General Motors gave the world every reason to believe it was done with Europe last year when it sold its Opel, Vauxhall and European GM Financial business to competitor PSA Group for $2.3 billion.
So, what's GM up to in Turin, and who is Pierpaolo Antonioli?
Antonioli, 54, is CEO of GM Powertrain Europe, directing the Global Propulsion Systems operations in Turin to supply diesel engines around the world. The former Fiat powertrain engineer moved to GM as the U.S. automaker's partnership with Fiat was ending in 2005, when GM decided to go it alone on diesel engines.
Although GM got rid of its European auto companies last year, it determined the diesel engine business was strong enough to keep. Antonioli has been running the Turin center since 2009. He spoke with Automotive News Europe Correspondent Nick Gibbs about why GM is keeping this foothold in Europe and why — despite the black eye diesel has gotten in public perception — the technology is still important to the company's global strategy.
Q: How big is the Turin center?
A: 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 our people come from the Polytechnic. It is 100 percent GM-owned.
The center was established at the end of 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.
GM sold more than 600,000 diesels last year, of which about 325,000 were for Opel. Why keep the center in Europe now?
The Turin center 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 one-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?
We are currently buying engines from Opel. For the next generation, we will probably have a different solution.
Does the center plan 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 [modular Cylinder Set Strategy first used in gasoline engines], 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 because Europe was the region for diesel, then moved them to North America. 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 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.
Can the diesel's reputation be saved in the aftermath of the Volkswagen scandal?
Everybody was caught a little bit by surprise by the 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 say that diesel is not the dirty guy. The reputation, in my opinion, can be recovered, but it will take time.