As GM has brought out new diesel engine architectures, the Turin center's importance has grown beyond Europe's borders. With the Cruze diesel, for example, Turin's engineers not only tackled some of the strictest emissions regulations on the books related to NOx, or nitrogen oxides, but also helped it attain a 52 mpg highway fuel-economy rating, making it only the fifth nonhybrid car since the early 1990s to top 50 mpg. Turin engineers also helped develop the engine management system for the big Duramax diesel V-8, used in GM's heavy-duty pickups.
The 1.6-liter diesel in the Cruze -- nicknamed "whisper diesel" for its smooth and quiet operation -- is also slated for use in the next-generation Chevrolet Equinox coming this spring. GM, which is making a play for VW's disenfranchised diesel customers, will have 10 diesel-powered vehicles in its North American lineup by the end of 2018, Nicholson said.
The diesels springing from Turin aren't just for vehicles sold in Europe and North America. A new small 1.0-liter three-cylinder diesel engine is nearly ready for GM's global small cars, such as the Chevrolet Spark.
AutoPacific analyst Dave Sullivan says GM is making the right move by keeping the Turin site, which was recently expanded.
"Moving it would basically hit the reset button for development," Sullivan said. "And any brain drain for GM's diesel development could only help the competition. Closing this facility could be a setback in terms of future products.
"I think not closing this facility means that there is a place for diesel engines in GM's lineups in other markets," Sullivan added.
Sullivan said that since GM's diesel disaster of the late 1970s and early 1980s, the company has a history of developing the engines with help in other regions and from other companies. "The original Duramax V-8 engine was designed in record time with [Isuzu] engineers in Japan." he says.
The challenge for future diesel engines isn't increasing power, it's reducing emissions, Sullivan said, and the Turin center keeps GM competitive with Ford and other automakers.