GM sees Turin r&d center feeding diesel revival

GM Powertrain Torino is where the automaker develops its new diesel powertrains.

TURIN — This northern Italian industrial city is famous for being the home of Fiat, and therefore FCA, but it’s also home to a key operation in General Motors’ drive to reduce fuel consumption in its combustion engines in the U.S. and globally.

GM Powertrain Torino is where the automaker develops its new diesel powertrains, and despite selling the bulk of its European operations to France’s PSA Group last year, GM is holding on to and even investing in the Turin technical center as its ambitions for the fuel grow in markets outside of Europe.

“We have an important strategy around diesel. We are working to keep [U.S. sales] increasing,” Pierpaolo Antonioli, head of GM’s Turin development center, said on the sidelines of the Automotive News Europe Congress here this month.

The center, born out of the ashes of the failed GM-Fiat powertrain alliance, employs 750 people, including some of the industry’s most capable diesel engineers. Among its creations are the Duramax 3.0-liter straight-six diesel engine announced in January for the new Chevrolet Silverado full-size pick-up, which is expected to crack 30 mpg. The unit is the first to be built using GM’s new diesel engine architecture developed in Italy that follows on from the modular Cylinder Set Strategy first used in gasoline engines, Antonioli said.

GM said it sold more than 600,000 diesels globally in 2017 — 360,000 by the GM group, according to LMC Automotive, and the rest by Opel. GM also sold diesels in the U.S., Thailand, Brazil, Australia, India and South Korea. Chevrolet claims it offers more diesel models than any other brand in the U.S., with diesel variants available for the Equinox, Cruze, Colorado, Express, Silverado 1500 and Silverado HD.

GM currently buys its Turin-developed four-cylinder diesel engines for the Equinox and Cruze from PSA following Opel’s sale. Those could be replaced by a new variant of the CSS diesel range expected next year. Antonioli said the CSS architecture includes four-cylinder and three-cylinder diesels.

Antonioli said he was confident diesel would bounce back from the damage caused by revelations that VW and other makers were cheating diesel emissions tests, and GM has said it hopes to capture some disaffected VW buyers as the brand shifts away from diesel.

“Everybody was caught a little bit by surprise by the scandal,” he said. “It took time to react and start to say that diesel is not the dirty guy. In my opinion its reputation can be recovered.”

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