Earlier this month GM announced they were canceling development of their new, advanced, DOHC V8 which would have served as the replacement for Cadillac’s venerable Northstar engine. This comes to the chagrin of many Northstar-faithful who have cultivated an almost cult-like reverence for the 4.6L powerplant.
When it was initially brought to market in 1992 the Northstar was an engineering triumph for Cadillac. Coupled with what was dubbed the Northstar System – an integrated powertrain, chassis, braking, and steering system, Cadillac had taken a giant leap forward in its quest to regain some of its former glory in the luxury market. Despite exploding out of the gates with quintessential American panache, further development of the twin-cam V8 over the subsequent 16 years could be described as, well… rather mellow.
There were some tweaks in 2000 and again in 2004 but even with such, Cadillac was only able to squeeze out another 25 horses on the top end. In 2006 they were able to up the ante for two of their hotrod V-series through some forced-induction tomfoolery, but still the aluminum wonder (albeit, de-bored for extra strength) remained largely the same. Suffice it to say – the old gal was getting pretty long in the tooth, especially compared its foreign competition.
When GM announced last year that they would be investing $300 million into their Tonawanda, NY facility for the purpose of producing a new “Ultra” DOHC V8, the collective sighs of relief from Cadillac-faithful resonated around the globe. Variable-valve timing in and out, direct injection, and speculated displacements from around 5.0L and up would have made even the most Teutonic of carmakers take notice.
However, just as the clouds were beginning to break…. the sky fell.
While most could be considered less than positive, reactions to the news have varied from the confused and disheartened to the livid and extreme. The overall sentiment is that GM is making characteristic blunder consequently dooming Cadillac by canceling development of this much needed, “uber”-motor… a sentiment this Cadillac Enthusiast wholeheartedly disagrees with.
First of all, we should take this announcement with a grain of salt as it may be nothing more than a typical Lutz-ian spin, all for the sake of under-promise, over-deliver.
Do we remember the on-again, off-again melodrama surrounding the Zeta platform?
It wasn’t all that long ago when GM announced the Zeta platform was being cancelled due to various corporate circumstances. What happened? The exact opposite. Aside from those already in production overseas, ranging from Holdens to Daewoos to Buicks; here at home we have the G8 debuting this year, the Camaro slated for ’09, the new Impala the year after, as well as a possible new Buick and Cadillac after that.
Under-promise, over-deliver… it can be a hugely effective marketing tool. The most we could possibly believe for certain is that whatever happens, this “new” engine will not be built at the Tonawanda plant.
Even if this doesn’t turn out to be an exercise of theatrics a la Lutz and the Northstar is slated to end production in 2010 without a replacement, there is little reason to assume this spells the end of V8 engines in Cadillacs as many already have. All it would mean is the end of a complicated, expensive to manufacture, DOHC V8… and guess what? It won’t be the end of the world either.
The suits that dwell atop the Ren-Cen are not so obtuse as to drop V8+ engines from their luxury car division all together. Cadillac is still in the midst of a renaissance many believed could never happen. They’ve still got their eye on the ball, they’re still gunning for the Germans, and they know that if they’re going to be taken seriously as a word-class luxury carmaker, then they need to have V8 and/or bigger engines on their options list.
However, the automotive landscape is changing drastically. As with any of the competition, the vast majority of buyers are going to opt for a V6. It then makes sense that GM would focus a good deal of their resources on making world-class six-cylinder engines.
Would it make any sense for the company to dump millions upon millions of dollars on a new “advanced” DOHC engine that will only see use in a small number of vehicles? It would be a complete waste and that is one thing Detroit has been desperately attempting to cut back on.
The fact remains, GM knows how to make fantastic V8 engines and they’ve been doing so for 94 years. The current crop are the lightest, most potent, most efficient examples in the company’s fabled history – the current LS line.
While some people find pushrods to be offensive, they do their job and they do it well. It makes far more sense from financial, production, and power standpoints for Cadillac to further adapt and utilize the exceptional LS family of V8s they already have at their disposal. There is a GenIV LS suited for every application, from the 5.3 all the way up to the monster 7.0. If done, Cadillac would have the most comprehensive lineup of V8 powerplants within the entire luxury market.
The biggest reason why it would make the most sense for GM to stop tinkering around with a Northstar replacement comes down to Cadillac’s much rumored and much needed flagship DTS/STS replacement.
A subsequent product of focusing such effort on their high-feature V6s is the very real possibility of manufacturing a V12. By taking the time to develop a truly world-class V6, GM has laid the foundation for making a truly world-class V12. By utilizing current technologies – cylinder deactivation, direct injection, and variable-valve timing, Cadillac could give the world a potent DOHC V12 with the emissions and economy comparable to, if not better than the current Northstar.
Cadillac is hell-bent on recapturing their place as “the Standard of the World,” and because of which it seems they are finally starting to think “outside the box.”
So while many see the unfortunate demise of what is a largely unnecessary engine, this writer sees a number of possibilities, fantastic opportunities, and a really bright future for America’s greatest brand.
There has never been a revolution without a complete upheaval of the way things were.