With fuel economy becoming a greater concern throughout the automotive industry, more automakers are turning to small, turbocharged engines to replace today's larger, less efficient powerplants. General Motors recently became the latest automaker to announce the development of such engines, revealing plans for turbocharged three- and four-cylinder motors that will eventually replace several larger units currently in use.

According to General Motors, it will produce a "family" of turbocharged and direct injected three- and four-cylinder engines with displacement ranging from 1.0 to 1.5 liters. The automaker also noted the powerplants are being developed to include "alternative fuel compatibility," which likely suggests the ability to run on E85 ethanol fuel blend.

"Our customers around the world agree we need to reduce our dependence on petroleum and reduce vehicle carbon emissions," said Jim Federico, GM's vehicle line executive for global small cars and electric vehicles. "We are working aggressively on vehicle electrification and other technologies, but the most immediate progress will come from continually improving the internal combustion engine."

While General Motors didn't announce how many variants of its new small, turbocharged engines would debut, the automaker did say the new powerplants were designed in conjunction with its Chinese subsidiaries and will feature lightweight, all-aluminum construction. Expected to be used in small cars like Chevrolet's tiny Sonic and its upcoming subcompact Spark, the new engines also feature specific design measures to reduce noise, vibration and harshness - common traits among smaller motors.

Although production of the engines isn't expected to begin until the middle of the decade, General Motors says it expects to build more than 2 million units per year by 2020. When the engines do reach the market, they'll likely face stiff competition from rival automakers like Ford, which recently announced the development of a new turbocharged 1.0-liter, three-cylinder "EcoBoost" powerplant. Nonetheless, it's likely that GM's new engines will go a long way towards providing a fuel economy boost without a major loss in acceleration and power.

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Jeffrey Archer is fortunate to have turned a passion for cars into a career. His wide-ranging automotive experience includes work for automakers and dealers in addition to covering the news. When not writing, he spends his time searching for unique cars on AutoTrader.com.

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