Surprises, surprises under your bonnet
The beating heart of your car doesn’t necessarily wear the badge you imagine roadwarrior
THE MOTOR industry is fascinating. If you think what you need to put together to make a modern motor car and then think how many different makes of motor cars there are out there, you cannot help but wonder how all these companies make money.
In the military, we referred to holding together all the strings that made up a combat operation as “Command and Control”. Well, I am telling you, the command and control of a car factory must be one heck of a thing. There are a lot of strings to hold together and I think headache tablets must be in good supply.
It actually never ceases to amaze me how all these things stay together.
You have the head bone fitting on the jaw bone, which fits on the neck bone which goes on the shoulder bone, and so on. The electrical components, the body sections and panels, the suspension components, the glass, the interior materials, the dashboard, the instruments, the engine, the gearbox, the cooling system, rubber hoses, lights, lenses, brackets, different bolts, nuts and screws. Quite a show.
The moving assembly line was, of course, as most of us know by now, the creative work of a genius called Henry Ford. Before that, I think to produce more than one car at a time must have been a rather mixed-up business.
Back in the day, when cars began, manufacturers made a lot of things in-house for their vehicles. Nowadays, one finds independent ( and not- so- independent) manufacturers produce a wide range of components on contract. These components are then brought to the assembly plant according to a tight schedule based on the so-called just-in-time principle.
This principle suggests that one should ensure not to take delivery of, and pay for, components too far ahead of time, as it would then reduce your cash flow and increase your overheads at any given time, while tying down budgets. Or something like that.
So you want that component to get to you just as it is about to go into the car, theoretically.
All these components are, however, usually made to the designs that come from the car manufacturer concerned, of course. Except those that really don’t matter, as long as they do the job. Such as the alternator, or the battery, for example.
Even gearboxes are shared. A most notable example is the BMW M3/Ferrari California sharing of a Getrag twin-clutch unit. Of course, there are software differences, with the Ferrari box being the more radical.
But a whole blooming engine? Er, yes. A sweet little tradition had actually built up around it over the years. And one would be surprised to see who the partners in an engine share can be. Mini and Citroen, for example. Alfa Romeo and Opel, for another. VW and Audi? No surprises there.
But what about General Motors and Chrysler? There’s a nice surprise for you, isn’t it?
An Italian- based, partly General Motors-owned company called VM Motori has been making diesel engines for Jeep and Chrysler products. Not bad kit at all, really. But it was a surprise. If you go on to the various chat rooms on the web about Ford, Chevrolet and Chrysler engines, you will notice that the Americans are rather feudal in their approach to their favourite engine. It is a logical conclusion that if the company was 50 percent owned by General Motors, it must have made diesels for GM products too.
The other shareholder in this engine builder was, interestingly, Fiat Automobiles. Which owns everything from Ferrari through to Maserati, Alfa Romeo, Lancia and, well, Fiat. As well as the Iveco truck company and Fiat tractors.
So, you won’t soon find a Ferrari diesel. And Ferrari certainly build all their own engines. Of course.
But, who’d have thought it possible, until early this year – Maserati has just recently launched its latest Ghibli range (the smaller Quattroporte) and one model is a diesel. With an engine from VM Motori.
Now, Fiat Group Automobiles’ has, following receipt of regulatory approvals, acquired the remaining 50 percent stake in VM Motori from General Motors.
Started in 1947, VM Motori specialises in the production of diesel engines. Its manufacturing plant located in Cento, in north-east Italy, covers an area of 85 000m and employs around 1 150 people.
VM produces about 90 000 engines a year. Interestingly, London Taxi is another client.
VM also supplies engines to industrial, agricultural and marine clients.
It only goes to show then. For those of us who still cling to the idea that the engine is the heart of the car, nix, brothers and sisters. That intangible thing called “the concept” is all that is exclusive.
MEAN MACHINE: Maserati’s Ghibli range includes a diesel engine from VM Motori.
OUTSOURCED: The Jeep Cherokee has a diesel engine from VM Motori.