GM has one of the largest wind tunnel testing facilities in the world, in fact it is the largest used for automotive applications, so it’s only fitting that the company is applying knowledge learned in its wind tunnel to a much more diverse range of vehicles than its competitors.

That’s right, even mundane models like the upcoming 2011 Chevrolet Cruze will benefit from reduced drag--and thus, improved fuel economy--thanks to hours of testing conducted in the wind tunnel. In this case, GM’s new compact sedan sports a special automatic air shutter system behind its front grill that is designed to allow the car to change shape and cut through the air more smoothly.

The new system will be fitted on the 2011 Chevrolet Cruze Eco model and together with a number of other fuel saving features should see the car reach a hybrid-like fuel economy of 40 mpg on the highway. To put that into perspective, that’s the same as the smaller Fiesta sub-compact and better than the Honda Fit and Toyota Yaris.

The air shutter system uses sensors to feel and sense wind and temperature conditions. The sensors are married to electric motors that open and close the shutters automatically. With the shutters closed at high speeds, wind drag is reduced. At lower speeds, the shutters open to maximize engine-cooling air flow. The air shutter system contributes nearly half a mile per gallon in combined city and highway driving.

In addition to the new shutter system, the 2011 Chevrolet Cruze Eco also gets more closed out sections in the upper grille to improve aerodynamics, as well as a lower front air dam extension, extensive use of underbody panels and a discrete rear spoiler.

Other features include a lowered ride height, unique 17 inch wheels and ultra-low resistance Goodyear tires. Power comes from a 1.4-liter Ecotec turbocharged engine with variable valve timing. When equipped with the six-speed manual transmission it is expected to achieve 0-60 mph in about 10 seconds and the 40 mpg highway number we mentioned above.