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Partnerships Blur Line Between Import, Domestic Powerplants You might be surprised to learn what is and isn’t considered a domestic car
By Dan Minick
So, you aren’t willing to work on import engines? To you they just seem too complicated and overwhelming? So you end up making the statement that you don’t do foreign vehicle repairs or more specifically, import engine repairs.
What happens when you get an offer to do a Mazda B2300 motor or work on an Isuzu Hombre? Do you politely decline, saying you don’t have the expertise to tackle those imports? Did you know that neither one of those vehicles is imported at all? Or for that matter, neither vehicle is even manufactured by Mazda or Isuzu?
The Mazda B2300 is, in fact, built in New Jersey along with its almost identical twin, the Ford Ranger. B2300 stands for 2.3 liters, which, since this is really a Ford Ranger with Mazda nameplates, is a Ford 2300 Ranger motor derived from the old original Pinto 2.3L OHC. As for our Isuzu Hombre, it happens to be a clone of a Chevrolet S10, assembled in Shreveport, LA. And the powertrain? a GM 2.2L 4-cylinder just like S10s and Cavaliers.
What constitutes an import today? Does point of manufacture? If that’s the case, then the bulk of Toyotas and Hondas sold in the United States are "domestics," while GM’s Camaro and Firebird are imports, being manufactured in the good ol’ French-speaking province of Quebec.
Today’s automotive market has changed drastically from what it was just 10 years ago. Once, one could talk about domestics as the Big Three plus AMC, and the imports were everything else. Today, from German-built Cadillacs to U.S.-built Mercedes-Benzes, the lines between domestics and imports have been blurred, if not completely obliterated.
To help clarify some confusion about who is who, the following information may prove useful.
Once the sales leader by a wide margin, General Motors has brought several players into its fold to try to regain that dominance. Small cars in the U.S. may be sourced from Suzuki, Toyota or Isuzu. The Chevy Sprint of 1985-‘88, Geo/Chevy Metro of 1989-onward, and the Geo/Chevy Tracker are Suzuki-sourced and utilize Suzuki powertrains.
Isuzu has been partially owned by GM since the early 1970s, and GM has used Isuzu engineering and products in many applications. Chevy LUV, Buick, Opel/Isuzu (1977-‘79), Chevy/Geo Spectrum, Geo Storm and Chevy/GMC W-series trucks are all Isuzu products. Additional uses of Isuzu powertrains include the 1.9L 4-cylinder in early S10s and the S10 diesel motor. The new Duramax 6600 V8 diesel has been co-developed by Isuzu and GM.
Toyota is the source of the 1985-’89 Chevy Nova and Geo/Chevy Prizm. These vehicles are mechanical twins of the Corolla using Toyotas "A-series" 1.6L/1.8L in SOHC and DOHC versions. Newer Prizms and Corollas use Toyota’s new aluminum block 1ZZ-FE 1.8L engine.
Another GM "import" is the Pontiac LeMans that was sold in the U.S. from 1988-‘93. What many people don’t realize is that this car was actually engineered by GM. Opel (GM’s German division) designed this as the mainstream compact for all of GM’s world-wide operations except North America.
Sold around the world as an Opel Kadett, Vauxhall Astra and Chevrolet Astra, the Pontiac LeMans version sold in North America was actually built under license by Daewoo of South Korea. The engines used were GM’s "Family II" 1.6L and 2.0L. This engine family was GM’s mainstay of four cylinders throughout Europe, South America and Australia, and utilized by the Pontiac division in the Sunbird from 1982-’94 in 1.8L and 2.0L forms.
Opel again is responsible for the German-built Cadillac Catera. Essentially, a rebadged and retrimmed Opel Omega, the 3.0L V6 used is sourced from GM’s engine plant in Ellesmere Port, England. One can also find this same V6 in the Saab 9-5, and a smaller displacement version of 2.5 liters in the new Saturn LS.
Use Of GM Engines In ‘Imports’
So there are quite a few GM vehicles which use import engines. What about imports using GM powertrains? Isuzu happens to be a large user of GM powertrains. From 1989-‘94 Isuzu used GM’s 2.8L and 3.1L V6s in Troopers, Rodeos, Amigos and the pick-up. The newer Isuzu Hombre, as we said earlier, is actually a 2.2L 4-cylinder S10 with Isuzu nameplates. While not imports, AMC/Jeep did use GM’s 2.8L V6 in the Cherokee and Comanche models from 1984-‘86, and the GM 2.5L 4-cylinder from 1980-‘83.
Numerous manufacturers over the years have used Chevrolet’s small block and big block V8s in all kinds of applications. One of the more exotic homes that the famous bow-tie V8 resided in has been Italian maker Iso in the 1960s.
While we’re on V8s, does anyone remember the aluminum V8 from the Buick Special of the early 1960s? It found a home in the Rover Company, which, through several mergers, became known as British Leyland in the 1970s. Buick’s small V8 came to power Rover sedans, MGB V8s, Triumph TR8s and of course, the now pricey Range Rover.
It’s kind of ironic, but since BMW sold off the Rover divisions this year, Ford Motor Company ended up with the Land Rover division and the old Buick (GM) V8. So, theoretically you can purchase a Ford product (Range Rover) with a GM (direct descendant of the Buick 215) V8.
What does all of this mean to the remanufacturer or repair shop? It means that you can’t just focus on "domestics" or "imports" anymore. The lines between them are at least blurred, if non-existent in today’s global economy. The general public, by and large, doesn’t seem to care or, for that matter, even know in many cases by whom or where the car was designed or built.
The melting pot of auto engineering and manufacturing is blending with even greater velocity. GM’s recent purchases of stock shares in Fuji (Subaru) and Fiat Auto (Fiat, Lancia, Alfa Romeo) are bound to bring more changes. One of the cost saving target areas for the combination of Fiat and GM is in the area of powertrains.
Expect to see more cross-pollination in the coming years as automakers seek to make maximum use of partnerships on a global basis.
Dan Minick wasformerly with Minick Engine, Abilene, KS. He holds an MBA from Kansas Wesleyan University and a BA from Kansas State University.