In America the diesel engine still has the bad reputation of being loud, noisy, offering not much dynamic power, and having a very bad emission behavior. Plus based on some unsuccessful introduction attempts decades ago the diesel engine is also believed to be very unreliable and to easily break down compared to a gasoline motor. Unfortunately the countrywide diesel image in America seems to have stopped with this negative experience.
Not many people seem to realize or followed the tremendous success story of the diesel engine in Europe over the past decades. Today’s turbocharged and direct fuel injected diesel engines don’t have to fear the comparison with any high end gasoline motor in terms of power, performance, quietness and comfort. Plus year of experience in Europe seem to have proven that a well engineered diesel engine is normally at least as reliable and rugged as its gasoline peers. Often diesel engines actually run many more miles over lifetime than a comparable gasoline motor.
So it is a pity that, in the U.S., people do not yet see the benefits and values of a diesel engine which could show their strengths, especially in the very common long-distance highway commutes.
Encouraged and supported by the recently released highly efficient “clean diesel” generations, like the BLUETEC concept from Mercedes, many European manufacturers are now trying again to enter the American market with their most recent diesel fleets. The efforts and improvements on emissions due to improved filter and exhaust technologies make the diesel comparably clean and environmentally friendly to gasoline cars—meeting the more stringent regulations of states like California. But still it will likely take quite some marketing efforts, promotion campaigns, and very credible advertisements to convince the population of diesel engine efficacy.
But if the U.S. market and car buyers indeed pick up the new trend and start valuing the benefits and the performance of modern European designed diesels, then suddenly North America could indeed become the next huge market for diesel cars. This on the other hand could lead to a major push back on the penetration ratio of HEVs in the market.
At least one big obstacle that can prevent the introduction and penetration of diesel engines in less developed/emerging countries should not be a problem for the U.S.—namely the availability of high-grade clean diesel fuel.
As will be explained later, modern diesel engines draw their performance out of a sophisticated motor control strategy that is based on high pressure fuel injectors. These highly precise masterpieces of electro-mechanical engineering can be contaminated or clogged by unsuitable fuel. So the availability of quality fuel and the corresponding infrastructure of fueling stations could become a major decision criterion whether a diesel engine may or may not be penetrating a country's market.
The HEV introduction and penetration in emerging countries like China or India is probably quite fast and not too much endangered by diesel since there are still some limits to a broad countrywide availability of clean fuel. These countries need environmentally friendly transportation means but the infrastructure and the availability of higher grade fuel seems to be problematic, especially when you look outside of the metropolitan areas. So countrywide improvements in the fuel supply chain would be needed, which now puts the diesel solution on par with electric vehicles—which themselves need major improvements in the electric supply infrastructure.
Coming back to the U.S., availability of clean diesel fuel is not an obstacle. This fact could give diesel an additional advantage vs the electrical infrastructure improvements that are required if the country wants to be ready for charging a major volume of plug-in hybrid or fully-electric vehicles. Therefore diesel seems to be a very logical and reasonable solution for our highway-driving nation. The diesel engine just needs to overcome the prejudice in the U.S. market.
To a certain extent the figures mentioned in the article make sense. IC engines rely on an optimum RPM for efficiency which is not exaclty the start-stop city traffic's cup of tea. So choosing a prime mover for those sections of driving is defntly going to make sense and micro-hybrid indeed serves the purpose at those points.
but to downplay the HEVs by pointing to microhybrids is a negative route to take. hybrids are a precursor to the EVs, a stop-gap arrangement till battery chemistry is gud enough and we have the infrastructure on the freeways to support it. As a general rule the rational mind shud favor the direction we are on, instead out pointing out things like 'they have the same mileage on a highway' .. hope we all realize hydrocarbon prices will only go up and electricity price can only come down, so no matter how strong the statistical figures at this point, they will always fails in favor of the EVs at some point of time.
Price depends mainly on taxes (in EU). Moreover, there could be a refining capability limitation: the ratio of diesel/gasoline production is heavily dependent on refinery technology and oil quality, can't be changed so easily.
Nice article Henning. The only downside of Diesel here in the UK is that it is more expensive than petrol (gasoline). Do not know why since it's cheaper than petrol elsewhere in Europe (to my knowledge).
I don't understand why everyone thinks that diesel is so clean. Go look at the data. EPA certification data is here:
If that URL gets filtered you can get there from epa dot gov, then search for "Annual Certification Test Results Data"
Not all models are in there. For example I don't see the Prius or the TDI. But I do see a hybrid Lexus and Diesel Audi Q7, which should be pretty comparable. Here are some numbers:
CO: Audi .3 Lexus .2
NMOG: Audi .023 Lexus .006
NOX: Audi .045 Lexus 0
FYI A suburban comes in at:
The numbers are in grams/mile, measured following one of several driving test procedures.
So we see that for NMOG and NOX, the important compounds, we see that an anemic luxury diesel that barely seats 5 is comparable to a luxury full size SUV that seats 8 in comfort and can tow a boat or travel trailer to boot.
This is a dramatic improvement from the past. If you were to look at data from early 2000s you'd find diesels at least an order of magnitude worse then gas. But diesels aren't the "new hybrid", they're not even the "new gas".
I spent some time between Texas and Colorado, and I noticed very few "corvette" or stuff with high torque around. Some were stopped by Police or stuck at 55mph speed limit...
What I did notice is the high number of pick-up that were running empty. Here you need big engines to carry stuff, but most of the time people use the pick up as a standard car and that creates the false illusion that a "chevy" may be a cheap alternative. Seen form outside, the impression is that in States beople simply tend to buy "big". Coming to horsepower, you will be amzed to see a "Corvette" outperformed by a Porche or Ferrari and discover 30% less gasoline consumption on the latters. TESLA is an US company making business in electrical sport cars. That is amazing as horsepower and drive torque, even better than a Ferrari. Just, try to plan a trip longer than 300mls with it...
In France and Italy, most of people I know drive Diesel, even turbo-diesel sport cars of 150 HP or more, in spite of higher taxes on the fuel. I tend to say that, dropping motorcycles and a handful of Porsche or Ferrari the penetration diesel is much around 80%. Also, 100 of european trucks are diesel. Diesel has the reputation to be much more reliable than gasoline. For example Mercedes-Benz Diesel are well sold after 250k Kilm (150k Miles) since the buyerknow they can easily go up to 450-500k before starting worry.
I recently had the opportunity to drive the new Volvo S70 (Diesel), not in such benchmark, that actually did implement the start-stop functionality. I had the amazed surprise to run more than 1,000Km (630mls) without stopping for re-fuel, in urban and extra-urban cycle on smooth and very silent cruise speed of 140 km/h (87mph). The tank was 75 liters (20 US gallons).
Autonomy is a weak point for HEV: on long trip, if you cannot recharge, than you are using conventional fuel AND bringing the additional weight of your empty batteries. Diesel stations are already everywhere, electrical network must be created and, more, a standard way to replenish your battery in sort term is yet to be available.
For HEV, I confirm that they need much more electronics, but the demand is now growing and already the related prices are moving down pretty fast.
Commenters & author, I am an engineer, and I am going to learn a lot at the EVS25 conference in Shenzhen, China, where the state of the art of hybrids, EVs and anything around it is displayed from the perspective of the far east situation. Visiting similar conferences in the EU I find a discrepancy between political fanfare that is broadcasted in the media, and the engineering, technical, physical, sociological, and financial reality presented on the conferences. Three major misconceptions about electric traction seem to live in the media (1) massive use of overnight charging is cheap and under the consumer's control (2) affordable accumulators are ready for the job (3) the battery and electric motor metal supply line of such vehicles is sufficiently large and is affordable. It is amazing how far we are from this state of affairs. The required performance and cost levels, as well as the 10s of thousands of tons of high-tech metals and chemicals, are factors if not an order of magnitude away from what the media proclaim. Welcome to the real world. So lets observe on the conference in November how human inventiveness copes with this. Regards Henk Mol
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