GM is effectively entering into a joint venture with Penske Corporation,
the wide ranging automotive services group, in its Italian diesel engine
subsidiary, VM Motori. GM already makes a wide range of diesel
engines for its European brands, Opel, Vauxhall and Saab, but
these are less well suited to US market models. For example, the
150bhp 1.9-litre turbo-diesel from the joint venture with Fiat that
which will drag the Saab Vector Sport to 60mph in 9.5 seconds
is likely to struggle in a Cadillac. VM Motori is developing
a family of V6 and V8 diesels, of which the 2.9-litre V6 will go
into the Cadillac CTS and the 4.5-litre V8 is destined for GM’s
It is no secret that diesels are needed for the US market where recent oil price rises have been an oppressive influence on the market. This is not for the first time, the oil crisis of 1973 effectively opened the way for the Japanese manufacturers with their small capacity, highly efficient petrol engines. Subsequent spikes in oil price allowed the incomers to consolidate their hold on the passenger car market, leaving the Detroit Big 3 cornered in their last redoubt, the SUV market. During lulls in the oil price SUVs were coining it in for Detroit, but the latest price hike looks like it will finally winkle them out of their last defensive position.
The Japanese seem to have a strangle hold on the new technology with excited talk of hybrids and fuel cell power. They are not alone, even Detroit has succumbed to talk of cars that run on air and leave nothing but water, but in fact the technology is unproven on a mass scale and is at least ten years away from general release. In the meantime oil has a lot longer to go, perhaps 45 years at the current rate. This means that there is a great deal of potential yet in developing the internal combustion engine, particularly diesel. Europe, the home of diesel, is also home to most of the world’s diesel engine production. VM Motori are specialists in this field, supplying LDV and LTI in Britain as well as Hyundai and Jeep.
The Detroit Big 3, such as they still exist, have access to leading edge diesel technology through their European connections. Ford, for example, as made Dagenham in the UK its global centre for diesel engine research and the source of half its production requirement. Recently it released a state of the art twin-turbo 3.6-litre V8. By contrast, Japanese manufacturers have been slow to take on diesel. Honda, which like BMW poses as an engineering led company, has only one diesel which it released in 2003, half a decade after demonstrating its hybrids, fuel cells and electric vehicles. Toyota is also poorly represented amongst the diesels, while Subaru will have nothing until next year. If Detroit can exploit its global connections then it might be Tokyo that is on the back foot.