While the diesel could theoretically be saved if its on-road emissions are cleaned up, the more important question is: Should it? After all, the diesel rise is a relatively recent phenomenon. In 1990, its share of western European car sales was less than 14 percent. Following the signing of Kyoto climate accords, EU governments looked for a technology that could quickly reduce CO2 emissions in their vehicles. Diesel was the answer.
The problem is that an enormous amount of money has gone into perfecting the technology over the last few decades. It’s not just potential writedowns on these investments that worry industry executives. Entire value chains are built around the technology.
“About 20% of the 800,000-automotive industry-related jobs in Germany depend on diesel. We will fight for them,” Volkswagen’s labor boss, Karlheinz Blessing, said in a release last month.
As regulators crack down on combustion engine emissions in general, the diesel also suffers because it is a non-factor in key markets such as the U.S. and China. Factor in additional costs related to cleaning up diesels and the economics for the powertrain begin to break down rapidly.
Meanwhile, gasoline engines are closing the gap in terms of consumption. VW is introducing a new 1.5-liter TSI engine that uses a leaner combustion cycle and can deactivate two cylinders when they are not needed or even all four in a further developed form of coasting called “sailing.” On the Golf model, the new gasoline engine delivers the same 150 hp and emits the same 114g/km of CO2 as a 2.0-liter diesel, but costs 2,750 euros less in Germany.