(Adds that more aluminum used in making new engines)
By Bernie Woodall
PONTIAC, Mich., March 19 (Reuters) - General Motors Co on Wednesday announced a new generation of efficient small engines that it says will power 27 models in 64 countries by the 2017 model year.
The automaker said it was attempting to streamline production with a modular architecture of the 1-to-1.5-liter, 3- to 4-cylinder engines that will allow them to be adapted to varying needs in different global markets.
Among the first models with the new engines, to begin production by summer, will be the Chevrolet Cruze designed specifically for the Chinese market and the Opel Adam in Europe.
GM is calling the new line of 11 engines "Ecotec" and will build them in five plants on three continents.
By 2017, the company will build 2.5 million of the Ecotec engines for use by five different brands, or about 25 percent of the vehicles the company will build.
"We did not calculate the savings but it's definitely substantial" in engineering and manufacturing, said Tom Sutter, global chief engineer of Ecotec engines.
Steve Kiefer, vice president for global powertrain engineering, said he believes GM's key global competitors will not match the 2.5 million in annual production for a single "family" of engines by 2017.
Sutter said the new engines replace three engine "families" at GM but would not disclose which ones.
"Scale does matter, so I would say that our intention is that this would put us at the front of scale, therefore economics, cost-effectiveness," while not sacrificing in terms of lower noise and vibrations, said Kiefer.
The compact Cruze sedan built for China launches later this year with a 2015 model that will have 1.4-liter turbocharged and 1.5-liter naturally aspirated four-cylinder engines. The Adam to be sold in Europe will have a 1-liter turbocharged three-cylinder engine.
All of the engines will run on regular unleaded gasoline, and in some European markets also on compressed natural gas and liquefied petroleum gas, and 100-percent ethanol in Brazil.
The 1.4-liter turbocharged engine will be up to 5 percent more efficient than the one it replaces, GM said. The new Cruze 1.4-liter engine will be 44 pounds (20 kg) lighter than the engine it replaces, which Sutter said was a representative weight savings for most of the new line of engines.
Much of the weight savings is attributed to the increased use of aluminum in the new engines, said Sutter.
The engines will produce from 75 horsepower (56 kilowatts) to 165 horsepower (123 kW), for use in models from minicars to mid-sized cars and crossovers, said Kiefer.
The engines will be built at one new plant, in Shenyang in China, and four existing plants, at Flint, Michigan in the United States; Toluca in Mexico; Szentgotthard in Hungary; and Changwon in South Korea.
GM will spend $200 million to upgrade the Flint factory, but has not yet disclosed investments at the other plants.
Kiefer said GM, in a seven-year stretch ending in 2017, will have spent about $1 billion on global powertrain plants and design and engineering centers.
Diesel will remain another engine type, but can be built at some of the same plants, including the one in Hungary, said Mattias Alt, Ecotec chief engineer for GM in Europe.
All of the engines will have the capability to use the fuel-saving, so-called "stop-start" process in which the engine shuts down when the vehicle is at traffic lights or otherwise stationary for short periods of time. Stop-start will be a standard feature on the new Cruze in China.
Reporting by Bernie Woodall; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn and Tom Brown