GM’s diesel center in Italy has a role post-Opel

August 14, 2018 06:15 CET

General Motors set up a diesel development center in Turin after the collapse of its partnership with Fiat in 2005. Surprisingly, GM has decided to keep it even though selling Opel last year meant leaving diesel’s global stronghold of Europe.

Since 2009, the center has been run by Italian Pierpaolo Antonioli, the former director of Fiat-General Motors Powertrain. Antonioli told Automotive News Europe Correspondent Nick Gibbs why GM kept this foothold in Europe and why diesel is still important to the company’s global strategy.

What is the scale of the Turin center?

We have 750 employees or 900 including contractors. It was built in 2009 inside the campus of the Polytechnic University of Turin. More than 50 percent of the people that we have come from the Polytechnic. It is 100 percent GM-owned.

The center was established in Turin for historical reasons following the Fiat partnership. Why has GM decided to keep it after selling Opel?

We have existing competencies and a very important supply chain in automotive in Turin. For GM, this is the only center in the world developing diesel and diesel competence, even if the center is leveraging a lot of activities in the U.S.

You say that GM sold more than 600,000 diesels last year, of which many must be Opels [Opel’s share of that figure was 325,000, LMC Automotive figures show]. Why keep the center in Europe now?

The GM center in Turin is serving the world. It’s not serving Europe. Our market today is North America, South America, Thailand, Korea and India. There are a lot of things to do for the future. A second important point is that Turin is not just developing diesel but also developing competencies. This is one of the engineering center’s most important products.

Does GM expect to grow its diesel sales without Opel?

We are launching the new 3.0-liter, six-cylinder diesel in the new Chevrolet Silverado pickup in the U.S. right now. This is a new segment for us. We expect to have very interesting volumes. We have five global diesel families, including the 6.6-liter Duramax V-8 in the full-size Silverado, the 2.8-liter four-cylinder in the Colorado 1-ton pickup and the 1.6-liter diesel in the Chevy Equinox and Cruze. We have an important strategy around diesel that starts now in North America.

Were all five diesel engine families developed in Turin?

All with the exception of the 6.6-liter Duramax. All the diesels will converge here, and we are concentrating completely on the development of the next generation of big engines.

Will GM shift output of the 1.6-liter Opel diesels to the U.S. from Europe?

Currently, we are buying engines from Opel. For the next generation, we will probably have a different solution.

Is it your intention to develop an architecture for a diesel engine that can encompass four- and six-cylinder units?

That’s what we are doing. This started from the CSS gasoline strategy, in which we define a model architecture based on cylinder sets, so you can go from a three cylinder to a four cylinder to a six cylinder. The new six cylinder is the first of a new generation we will launch in the future.

How do you create an architecture that can cope with the different global emissions standards?

Today, we are focusing on the most complex market for emissions, which is the U.S. Then we can scale for all the regulations globally. In the past, automakers developed diesels in Europe, then moved them to North America because Europe was the region for diesel. Now we develop them for North America then use them for the rest of the world. It’s much easier.

You have said that you believe the diesel share globally for passenger cars and light commercial vehicles would stay at 20 percent. Why?

For sure, the market will go down for pure diesel, but we will also see an increase in diesel hybrids.

Meet the diesel boss

NAME: Pierpaolo Antonioli
TITLE: General Motors Director of Global Diesel Development
AGE: 54
MAIN CHALLENGE: Keeping GM’s diesel development on track and cost-effective despite the loss of Opel’s huge diesel sales.

How do you save the reputation of the diesel in the aftermath of the Volkswagen scandal?

Everybody was caught a little bit by surprise by the [VW] scandal. The problem is we should have reacted strongly, both from the automaker perspective and from a supplier perspective. It took time to react and start to say that diesel is not the dirty guy. The reputation, in my opinion, can be recovered, but it will take time.

Have you looked at Bosch’s proposal closely?

I was in Vienna at the motor symposium when Bosch presented the paper. It is interesting. I trust Bosch. If they say something publicly, it’s probably because they have data that can prove it. I’m really interested to see what they propose.

Have you set up a meeting?

We have set up a meeting. Bosch is one of the many suppliers we have. We are working with all.

Will diesel continue to grow in the U.S.?

It’s very difficult to say. It could be higher or lower, depending on a lot of different elements. I cannot make a forecast. I’m working on making sure the diesel business is sustainable.

AUTOMOTIVE NEWS EUROPE MONTHLY MAGAZINE

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You can reach Nick Gibbs at ngibbs@crain.com.

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