT gets more HP than the naturally aspirated version of the 3800 in the "all new" Lucerne and LaCrosse. So progress has, and can be made with these engines.

The question is, will GM back these engines with its marketing muscle, or present them as "Value" engines, and which is the correct path for GM to take in the long run? Pushrod pride and further enhancements, or kowtowing to the image set by the Japanese DOHC V6's as the pinnacle of design while abandoning decades of OHV design experience?


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