The past three years has witnessed the unexpected rise of Chinese automobile brands, with their market shares climbing steadily year after year. In the beginning, foreign competitors tended to attribute it to beginner's luck, i.e. the bonus from the sport-utility vehicle (SUV) sales upsurge. However, with the market success of Chinese self-designed car models such as the Trumpchi GS8 and the Chang'an CS55, the solid R&D breakthroughs behind Chinese automobile brands have gradually become known.
Such breakthroughs are best represented on the automobile powertrain, the core component of a complete vehicle. A good case in point is the Guangzhou-headquartered GAC Motor, which has worked out its own powertrain that rivals even Mercedes Benz or BMW and will install it on its high-end vehicles that are expected to hit the United States market by 2019.
World-class engine made in Guangzhou
The US automobile market has always been regarded as an extremely competitive market with the highest entry barriers including complicated regulations and rigorous supervision. Hyundai and Kia paid $100 million in fines for misleading American customers on the fuel economy of their vehicles in 2014. The notorious Volkswagen emissions scandal in 2015 was revealed in the US as well.
In mid-January, GAC Motor attended the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit for the fourth time. At the press conference after its new model release ceremony, an American journalist asked bluntly: "Do the GAC Trumpchi car models soon to enter the US market really meet the US-regulated emission criteria?"
"Yes! The vehicles that we are about to sell on the US market will meet all the related regulations, especially when it comes to emissions," Wang Qiujing, director of the GAC Automobile Engineering Institute, answered confidently.
Strong testimonies to his words were the two self-designed GAC engines on display, namely the 2.0TGDI and 1.5TM. The former will be installed in the Trumpchi GS8, which will enter the US market no later than in 2019.
It is a rare case for a Chinese automobile manufacturer to showcase engines as well as concept car designs at the NAIAS. These vehicles are sure to overcome any technical hurdles thrown at them and have, to a great extent, gotten rid of the interference caused by non-market factors.
The third-generation GAC engine, 2.0 TGDI. [Photo/gzdaily.dayoo.com]
From blueprint introduction to self-design
Why did GAC Motor decide to design auto engines in the first place? Dr. Wu Jian, vice-director of the GAC Automobile Engineering Institute (GAEI), narrated a brief history to a reporter from Guangzhou Daily.
"Back in 2006, we didn't have our own automobile engines. We searched for a suitable engine worldwide, from Japan to America to Italy. Finally, we settled on the technology used in Italy's Fiat. However, we soon realized that Fiat's engine technology was outdated and was developed with sports car performance in mind. It underlined torque with little consideration towards cost, emissions, and fuel economy. More importantly, what Fiat provided us with was just a blueprint and data, not technical support in the real sense," Wu said.
"The GAEI established the Department of Powertrain in 2008. Utilizing the blueprint, and after numerous technical obstacles, the 18 staff members of the department managed to form an engine. After going through testing however, we were greatly disappointed to find that it had a terrible performance," Wu still showed grievance when recalling on the long-gone failure.
"But anyway, we survived and made great improvements. We installed the first-ever self-designed engine, 2.0VTML, on newly mass produced vehicles in October, 2010," Wu said. "And during this process we learned that the efforts required to modify an already established engine are no fewer than those required to develop a brand new engine from scratch. From then on, we decided to spend that time developing our own engines instead."
Dr. Wu Jian, vice-director of the GAC Automobile Engineering Institute (GAEI). [Photo/gzdaily.dayoo.com]
At present, the third-generation GAC self-designed engine, 2.0TGDI, has been developed, with a maximum output of 180 kilowatt and a thermal efficiency of 38.3 percent. The technical standards of the engine have reached the same level of Mercedes Benz and BMW, according to an evaluation conducted by AVL, one of the world's four largest powertrain system consulting firms. These consulting firms record the technic parameters for the vast majority of mainstream engines that are currently on the market or in development.
What the GAEI has been able to do in just ten years is miraculous: from purchasing technology permission from Fiat to self-designing world-class engines, a huge technological advancement and incredible research efficiency rarely seen in the world history of automobiles.
"Proud? Perhaps a little. But there are many more challenges to focus on in order to stay ahead," Dr. Wu Jian said plainly.