Special Coverage

SAE World Congress

DETROIT – General Motors Co. is putting the finishing touches on plans for a new Italian research operation to explore diesel-hybrid powertrain development, executives here say.

Dubbed the GM Hybrid Development Center, the new Turin-based operation will research diesel-hybrid systems jointly with the Polytechnic University of Turin, whose campus is adjacent to GM Powertrain’s engineering facilities.

About 15 GM engineers will staff the new hybrid center, Pierpaolo Anoniolli, Italian site manager-GM Powertrain Europe, tells Ward’s following a presentation at the SAE World Congress here.

But the work performed there also will be supported by GM Powertrain’s entire Turin operation, which employs more than 400 engineers, says Daniel Hancock, vice president-engineering for GM.

Hancock says the auto maker still is ironing out details of the project with the Turin university and local government.

It’s unclear how soon GM could deliver a diesel hybrid or even what form it would take. “The mission is to sort out what would work best,” Anoniolli says.

Mating a diesel with GM’s hybrid technology will involve a lot more than simply replacing the gasoline engine, Hancock says. The system will have to be designed so the diesel operates in its optimum range at all times under all conditions to maximize fuel economy.

“And in a hybrid, the engine is starting and stopping all the time, so you have to be able to make a diesel do that,” he adds.

Anoniolli sums it up this way: “Our objective is to get the positive benefits of both the diesel and the hybrid system.”

Effort also will be made to simplify engine design in order to limit or eliminate the cost premium associated with switching from a gasoline powerplant to a diesel in any hybrid system the auto maker develops.

GM Powertrain is able to take this next step in diesel-hybrid development because of a move made six years ago to cultivate in-house expertise for diesel-engine control software, Hancock says. That effort came to fruition with Turin-designed 1.7L diesel now available in Opel models in Europe.

“We can now do software development for diesels,” Hancock says. “That’s an important step for any OEM. Most other (auto makers) rely on outside suppliers for that.”

GM Powertrain’s Turin operation sprang out of the auto maker’s failed alliance with Fiat Automobiles SpA. Following the breakup in 2005, GM established the Turin office with 62 engineers transferred from Fiat. It now serves as GM’s global passenger-car diesel development center.

dzoia@wardsauto.com