General Motors is preparing for an electrified future, but internal combustion is still kicking as evidenced by news of a sixth-gen Chevy small block V8.
General Motors is a huge automaker with equally sized vehicle electrification plans. By 2025, GM aims to be selling 1 million electric vehicles (EV) annually and they’re in the midst of a 35-billion-dollar outlay to get there. Rides like the new Blazer EV, that we cover here, are just one piece of this ambitious strategy. It’s an important milestone because, by 2040, the General has said they will be carbon neutral with zero gas-powered vehicles for sale in North America. But fear not petrol heads, amidst this electrified fervor, GM has just announced an incoming sixth-generation small block V8.
Talk about a storied history. Going back to 1955, just about 70 years ago, Chevrolet unleashed the Gen I small block V8. Known as the Turbo-Fire, this 265 cubic inch mill saw duty in the first Corvette, a history you can dig into here. Fun fact: the original Corvette featured an inline-6 powertrain, an engine arrangement we discuss here. The small block would go on to be offered in a wide range of variants from 262 cubes of displacement all the way up to 400. The sweet spot was 350 cubic inches, a small block that saw continuous production from 1967 to the new millennium.
By 1997, we had the modern LS small block, a clean-sheet design for the third generation. And today, consumers can enjoy the fifth-generation Chevy small block V8 in everything from Silverados and Suburbans to Camaros and hot-rod Cadillacs. And of course, the mighty Corvette, an evolving supercar that recently became an AWD hybrid as we look at here. Though this motor is one of just a few remaining with a pushrod valvetrain, don’t mistake it for a dullard. Mostly aluminum construction, cylinder deactivation, and variable valve timing are just some of the technologies that make the modern Chevy small block an engineering marvel.
All that said, the current small block dates to 2013, making it ripe for renewal. Given all the attention on EVs and most major automaker’s plans to kiss internal combustion goodbye, it may seem out of line to be spending nearly a billion bucks on a brand-new thundering eight-cylinder. In the case of GM however, that future is nearly 20 years down the line and in the meantime, they need to keep the lights on.
Keep in mind, the Chevy small block V8 powers all of GM’s truck and SUV money makers in the form of the Silverado/Sierra and Tahoe/Yukon/Escalade pairings. Polar opposites to carbon neutrality, in an automotive context, these gas-guzzlers are nonetheless hugely popular and GM needs to continue selling them to pay for all this EV investment. To that point, GM notes that this incoming small block will specifically be for trucks and SUVs.
Additionally, it is not yet clear how battery-powered electric motors will play with these land yachts. Currently, electric-powered trucks show a dramatic drop-off in driving range when hooked up to a trailer – which truck and SUV customers may not be so excited about. Fortunately, there are plans afoot for serious investment in a nationwide EV charging network to ease adoption. Nonetheless, GM can’t afford to screw up its core products while they work towards 100% electrification. Given the current small block’s decade-long run and ever-tightening emissions regulations, it’s clear that GM needs an updated gas-fired power plant to reach the 2040 finish line.
To that end, they have announced an investment of $854 million, spread across four manufacturing sites, in the sixth-gen small block V8. Flint Engine Operations will receive the bulk of that cash – $579 million – to machine blocks and assemble the final units. Bay City Global Propulsion Systems will be building camshafts and connecting rods. Defiance Operations in Ohio is slated to receive $55 million for castings and Rochester Operations is responsible for the intake manifolds and fuel rails.
General Motors is so far keeping a lid on details around performance and features of their next-gen small block. But a 2022 4th-quarter earnings presentation notes that the new engine will make more power and torque than the outgoing model along with an estimated 5% improvement in fuel efficiency. However, the sixth-gen Chevy small block V8 shakes out, there’s a good chance it’ll be the last one GM ever makes. So don’t be surprised if the General pulls out all the stops to put forth an epic engine.