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Published: Sunday, 6/28/2009

Engineer at Fiat reworks engine to boost gas mileage

BLOOMBERG

TURIN, Italy Rinaldo Rinolfi may have the key to making 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 the alliance.

We needed to do something radical with the gasoline engine, Mr. Rinolfi said.

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 Obama.

Mr. Rinolfi s MultiAir engine uses an electronic 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 the traditional engine, the valves that pump air into the chambers open fully, regardless of how fast the car is moving.

Andrew Close, an IHS Global Insight analyst in London, said Mr. Rinolfi s system is breakthrough technology.

Bayerische Motoren Werke AG and Honda Motor Co. also have worked on valve control of airflow. BMW added fully variable valve technology in 2001, spokesman Wieland Bruch said.

Honda developed a valve-control process called Variable Valve Timing and Lift Electronic Control, in 1989. Raj Johal, a Honda spokesman in London, confirmed that the company s process doesn t run valves individually and declined to comment further on a comparison with Fiat s technology.

Fiat hasn t specified the engine s miles per gallon.

The company two-door 500, which is smaller than BMW s Mini, gets more than 40 miles per gallon in city driving without the MultiAir engine in most of its gasoline and diesel versions, according to Fiat s Web site. Chrysler s most fuel-efficient car is the Dodge Caliber with manual transmission, which gets 24 to 30 miles per gallon.



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