Some Unexpected Brands May Gain Sales with Engine Downsizing

Tyson Jominy

As we see new-vehicle buyers and lessees continue to shift from large to midsize vehicle segments and from midsize to small or compact segments, there has been a decrease in the size of engines. In addition, we are seeing that consumers who do not downsize are finding more fuel-efficient powertrain options at the segment and model level, according to our Power Information Network® (PIN) retail transaction data.

Detroit Automakers will Not be Left in the Lurch

An interesting change related to the shift to smaller engines this time around is who is leading the charge, and therefore who will stand to reap the gains. Two Detroit automaker brands, Ford and Chevrolet, are exclusively offering 4-cylinder engines in their freshened midsize cars—Fusion and Malibu, respectively. In addition, Ford offers 4-cylinder powertrains in their midsize crossovers and now offers a V-6 in the F-150 that is selling very briskly. In fact, the Ford EcoBoost powertrain sub-brand is turning out to be one of the early automotive successes of the decade.

A few more interesting examples of the shift to smaller engines:

• As noted, the large pickup segment should show an increase in 6-cylinder engine penetration. Ford’s F-150 is again offering a V-6 after years of producing only V-8s, and the V-6 is selling extremely well. Ford has said that 43% of F-150 pickup retail sales were equipped with EcoBoost V-6 engines in April, which is up from 41% in March. Ford has discontinued the long-of-tooth Ranger midsize pickup, and hopes to retain its midsize pickup owners with the more fuel-efficient version of the F-150.

BMW is also getting fairly aggressive with its 4-cylinder rollout: The German luxury sporty brand’s 2.0T engine is used in the X3, 1 Series and the brand’s best-selling 3 Series. BMW is further challenging convention by offering the 2.0T as the standard engine in its 528i midsize premium conventional model. It is rated at 32 miles per gallon (mpg) on the highway and, according to BMW, can reach 0-60 mph in 5.6 seconds!

• Another luxury brand, Land Rover, which is owned by India’s Tata Motors, is offering its top-selling Range Rover Evoque equipped only with a 4-cylinder engine. That’s a big mindset change for a luxury premium utility (SUV) in the $50,000 retail price range to offer “only” a 4-cylinder engine (once again a version of Ford’s EcoBoost).

These are just a few of the interesting powertrain shifts among domestic and European brands. What’s also interesting is that it can be said that Japanese automakers are relying on incremental efficiency gains to achieve higher mpg ratings in lieu of adopting more expensive engine technology, such as direct injection and turbocharging. Further, all three major Japanese multi-franchise automakers—Toyota, Honda and Nissan Groups—continue to offer a V-6 powertrain in their freshened midsize conventional cars, while many competitors in the segment have moved exclusively to 4-cylinder offerings.Tyson Jominy, director, consulting and analytics, Power Information Network at J.D. Power and Associates

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