GM to cut size of the Chevy Volt and Cadillac ELR with range-extending 3-cyl generators?

Cadillac ELR

It seems automakers have found a solution to the limited range (and biggest selling hurdle) of electric vehicles: include a small onboard gasoline-powered generator.

While cars like the Nissan LEAF hit showrooms as an all-electric car, the Chevrolet Volt rolled out as a range-extended electric with a 1.4-liter inline four-cylinder gasoline engine under the hood. Though the engine never powered the wheels directly, it is used to create electricity for the electric motor, which then gets the car moving.

Edmunds reports that GM is unofficially considering a three-cylinder generator for the next generation Volt and also the Cadillac ELR, which is the high-end coupe version of the Volt.

The benefit to a smaller, three-cylinder generator is twofold: it would save on weight and gasoline, both of which are essential for the automaker.

Dan Akerson, GM Chairman, recently said in a speech on vehicle futures: “A good rule of thumb is that a 10 percent reduction in curb weight will reduce fuel consumption by about 6.5 percent. Our target is to reduce weight by up to 15 percent.”

Officially, GM isn’t fessing up to the concept of a three-cylinder generator for future models. In 2011, however, the automaker did announce plans to create a family of small three and four-cylinder engines.

We think the three-cylinder move would be a smart one. BMW has announced it’ll include a two-cylinder range extender engine on its i3 EV. Recently, German scientists developed the “free piston” engine, a small cylindrical two-piston flex-fuel generator, which would be ideal for future onboard power generation.

General Motors will surely make public its future three-cylinder plans. When it does, we’ll be sure to update you.