GM Powertrain is debuting a family of powertrain control systems in the 2006 model year that ultimately will be used across the majority of the entire North American General Motors vehicle lineup.

The new powertrain controls will debut on the Chevrolet Corvette, Corvette Z06, Impala, Monte Carlo, HHR, Cobalt, Uplander, Malibu SS and Malibu Maxx SS, the Cadillac CTS-V, XLR-V, STS-V and DTS, the Pontiac Solstice, G6 and SV6, the Buick Terraza and Saturn Relay.

The family strategy enables engineers to apply standard manufacturing and service procedures across the board, as well as quickly upgrade technology without disturbing other parts that will remain static. The strategy also reduces the design and test workload, simplifies powertrain portfolio planning and facilitates global volume sourcing.

"The nature of our business has changed. Today, we are providing more features to a broader range of powertrains then ever before - and as the range expands, the engineering challenges become greater," said Rich Taylor, executive director, powertrain electronics and integration. "The new family approach enables greater software and component reuse to help reduce costs and improve quality. We also will be able to move to market more quickly and can focus our efforts more sharply on innovation and new technology."

GM engineers will combine various activators and sensors to customize the systems to each model's unique performance needs. The controllers also can be utilised in GM's specialty vehicles and various emerging technologies.

GM has divided these flexible systems into three levels that control different types of engines. The first level handles the least complex engines and will begin to roll out in the 2007 model year.

The mid-level system features the E38 32-bit engine controller and covers engines with features such as variable valve timing or Displacement on Demand, like the new 3.5- and 3.9 litre V6 in the 2006 Chevrolet Impala and Monte Carlo.

The top system uses the E67 32-bit engine controller and handles GM's most sophisticated engines, such as the 4.4-litre Northstar V-8 SC in the Cadillac STS-V and XLR-V.

GM's Powertrain Controls, a group of approximately 650 computer system and software engineers at the company's Milford , Michigan Proving Grounds, developed three engine and two transmission control systems for GM's portfolio of engines, transmissions and hybrid propulsion systems.

GM writes all of the software for the three new systems, and uses one common software package that's tuned to each application and uses standard interfacing with the controller hardware.

"By collaborating with powertrain electronics and integration on their software build processes, the information technology team was able to create an IT environment that significantly improved software build time while simultaneously lowering infrastructure and support costs," said spokesman Eric Gassenfeit.

On the hardware side, the family strategy has led to identical packaging and mounting of each controller and the corresponding connectors in nearly every GM vehicle.

The hardware and software groups at Powertrain Controls collaborate with each other and with suppliers to write product requirements, purchase components and design the final product. The group has created key parameters that hold constant within a controller family even as it moves from one supplier to the next. These consolidated processes apply across all functions and help maintain quality control.

GM's Powertrain Controls group illustrates the increasing complexity and sophistication of today's vehicles. GM first started putting computers in vehicles in 1979 to meet federal emissions standards. The first computer managed six functions. Today's computers are 56 times faster than the originals and control more than 100 functions. In the last decade, the Powertrain Controls group has received 197 patents.