Diesel versus Gasoline
There's some debate as to whether or not the diesel, gasoline,
or the electric vehicle will be the mainstay for our future
passenger vehicle. I asked the question... Who decides?
Here's what I found out.
Today’s diesel engines are getting more compact, are
quieter and producing less harmful emissions than their
predecessors from the past. In fact in a lot of instances,
the air out of the exhaust pipe is cleaner than the air
going into the engine. Although, the USA hasn't widely
adopted the diesel as the main family truckster, European
countries have adopted the small compact diesel car as
the majority of the vehicles on the road. So what makes
the diesel so appealing to the European countries and not
so much to the US driver? That’s a good question, and in
this article we’ll try to find the answer to that question.
But, more than likely, we’ll raise a few more important questions.
While diesel-powered cars remain rather slow-selling in the U.S. the diesel truck is still the favorite across the country. However in Europe the diesel compact cars are in huge demand and sell predominately far better than their gasoline counterparts. Many Americans still view the diesel cars as smelly-black smoke belching noisy contraptions that lumber down the road at a snail’s pace.
Technology has changed a lot of that. Thanks to the recent advancements in sound insulation as well as exhaust tuning, that clanking and rattling sound of a diesel engine is now a thing of past generations. Add in the latest turbocharging technology and other performance-enhancing upgrades and you now have some impressive horsepower as well as responsiveness from a standing start that we didn’t have before. Put this all together with the increased performance capabilities and reduced noise, modern clean-diesel engines are easier on the environment and can in some cases exceed the typical hybrid’s fuel economy mpg.
The Euro Diesel Marketplace
Just to prove a point, here's a list of some of the top performers in the fuel economy and performance compacts from the other side of the pond.
The list of fuel efficient diesels were – VW Beetle 2.0 TDI, VW Golf, Audi A3 TDI, and the VW Jetta. The average mpg was about 30 city and 40 highway. You could even bump up the highway mileage with the right transmission to about 45 mpg on some models.
Volkswagen has the most vehicles in this European mileage race. The 2015 model year top mpg performers from VW boasted a 2.0 liter turbo with around 150 horses at 3,500 - 4,000 rpms, and 236 foot pounds of torque between 1,750 and 3,000 rpm. Which could get them up to 0-to-60 mph at around 8.0 seconds with a top speed of 130 mph.
The BMW 328d (2014 data used) is truly the top car when considering diesel-powered cars with great mpg. Its EPA ratings is around 32 mpg city, 45 mpg highway, (37 mpg combined average). The performance is there too. The turbo-diesel engine pumps out 180 horsepower at 4,000 rpm and 280 foot pounds of torque between 1,750 and 2,750 rpm. Coupled with an eight-speed, STEPTRONIC transmission that allowed this little luxury sedan to hit 60 mph in just under 7.4 seconds with a top speed of 130 mph.
Where is the Market going?
Even though I said this was supposed to be a comparison between the diesel engine and the gas engine, what we really should be focusing on is what the future has in store for us as consumers as well as mechanics. Maybe we should be comparing the diesel compacts to the hybrid vehicles and the eventual takeover of the full on electric passenger vehicle. We need to broaden our comparisons to all the various propulsion methods that are available and not just gas. So the big question really should be; “What is the future market place for the consumer going to be, and what will the future mechanic see in the service bays?”
Government Policies Dictating the Marketplace
By the 90’s the smoke belching, nasty smelling engines were soon engineered to be very quiet and improved fuel economy. The new diesels have styling, comfort, and great incredible mileage—it was the sensible choice for the European market. Diesel passenger cars took off in Europe in a way they never did in the US, mainly because of the United States has lower gasoline prices. In the European countries, the hybrids have a great following, and you would think that might be the next transition for the driving public, but that may not happen.
In 1997 the European governments put their money on the diesel cars as a way to hit their CO2 reduction targets. In theory, the compact diesels emitted way less CO2 than their gasoline counterparts, as long as the engines were in working order (let’s not get into the VW debacle over emission cheating right now). It’s been reported that the European government(s) has spent billions of subsidizing money on diesel fuel to keep it cheaper than pumped gas, as well as other consumer cost reduction incentives. Like taxing new diesel vehicle registrations at lower rates than gasoline cars. This governmental funding turns out to be the leading reason for the switch to mostly diesel passenger cars and not so much the technology or mileage as most consumers were led to believe.
However, looking at the environmental results today, the switch to mostly diesels in the European countries has not had the affect the government officials and environmental people wanted. Now, there’s a new game in town. The big push is to ban all gas and diesel powered vehicles. Which means a transition from fossil fuels to the full on electric vehicle as well as the hydrogen vehicles for the Euro consumer.
Goodbye To the Internal Combustion Engine
Norway wants to be ‘petrol-free’ by 2025. India wants to get all of its vehicles switched to battery power by 2030. Not only do they want to end the sale of internal combustion vehicles but convert or replace all other vehicles already on the road by the end of the next decade. The Netherlands already has a relatively high EV sales rate, about 6 percent of its total new vehicles. Germany may also push to end sales of gas and diesel cars by 2030, but there is strong opposition, especially since half of its electricity comes from coal. Yet German automakers are launching major drives to electrify and that could help build the momentum for a switch. According to Electrek, an analysis company for the electric vehicle market, said; “Germany is pushing for the same EV requirements for all European countries by 2030, and wants to see them all adopt the no petrol policy.”
China has been pushing for production of electric vehicles too. China is heavily marketing their so-called New Energy Vehicles (electric and hydrogen powered). They have also adopted a strict policy on the number of new gas and diesel vehicles that can be registered in major cities such as Beijing and Shanghai, but qualified electric and hydrogen models are exempt, encouraging buyers to shift over to them and help reduce the environmental impact. China has some of the world’s most polluted cities, and are adopting the same European polices for an outright ban on internal combustion technology in the not-too-distant future.
As reported in the Canadian Presson - April 10, 2019 “All light-duty cars and trucks sold in British Columbia would have to be zero-emission by 2040.” Canada’s Energy Minister Michelle Mungall says the Zero Emission Vehicles Act aims to fight climate change by phasing out gas-powered vehicles. She says the legislation would set target dates of 10 per cent zero-emission sales by 2025, 30 per cent by 2030 and 100 per cent by 2040.
The USA market
Until recently, the United States was viewed as the country expected to rapidly adopt the electrified powertrain technology, especially the more advanced, plug-in based vehicles. The pace has slowed down with Trump's dropout of the Paris Accord as well as his request for a review of the Corporate Average Fuel Economy, (CAFÉ standards). This could have a huge impact on what happens for the long term electrified vehicles sales and infrastructure. Although, there are some experts that believe that longer range electric vehicles with a privately funded infrastructure could win over the driving public to the electric market, even without U.S. government backing.
Other countries aren’t waiting for the United States, or their own consumers to make the move. As of now, at least four countries have made the commitment to go 100 percent zero emissions with all the vehicles in their countries by the next decade or so. Which leaves the consumer’s choices in those countries to electrical or hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles.
Observations from the Field
As you can see, there is a shift away from the diesel technology and the gasoline engine. Diesel engines are still the main stay for power, reliability and performance. Dustin Palmer, owner and operator of Palmers Auto and Diesel Service in Cleveland, Oklahoma told me, “Today’s diesel are fantastic pieces of machinery. With the proper maintenance they’ll last a long time. It is the mainstay for the trucking business and of a lot of other industries, including the oil fields that dot the area where I’m from. Without the horsepower it would be hard to move products and material.”
I’m with Dustin on this one, there’s no doubt, as far as the US is concerned, the diesel engine isn’t going anywhere any time soon. We just don’t have the infrastructure for full on electric just yet.
Not that the advanced electronics and hydrogen technology isn’t around us already. Change is what the future is all about. It’s safe to say, the change will come about sooner or later, and eventually even the local mechanic will be forced into a huge transition as well. Right now, the hybrid vehicle are a stepping stone to the eventual full on electrical vehicles, but fall short as the ‘main-stay’ family car. In the USA, GM is leading the way on the electric vehicle production with their Bolt (which still has an ICE) as well as Tesla and their full electric vehicles. The big issue, is still the infrastructure. How the infrastructure will be adapted from fossil fuels to full electric is still undetermined. But, I’m sure, it will slowly eventually reach even the most remote parts of the country before we realize it has already happened.
And now ... the Future
What can we expect out all of this? In years to come everything from our lawn mowers to the weed-wacker will ‘all’ be electric with no exceptions. Lumberjacks will be carrying extra battery packs out in the forest rather than a gas can for their 2 stroke chain saw. Fuel stations, oil change franchises, and the aftermarket parts business will be in for a complete makeover.
Yes, it’s going to be a whole lot different world for the consumer and the automotive technician in the not so distant future. From all of this we can arrive at a few facts about the repair industries future. Unproven facts, but facts nevertheless. Basically, there will be fewer repairs based on mechanical failure but more issues with software and components. Which could mean less repair shops, but those that remain will have to be far and above even what top notch repair facilities there are now. Liability issues will be on the edge of every legal decisions about collisions or vehicle failures. Less fault will be assumed by the driver and we will lean more to the autonomous systems in those vehicles as the cause of an accident. Which, inevitably will lead back those that make the repairs.
Are you ready to drive and repair a full electric vehicle? I’m not sure I am either, but we can’t hide from it. Everyone has an opinion on the eventual change over to all electric and they all have their good points and bad points. But, the reality of it all, is that it ‘is’ the future of automotive industry. There are some 300 million vehicles on the road, race tracks, and off road trails that still will need to be serviced in some way or another. So you can bet the modern mechanic isn’t going to be out of a job anytime soon, more than likely a much savvier mechanic than even my generation that spent their years under the hood. Whether you look at the age of the electric vehicle as a nightmare or a dream, there’s no doubt in my mind, it’s heading our way.