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100 + 10: Diesels in Europe

A Decade of Dominance

There are diesel engines being put in European showrooms today that deliver 270 hp from a 3.0 L V-6. That yields a specific output of 90 hp/L, quite higher than most gasoline engines. Back in 2000, specific output for a diesel would be considered excellent at 50-55 hp/L. The improvement has been startling. Thanks to superior low-end torque output of the diesel, they are now fun to drive and much more competent with towing duties. The fiasco with GM’s diesels in the early 1980’s poisoned the well for the American public and did tremendous damage to great brands like the “Oldsmobile Gutless Cutlass.”

 VW is Europe’s biggest diesel dealer with the Golf, its top-selling brand.
VW had huge success putting more than 300,000 diesels on American highways in the early 1980s. But truth be told, all these engines were noisy, smoky, had cold-start inconveniences and limited fueling opportunities. They just weren’t ready for prime time, at least in North America. These were all indirect-injection engines.

The calamity was of such proportion that diesels receded entirely and quickly from U.S. shores, but did manage to leave behind residual interest in powering heavy-duty pickups and vans. Though slow in the beginning, Ford and its partner International, DXC and its partner Cummins, and GM and its joint venture partner Izuzu, did build a market of about 500,000 diesel-powered heavy pickup trucks and vans for North American markets each year. These soon evolved from IDI to DI engines.

Europeans liked the promise clean diesels held for fuel consumption, green operation and higher performance levels. Their development programs hit pay dirt with developments like 4-valve head configurations in the late 1990s as engines transitioned from indirect-injected to direct-injected engines.

After several generations of partial and full-authority rotary fuel pump and inline pump systems, common rail technology became available from Bosch, Denso, Siemens and Lucas (now Delphi).

Volkswagen went in a slightly different direction with its high pressure direct-injection system. It choose the unit injector approach, more typical of somewhat larger diesel engines but quite well proven.

All of these high pressure systems, as they evolved to pressure levels in the 1800-2100 bar, were capable of injection rate shaping, and pilot and multiple injections at an unexpected sophistication level. Each combustion event became carefully optimized.

Variable geometry turbochargers also greatly boosted performance and the benefit applied over the full range of engine operation. Great strides were made across the board with diesels in noise suppression, fuel economy, emissions and performance. Today’s European passenger car diesels are now 100 percent direct injected and turbocharged with no exceptions.

The evolution of European diesels right now is a balancing act to maintain the performance at a high level but meet more stringent requirements for NOx and CO2. This will doubtlessly by achieved by introducing smaller displacement engines, which because of their high specific output, will match the performance of the larger displacement engines, while at the same time cutting pollution on a g/km basis and also eliminating some vehicle weight.

Diesels look extremely viable for Europe at least through 2010, although it will likely be aided and abetted by new particular traps, filters and catalyst system to meet some of the challenges. And we fully expect that those who are strong diesel suppliers today will remain strong tomorrow. Diesel share by country shows a similar trend.

If we look at market penetration of diesels in various countries, France leads the pack at 68 percent with Belgium and Spain not far behind. All of Western Europe is above 40 percent diesel penetration (market data taken from Ricardo study, “Diesel Passenger Car & Light Commercial Vehicle Markets in Western Europe 2004).

The top five builders (see table) in Europe in 2003 were the Volkswagen Group, Daimler Chrysler, the PSA Group, Renault and then Ford of Europe. Over 50 percent of the vehicle production of the first four is powered by diesel, with Ford at about 43 percent. GM sits in 10th place with 30 percent diesel penetration, right behind Toyota, Fiat, Hyundai and BMW. You really can’t be a serious player in Europe without a strong diesel engine portfolio. It’s that simple.

Top-Selling Diesel Passenger Cars
in Western Europe in 2003
Peugeot 307 280,012
VW Golf269,538
Peugeot 206224,830
Renault Megane224,206
VW Passat215,952
Ford Focus204,428
Renault Clio 188,098
Audi A4 175,687
BMW Series 3152,894
Mercedes E-Class 140,492
Source: Ricardo PLC

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