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.