Until last year, diesel sales in Europe had exceeded 50 per cent of new car sales every year since 2005, save 2009.
But in 2016, as The Financial Times reports, diesel sales slid 2.6 per cent, dropping European market share for diesels to 49.3 per cent. The Volkswagen Group’s Dieselgate scandal has put a damning spotlight on the nitrogen oxide emissions of diesel cars, and not just from VW. Every automaker that sells diesels has been smeared with at least a little soot from VW’s cheating on emissions tests. And this is hurting sales.
Yet even newly re-elected German Chancellor Angela Merkel, currently reported to be in coalition talks with the Green Party, has offered support for diesel technology as the car industry makes the transition to a fleet of electrified rides. A growing number of countries are setting the stage for a total phase-out of gas and diesel vehicle sales. But that is decades away.
For now, the car business is working on introducing new technologies to the latest diesels. The goal is to make them as clean and efficient as possible as the transition to electric vehicles takes hold.
“We’ll need combustion engines for years and decades – and still at the same time we’ll have to take the bridge, the path towards new mobility and new engines,” Merkel recently told the Bundestag lower house of parliament.
In announcing new initiatives to improve diesel performance and to lower diesel emissions, Daimler AG CEO Dieter Zetsche told Bloomberg, “Our goal is to improve diesel rather than ban it. As long as e-cars still have a small market share, optimising diesel is the most effective lever to reach climate targets in road transport.”
BMW chairman Harald Kruger told a forum in Berlin that for the time being, future mobility solutions – the latest and newly trendy term tossed about by car company bosses — will depend on modern, efficient diesel engines. They are the best short-term way to lower CO2 emissions.
Kruger added that diesels equipped with the latest emissions gear are just as clean or even cleaner than gasoline engines. He and others argue that the car business has made great strides when it comes to particulate, hydrocarbon, carbon monoxide and oxides of nitrogen emissions. Diesels, then, have no more an adverse effect on air quality than gasoline cars and the latest ones are highly efficient.
Various car company bosses, in fact, argue that cutting edge diesel technology has been unfairly discredited industry-wide by Dieselgate. Dan Nicholson, General Motors global propulsion systems vice president, is among them.
“Diesels are now and will continue to play a role in our (GM’s) fuel economy efforts,” he says.
The very latest Chevrolet Equinox SUV (sport-utility vehicle) is a perfect example of what a good diesel can deliver to the customer who wants excellent fuel economy, outstanding range between fill-ups and stump-pulling torque. The Equinox diesel, which in front-drive form
starts at $35,840, is rated at 6.0 litres/100 km or 39 miles per gallon on the highway.
Nicholson says the Equinox diesel with its 1.6-litre turbodiesel, at idle is 55 per cent quieter than a Jaguar F-Pace with its 2.0-litre turbodiesel. With 240 lb-ft of torque on hand at 2,000 rpm, this new version of the Equinox is a strong alternative to gasoline-electric hybrids such as the popular RAV4 Hybrid.
GM Canada, of course, also sells a diesel version of the Cruze compact car ($22,695 base) equipped with the same 1.6-litre turbodiesel. They are among the 34 diesel models GM sells globally.
All are loaded with the latest emissions technologies and all have been engineered to be quiet and free of the kinds of obnoxious noises and vibrations that have kept most North American buyers away from diesels in any sort of vehicle other than large pickups.
GM engineers, in fact, have gone to great lengths to erase the most irritating diesel issues. The new diesel in the Cruze and Equinox, for instance, has a lightweight aluminum block; very efficient combustion and breathing; a clever turbo design that mimics how multiple turbos work; ceramic glow plugs; a common rail fuel system; and a number of other advanced engineering features.
It also has a diesel particulate filter and an 18.5-llitre tank of emissions fluid that attacks oxides of nitrogen before they pollute the air. It needs to be filled up every 8,000 km or so.
I’ve spent a lot of time in the Equinox and Cruze diesels. Both are as quiet as any comparable gasoline-powered model and much quicker. The Equinox has particular appeal for anyone who needs a long-range rig for road trips to ski hills and such. It certainly would be on my test-drive list.