TURIN -- Fiat Auto, a leader in diesel direct-injection technology for almost 30 years, invented and patented the common-rail system that has made Robert Bosch a fortune.
Fiat sold the technology to Bosch for E13.4 million in 1993. At the time the Italian automaker didn't have the manufacturing expertise and the money needed to transform this experimental system into a mass-produced component.
Bosch did. This year the German supplier expects to produce 7 million diesel systems that feature common-rail technology.
Fiat Auto began work on a direct-injection diesel for passenger cars in 1976. Ten years later it introduced the first passenger car equipped with a direct-injection turbodiesel engine: The Croma TD-ID.
The car's 1.9-liter engine delivered a mere 90hp.
In 1988, Fiat Auto started work on a high-pressure direct-injection diesel it called the Unijet.
But Fiat didn't have the financial resources to bring to market what would become the common-rail diesel.
Bosch developed the common-rail in cooperation with Fiat and Mercedes-Benz.
Fiat was the first automaker to offer customers a model with the engine. It arrived in the Alfa Romeo 156 in 1997.
Shortly after, Mercedes-Benz offered a common-rail diesel in its 2.2-liter C-class model, the 220 CDI.
Debate continues on whether Fiat Auto missed a chance to make billions and gain a clear competitive advantage.
Selling the patents allowed competitors to get the system quicker, but Fiat say it actually saved money by purchasing the system from Bosch because the supplier produced it for multiple customers and thus benefited from economies of scale.
Fiat started work on a second-generation common-rail diesel called the Multijet in 1997, which it introduced in 2003.
Unlike the Unijet, which offered pilot and main injections, the Multijet offers multiple fuel injections per engine cycle.
Next year Fiat will introduce its new-generation Multijet on the
1.3-liter engine. The new Multijet increases power in that engine to 90hp from 70hp; the 1.9 liter improves to 175hp from 150hp and the 2.4 liter increases to 200hp from 175hp.
Fiat executives says that on a small engine such as a 1.3-liter, the new Multijet, when compared with its predecessor, reduces fuel consumption by 10 percent and decreases emission levels by as much as 40 percent so it meets Euro 4 limits.