The supercharged Cavalier Z-24 sedan is just one of eight Ecotec-powered production and concept vehicles being displayed by General Motors at the 2002 Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) show in Las Vegas. The vehicles, including Chevrolet Cavaliers, Pontiac Sunfires, and the all-new Saturn ION, demonstrate GM's range of possibilities in the entry-level performance market.
"Entry-level doesn't necessarily mean compact or cheap," said Mark Reuss, GM Performance Division executive director. "Customers in this burgeoning market segment are looking for performance, pure and simple. Look around the [SEMA] show, and the aisles of horsepower and appearance parts dedicated to entry-level vehicles tell you customers are willing to spend the money necessary to achieve their performance goals."
Technological efficiency garners respect among entry-level performance enthusiasts, and GM's advanced Ecotec all-aluminum engine delivers. It was designed to be light and compact. For example, a single roller chain drives the twin overhead camshafts, resulting in a shorter overall engine length than would be possible with a more traditional toothed rubber belt. Also, a pair of counter-rotating balance shafts, longer head bolts and an oil pan that serves as a structural member contribute strength and smoothness to the Ecotec's operation. These attributes were also built into the engine so that it could be efficiently modified for high horsepower and torque output.
"The Ecotec engine was destined for high-performance on the drawing board - turbocharging, supercharging, you name it," said Reuss. "GM anticipated the rise in entry-level performance among young car enthusiasts, and a plan was formed during Ecotec's development to give those enthusiasts an engine that would put GM vehicles at the head of the pack. These customers are very conscious of technology and expect to extract a lot of power from a small package."
The recently formed GM Performance Division worked with the Cavalier, Sunfire and ION product teams to formulate strategies for integrating high performance into their Ecotec-powered vehicles. Engineering and marketing experts in the Performance Division suggested concepts that reached farther than mere horsepower increases.
"Each vehicle represents a unique package," said Reuss. "It's one thing to give a vehicle more power, but in the market we're targeting, the entire look and feel of the car is just as important as how much power it has. The wheels, body enhancements and even the vehicle's stance are all very important."
Involvement in sanctioned front-wheel-drive and compact-car drag racing is another avenue GM is using to reach out to entry-level enthusiasts and explore the limits of performance. Front-wheel-drive competitors, such as Pontiac Sunfire driver Marty Ladwig, are turning 9-second ETs in the quarter-mile, while venerable racer and engine builder John Lingenfelter has run in the 7-second range with a special rear-wheel-drive racing version of the Cavalier. Both drivers' vehicles are powered by a specially prepared, turbocharged Ecotec engine.
With the Ecotec engine as the foundation, GM Performance Division and the other GM nameplates that utilize the advanced engine will continue to roll out exciting and targeted entry-level performance vehicles.
"GM is aggressively pursuing the entry-level performance arena," said Reuss. "Through special production models and lightning-quick racecars, we're just getting started in this new world of high-tech performance."
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