BROOK PARK, Ohio — Ford is preparing for a day in the near future when a small four-cylinder engine will be the motor of choice in most of its vehicles, perhaps even in pickup trucks.
Demand for the company’s 2-liter turbocharged engine is growing so fast in North America that Ford unveiled plans Thursday to start building the engine late next year at a factory in Brook Park, Ohio, near Cleveland. Currently it’s importing the motors from a factory in Valencia, Spain.
The Brook Park plant currently employs about 1,300 people who make V-6 engines for the F-Series pickup truck, the most popular vehicle in America.
Ford plans a $200 million investment in the plant and promises 450 more jobs, the halfway point in a Ford hiring spurt that will total 12,000 US hourly jobs by 2015. But few think that the hiring will stop at 450, as the company and its customers look to smaller ‘‘EcoBoost’’ turbocharged engines to fight high gas prices and comply with more stringent government fuel economy regulations.
Demand for the 2-liter turbocharged motor has exceeded Ford’s expectations, Joe Hinrichs, the company’s new president for the Americas, said. ‘‘You never know when that’s going to go further, because the products it’s going to go into are some of our best-selling cars.’’
Plus, US auto sales are growing. Industry analysts predict about 15.3 million cars and trucks will be sold this year, up 800,000 from last year. It is far higher than in 2009, when frozen credit and high unemployment cut sales to 10.4 million, a 30-year low.
More customers are choosing turbocharged, smaller engines as Ford and other manufacturers put them in more models. The engines get better gas mileage than six-cylinder motors. And the turbochargers give them more power when needed. In the United States, new vehicles must average 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025, twice the roughly 27 mpg they get today.
Ford offered the 2-liter EcoBoost engine in 2011 on its Edge and Explorer SUVs sold in America. Last year, it added the Escape small SUV, the Taurus large sedan, the Fusion midsize sedan and a high-performance version of the Focus compact to the list. This year the Lincoln MKZ midsize luxury car also has it.
Two years ago, Ford sold 6,900 vehicles equipped with 2-liter EcoBoost engines in the United States, and that rose to 96,000 last year. In January, Ford sold 15,000 vehicles with the engines, putting it on pace to sell more than 180,000 this year.
Ford expects to sell more than 500,000 cars and trucks with turbocharged four-cylinder and V-6 engines this year, up from about 334,000 in 2012. The company said turbocharged engines should be available on 90 percent of its North American models this year, and 95 percent by 2015.
The four-cylinder is in just about every Ford vehicle except full-size pickups, and even they could have it in the future, said Scott Makowski, global design manager for Ford’s four-cylinder engines.
Technically, it is possible to power a pickup with a smaller motor by adding boost to the turbocharger, Makowski said. Turbochargers pump high concentrations of air into the piston chamber. That allows more gas to be sent in and offers extra acceleration or hauling capacity whenever drivers step on the pedal. Turbos are not used under normal driving conditions, so the engines get better mileage because they behave as normal four-cylinder motors.
‘‘You can always go up on horsepower per liter,’’ Makowski said. ‘‘We’re always being asked for more performance, and we’re always being asked for more fuel economy.’’
The prospects are good for more hiring at the Cleveland plant, said United Auto Workers vice president Jimmy Settles. New plant hires will be at a lower entry-level wage of about $15.78 per hour.