Rinaldo Rinolfi may just have something up his sleeve to make Fiat SpA’s partnership with Chrysler Group LLC work.
The 62-year-old engineer, who designed the Fiat diesel engine in the 1990s that became an industry standard and powers some of Europe’s most energy-efficient cars, has a new invention he says will cut fuel consumption by at least 10 percent. His work is at the heart of the Fiat technology that Chrysler said was worth $10 billion when they formed their alliance.
“We needed to do something radical with the gasoline engine,” Rinolfi said in an interview at Fiat’s research center in the northern city of Turin, the company’s headquarters.
Chief Executive Officer Sergio Marchionne, seeking to turn around Chrysler after two previous owners failed, has engineers flying between Detroit and Italy every other week on the project as Fiat prepares to offer models that meet stricter consumption and emissions levels required by President Barack Obama.
Fiat fumbled its first attempt to enter the United States in the 1970s, when it lacked a big dealer network and earned a reputation for selling clunkers. Marchionne, who is also CEO of Chrysler, now has to prove Fiat-made cars need fewer repairs and have technology Americans can’t find elsewhere, in addition to persuading U.S. consumers to swap more powerful engines for fuel efficiency.
Rinolfi’s MultiAir engine uses an electronic hydraulic valve lift system that allows the engine to automatically adjust the amount of airflow into the combustion chambers, without the use of a traditional throttle valve. In addition to saving fuel, it reduces carbon emissions by at least 10 percent, he said. The valve control system updates the internal combustion engine, in which burning fuel in chambers filled with air creates pressure that applies force to movable parts.