GM rolls back 'radical' plan to offer only 3-cylinder engines in some China cars: Sources

05 February 2020 - 08:14 By Reuters
An SAIC General Motors Co plant in Shanghai, China. The company's future in China is in the hands of customers considering whether to go electric.
An SAIC General Motors Co plant in Shanghai, China. The company's future in China is in the hands of customers considering whether to go electric.
Image: Gilles Sabrie/Bloomberg via Getty Images

General Motors is backtracking on an aggressive promotion of three-cylinder engines in China that saw some Buick and Chevrolet models offered only in that option, a move which proved unpopular and helped sales slide, people familiar with matter said.

Three-cylinder petrol engines are cleaner and more fuel efficient than their conventional four-cylinder counterparts, and carmakers are keen to promote them, particularly in China, which has some of the world's most stringent fuel economy and emission rules.

GM went further than competitors, discontinuing four-cylinder versions for many models in the world's largest auto market. By comparison, Honda and BMW also offer three-cylinder cars in China, but the models are an option in addition to four-cylinder versions.

Many Chinese consumers, however, perceive cars with three-cylinder engines as noisier and prone to vibrating, and sales began to tumble in the third quarter of 2018. Last year, GM's China sales fell 15% to 3.09 million vehicles, its second straight year of steep declines and the lowest level since 2012.

The move was “too quick, too radical and lacked sophisticated planning”, a senior Shanghai-based sales manager at a Buick dealership said.

The sales manager, who declined to be identified, said his company was among hundreds of dealers which lobbied GM to change the plan at dealer conferences.

By resurrecting four-cylinder options for key models, the hope is that GM, which reports fourth-quarter earnings on Wednesday, can regain some of the ground it has lost at a time when the new coronavirus is threatening to sink sales in the first quarter.

The outbreak is only adding to pain caused by a slowing economy, US-China trade tensions, new emission rules and competition from Toyota Motor Corp and Volkswagen AG.

SAIC-GM, the Detroit automaker's main venture with SAIC Motor, is seeking approval for four-cylinder versions of two mass-market sedans, Buick's Excelle GT and Chevrolet's Cruze, government documents show.

Those two versions are slated to hit the market in the second quarter, two people with knowledge of the matter said, adding that four-cylinder versions of the Buick Verano sedan and Encore GX sport utility vehicle were also under consideration.

A Shanghai-based GM spokesperson said the automaker will continue to offer three- and four-cylinder engines in the future, but declined to comment on product plans.


X