The diesel’s dazzling growth will start to fizzle in the next decade.
Diesel-powered cars will account for as much as 65 percent of European new-car sales by 2010, but fall below 40 percent after 2015. The reason: Meeting tougher emission rules will increase manufacturing costs sharply, making the diesel less attractive to automakers – and ultimately, car buyers.
The person predicting the rise and fall of diesel is Rinaldo Rinolfi, director of the engine division at Fiat Research Center – the man many consider the father of the common-rail diesel.
Others agree, including General Motors.
With Magneti Marelli and another Fiat Group research center, Elasis, Rinolfi’s team developed the high-pressure fuel-injection technology that improved diesel performance dramatically and sparked its recent surge of popularity.
Diesels held 24.8 percent of western European new-car sales in 1998, the year the common-rail diesel was introduced. Last year, diesel cars took 48.3 percent of sales and are expected to account for half the market this year.
But to meet the European Union’s Euro 5 emissions rules expected to take effect by 2010 – especially greater curbs on nitrogen oxide (NOx) – diesels will need more costly equipment, Rinolfi says. The industry expects Euro 5 to halve NOx limits to 0.25 grams per kilometer.
“Tougher emissions standards will substantially increase the cost penalty the diesel already has versus a comparable gasoline engine,” he says.
By Rinolfi’s calculations, diesels cost manufacturers 50 percent more to produce than gasoline engines with similar performance. By 2010 diesels will need particulate filters and enhanced engine controls to meet Euro 5 standards, adding up to E500 to manufacturing cost, he says.
If the EU sets a 2015 Euro 6 standard – which the industry expects – Rinolfi believes diesels will add another E300 to E400 in manufacturing costs to qualify, effectively making diesels twice as expensive as gasoline engines. “That’s what I fear is going to take the diesel under 40 percent of the European market after 2015,” he says.
Rinolfi says he is advising automakers to expect big swings in the demand for gasoline and diesel engines the next 10 years. Carmakers are scrambling to meet demand for diesels while gasoline engine plants don’t have enough work.
“Gasoline-engine overcapacity won’t last long in Europe,” Rinolfi says. “In the next decade, we will return to roughly one diesel engine built for every two gasoline.”
Beyond that, Rinolfi expects advances in gasoline-engine technology, combined with the higher carbon content per liter for diesel fuel, to eventually eliminate diesel’s advantage in reducing CO2 emissions (See story, above).
Manufacturer reaction is mixed.
Gilles Michel, head of platforms, technical affairs and purchasing at PSA/Peugeot-Citroen, believes that diesels may meet emissions rules with less added cost than expected.
“Don’t discount technical innovation,” he says.
But General Motors Europe President Carl-Peter Forster warns that diesel engine development costs will become “very high.”
“Diesel is a problem because with new EU legislation, diesel cars will have a surcharge between E1,200 and E2,400,” Forster says.
GM Europe Chairman Fritz Henderson says GM expects a rebound in gasoline-powered cars after 2010 because of Euro 5.
No easy solution
Henderson foresees more sophisticated gasoline engines with turbocharging or variable-valve timing offering better fuel efficiency and power from smaller displacements.
“We can afford to spend more on gasoline engine innovations that will make them more appealing,” Henderson says.
Suppliers say carmakers are investing in gasoline turbocharger research because they expect more gasoline-engine demand.
“All of them are working on gasoline-turbo applications, from 2.0 liters to V-8s,” says Alexandre Ismail, European vice president and general manager at Honeywell Turbo Technologies.
Nearly all car diesels are turbocharged, a boon to turbo suppliers Honeywell and BorgWarner. Honeywell expects turbo use in European gasoline engines to double by 2010, from 10 percent to as much as 22 percent.
“We will put more money into gasoline turbo research,” says Ismail. “This is the second wave for us.”
– Sylviane de Saint-Seine, Paulo Soares de Oliveira and Jesse Snyder contributed