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.
I drove a Citroen 1.2L Diesel in Spain more like 15 years ago. At the time, one of my other cars had a Chevy 350 cu in (that's about 5.7L for you kids). At first, I though I might as well get out and walk. But once I figured out that I couldn't shift it like an American sports car, the Citroen and I came to a pleasant understanding: it was a wonderful, if small, car. Bell hops at the hotels would ask me where I was from, how I liked the car, and usually, what I drove at home in the US. I would tell them that my engine at home was 5 times as large, and some would wonder at my Spanish: once, a fellow said "Chevy?" and I smiled yes... it was fun.
I miss that car: it was well built, and I couldn't complain of the fuel economy. I wouldn't buy a hybrid: for one thing, I tend to tow a trailer once in a while, and my tastes run to an FJ Cruiser, but I'd certainly consider a large-enough vehicle with a Diesel powerplant.
I drive one of the Citroen babies (1.2L turbo-deisel) 5 years ago in Spain for several weeks over 4000Km; less than 4L/100km doing 120Km/hr. Experience: smooth, powerful, miserly like US automakers / customers don't have a clue.
We don't get out enough nor realize the joke we are. Thanks for your article and quiet significant observation.
ps: did you ever have to change one of those HEV batteries, do you know how often you have to in the car's life & related $, any idea of that environmental overall impact? Time to look at the numbers (all of them including 'electric vehicles').
I also converted/drove a Natural Gas conversion dual fuel minivan; a local after-market update shop on a Pontiac minivan. Technology easily applied ($2500) after mfg. and paid-for using a local sales-tax rebate, that is developed to production levels in Italy (over .5M NG vehicles in use). I can gas-up at home with a compressor appliance outside my garage. Engine life is extended with higher octane rating / cleaner burn. Gasoline is still there with a dash-mounted switch.
It's out there, just get to it. Good hunting .. & travelling.
I think HEVs will benefit once solar has dropped in cost to the point that consumers have excess power and need a place to put it.
I drive a Jetta TDI myself, powered by B100 biodiesel produced from recycled fryer oil.
Nice profile of the potential of diesel. And, fortunately, given that as the author states, his company wins with wide-spread adoption of either diesel or HEV, I'm betting this is more balanced than so much of what we read on the subject these days.
I think it is important to have a lot of research going into HEV and pure electrics, and we need early-adopter purchases, but in the near-term, the planet could probably get the best reduction in fuels use and pollutants per buck by looking to solutions like modern diesel and super efficient gas power plants. I wonder how much fuel we could save simply by reducing the horsepower in all vehicles by ten or twenty percent.
That's probably the real hold-up. We want power and lots of it. To satisfy that desire, we have big gas engines and hybrids that are more about increasing horsepower than fuel economy.