General Motors is undertaking a $494-million capital investment program to expand capacity to produce a new series of its Ecotec engines. The investment includes facility renovations, new machinery, equipment and special tooling at the three plants.

The automaker did not indicate when the projects would be complete, and declined to detail the new four-cylinder engine designs “for competitive reasons.” But, it said the two models “will have additional capabilities to improve fuel efficiency and improve performance through advanced design and by adding technology.”

The Ecotec series was introduced in 2007, and the current 2.0-, 2.2- and 2.4-liter displacements feature direct injection, variable valve timing and turbocharging.

The bulk of the spending, $425 million, will take place at GM’s Tonawanda, NY, engine plant, where it will build 370,000 of the new engines annually. The Tonawanda project will result in 470 new jobs there.

Also in line for investment is the GM Powertrain foundry in Defiance, OH. There, a precision sand molding line will be expanded to produce an additional 188,000 blocks per year, at a cost of $59 million. GM said the expansion will bring 80 jobs to Defiance.

A similar line was installed at Defiance in 2007, at a reported cost of $61 million.

Precision sand casting involves pouring molten metal into molds formed in cured, resin-bonded sand. This process allows use of cast-in-place iron liners, and pressurized aluminum pouring. GM has said the casting process achieves "a high degree of dimensional accuracy," and the "higher material strength properties needed to support the newer, more efficient engines in GM’s product portfolio."

Finally, GM’s Bay City, MI, plant will be expanded to produce connecting rods for the new Ecotec engines. The $10.5-million will result in about 15 jobs there, GM said.

“GM is transforming its product portfolio to reduce fuel consumption and emissions, and the next generation Ecotec engine is an integral part of that transformation,” said Denise Johnson, v.p. – labor relations. “The investment in state-of-the-art four-cylinder engines is another example of GM’s commitment to replace larger-displacement engines with more compact, advanced four-cylinder engines that optimize fuel savings and performance.”