General Motors is backtracking on its plan to exclusively offer three-cylinder engines in many of its vehicles in China after the decision led to a dip in sales.
GM downsized some of its four-cylinder engines in China for 2019, replacing them with smaller, more fuel-efficient three-cylinders. Many other automakers have also begun to offer three-cylinder engines in China to meet the country’s strict fuel economy and emissions standards, but they continued to offer four-cylinder engines in these models for those customers who may want the bigger engine. GM and its Chinese joint venture partner SAIC, meanwhile, dropped the four-cylinder entirely in many of its most popular products, including the Buick Excelle GT and Chevrolet Cruze.
Now Chinese GM dealers are pushing the automaker to bring back the four-cylinder engines amid declining sales and increased competition from the likes of Volkswagen and Toyota. A senior manager for a Buick dealer in Shanghai told Reuters the pivot to three-cylinder engines was “too quick, too radical and lacked sophisticated planning.” The sales manager also said his dealership was among “hundreds” of Chinese GM dealers that voiced concern over the plan at recent conferences in an attempt to convince GM to bring back the larger engines.
GM’s China sales fell 15% to 3.09 million vehicles in 2019 – its lowest sales in the world’s largest automotive market since 2012. While the switch to three-cylinder engines in certain models contributed to the decline, China’s automotive market also took a hit in 2019 and is expected t contract even further in 2020. GM China president Matt Tsien said the company will focus on introducing new products and keeping its costs in check to mitigate the effects of the struggling Chinese auto industry.
“We expect the market downturn to continue in 2020, and anticipate ongoing headwinds in our China business,” Tsien said in January.
GM is currently seeking regulatory approval for four-cylinder versions of both the Buick Excelle GT and the Chevrolet Cruze in China. According to Reuters, the automaker is looking at adding a four-cylinder to the Chinese-market Buick Verano, as well, along with the new Buick Encore GX crossover.
China isn’t the only market where GM is starting to lean more on three-cylinders to meet fuel economy and emissions standards. The Encore GX will be offered exclusively with three-cylinder engines in North America, with GM’s new 1.2L LIH three-pot serving as the base engine and the slightly larger 1.3L L3T available as an option. The two engines, GM’s first three-cylinders sold in North America since the 2001 Geo Metro, appear in the new 2021 Chevrolet Trailblazer, as well.