General Motors is dividing its US engine line into ‘image’, ‘high feature’ and ‘high value’ lines, The Detroit News reported. GM plans to market them to car buyers using similar methods as computer chip maker Intel which encourages PC buyers to buy machines with its processors inside, the newspaper added.

Effective marketing of powertrains can boost sales much like the ‘Intel Inside’ catch phrase has boosted personal computer sales, JD Power head Dave Power told the Detroit News.

The Detroit News said that GM’s powertrain brand names include Northstar, Vortec , Ecotec, VTI and Hydra-Matic. Marketing boss Rick Dunagan told the newspaper that GM would use the brands the way Intel helps sell computers.

“Our suggestion is the brand under the hood is important to the buying process,” he said, according to the newspaper.

GM told the Detroit News that ‘image’ powertrains, such as the Chevrolet Corvette’s 5.7-litre V8, are aimed at the fewer than 1% of buyers who purchase a vehicle for its power and performance. GM is also planning a circa-500hp, V12, 7.5-litre unit for a future Cadillac , the paper added.

The Detroit News said GM is aiming ‘high-feature’ powertrains at the roughly 20-30% of car owners prepared to pay for added performance but who consider other attributes when deciding on a vehicle.

The newspaper said that category includes a new family of dual overhead camshaft V6 engines with displacements of 2.8- to 3.6-litres. A 255hp 3.6-litre unit will be launched in North America next summer.

Markets outside North America were not discussed in the Detroit News report but there must a good chance one or more of the new V6s will find their way ‘down under’ to GM’s Australian Holden operation which has been using a North American-designed GM 3.8-litre V6, adapted for rear wheel drive, in the Commodore and its derivatives since 1988.

Recent Australian media comparisons of the substantially revised Ford Falcon – with new four-litre twin-cam straight-six engine – have mentioned the rival (and just facelifted) Commodore’s ‘ageing’ 3.8-litre V6 and suggested a new motor is overdue.

The new American V6 line’s capacity range of 2.6- to 3.6-litres would give Holden a replacement for its current normally-aspirated and supercharged 3.8-litre engines plus a low-displacement 2.6 for sale in export markets where vehicles are taxed on engine capacity. Holden has in the past contested these displacement-sensitive markets with a locally-made GM Europe-designed, two-litre four (not a success) followed by an Opel-built 2.6-litre straight six.

The new American V6s could also interest the European Opel/Vauxhall operations which currently install UK-made 2.6- and 3.2-litre V6s in the Vectra and Omega car lines.

According to the Detroit News, GM will market ‘high-value’ category powertrains to North American buyers who want good performance, fuel economy and low noise and vibrations, but aren’t much interested in how that’s accomplished or paying extra.

“78% of the portfolio needs to be high value,” a spokesman told the newspaper, which added that GM is also expanding its lineup of overhead valve V-6 engines [in the Holden Commodore currently] to include displacements up to 3.9 litres that run more smoothly with improved fuel economy.

A 3.5-litre version will appear in the 2004 Chevrolet Malibu, the Detroit News said.

The newspaper said GM would market the ‘high-value’ line as meeting customers’ needs for safety and security rather than emphasising the hardware.

The company plans to introduce engines with displacement on demand (Dod ) technology in the 2005 calendar year, the Detroit News said.

The newspaper added that GM estimated DOD would improve fuel economy by up to 20%.