Tuesday 4 June 2013

Who will react first to VW’s CGI engine?

The decision by Volkswagen to use compacted graphite iron (CGI) for the cylinder block of the latest EA888 Gen 111 is being eagerly watched by other automakers in Europe and North America.

It is significant that VW has chosen North America as the launch region for this ground-breaking engine. Here the engine will be put under minute scrutiny by discerning customers.

The market too is close to Mexico where not only the engine will be manufactured but also the CGI cylinder block will be precision cast at Tupy’s foundry in Saltillo.

Such sourcing offers significant cost benefits, paving the way for manufacturing experience to be fed back to Europe.    

Volkswagen’s designation of EA888 Gen 111 for the latest version of this popular four-cylinder gasoline engine is slightly confusing because the only vehicle to use the latest version of the EA888 is the 220/230PS version fitted in the new Golf GTI (Mk7), but the older version is still being made as well.

The latest engine has variable valve timing and lift, a cam belt rather than the earlier version’s chain and an aluminium head as well as the CGI block.

It is worth pointing out too that the Beetle has just moved from using the Gen 1 version of the EA888 to the second generation, with power increasing to 210PS (from 200PS), but it is not the same engine as in the new GTI (despite the main engine code being the same).  The bore and stroke are the same, but of course the new engine has the CGI cylinder block giving added strength, durability and performance enhancement.

But in making this move, VW has established an industry benchmark that must set US automotive minds working hard, especially in Dearborn.

Although Audi and Ford chased one another to be the first to pierce the European diesel engine ceiling with a vee-block six-cylinder CGI engine, this time VW has put its nose well and truly out in front.

Sometimes Ford is content to ‘watch and wait’ before it makes a move to follow a competitor’s technology. At other times it strikes out in front. This time, VW has caught the Blue Oval on the back foot.

However, we should not forget that Ford does have the benefit that it too has experience of the machining and assembly of CGI engines in Mexico – it makes vee diesel engines in its Chihuahua Engine Plant (CEP).

General Motors too will be watching VW’s progress with the latest Golf engine, though it has yet to launch out into the CGI diesel engine market in North America. However, GM co-owns with Fiat the VM Motori business in Italy. VM Motori produces 3-litre V6 diesel engines with CGI cylinder blocks for The General’s competitor Chrysler. So GM is not totally isolated from the technology and it should not be forgotten that Opel in Europe broke ground many years ago with competition engines fitted with CGI cylinder blocks

Nor perhaps should one forget that at the recent annual general meeting of SinterCast in Stockholm, Sweden, Terry Aldea, global executive, casting & forging operations, Ford Motor Company, gave a presentation of his company's operations under the heading "The ONE FORD Plan". That he took the trouble to travel so far from the US is as much a tribute to the standing of SinterCast as an indirect Ford vendor, as it is to the executives of this tiny Swedish company. Could this gesture on his part in itself be a clue as to who will react first? Aldea was overheard saying to one shareholder over coffee: "The snowball is rolling faster and faster. No one can stop it anymore." Could Ford's gasoline EcoBoost engine indeed be next in line to receive a CGI cylinder block? The Chihuahua Engine Plant could be one manufacturing location.

So the tempo in the CGI cylinder block business is certainly quickening. But VW’s anticipation of selling 330,000 CGI gasoline engines a year well and truly throws down the gauntlet to all others.                                                                  

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