Many critics in the auto industry have attempted to link the entire U.S. diesel market demand and customers' negative perceptions of diesels to the 5.7-liter V-8 and 4.3-liter V-6 Oldsmobile diesel engines built in the late 1970s and early 1980s. But those engines represent just a fraction of General Motors' 75-year diesel history.
As was confirmed in a May 9 Automotive News article, "The ghosts of diesels past choke GM," the rise and fall of the U.S. light-vehicle market for diesels during that time reflected the rise and fall of fuel prices, not the actions of one manufacturer.
Also, clean diesel technologies - high-pressure fuel systems, variable-geometry turbochargers, advanced combustion strategies - have since eliminated the smoke, noise and smell that plagued diesels from all manufacturers during that time.
GM has an extensive history in the diesel market worldwide. In fact, GM was designing, building and selling diesels in Europe and North America long before many of its competitors; many others still do not offer a diesel in the United States in any form.
GM's diesel strategy and technology are having a significant impact on the market today.
During the past four years, Chevrolet and GMC have sold approximately 625,000 vehicles - mostly pickups - with our Duramax diesels in North America. This proves not only that GM is serious about diesels in North America but that there is a robust U.S. market for diesels in full-sized SUVs and pickups, the types of vehicles that benefit the most.
Pros and cons
There are pros and cons to diesels as there are to any powertrain technology.
On the plus side, diesel engines deliver outstanding fuel economy compared with gasoline equivalents, up to 30 percent in a light vehicle and as much as 70 percent in a heavy-duty towing and hauling vehicle.
On the negative side, diesel engines are more expensive to build than gasoline engines. Also, the need for aftertreatment equipment to meet increasingly stringent emissions regulations will continue to drive up the cost of diesel powertrains.
The key is for automakers to put diesel engines in the vehicles where they have the greatest impact by reducing fuel consumption and emissions.
In North America, GM's diesel development over the past 10 years has been at the forefront of technological advancements.
The Duramax was the first common-rail diesel application in North America and the first four-valve diesel consumer application. It has pushed GM's share of the diesel heavy-duty pickup market to more than 25 percent.
GM has been just as active in developing diesels for Europe. In 2003, it launched the world's first Euro IV diesel engine in an Opel Astra and released the first diesel particulate filter that didn't require fuel additives. A year later, GM launched the 1.3-liter diesel, the world's smallest modern four-valve turbodiesel.
Consider the market
But just as the applications of diesel differ from market to market, so do the reasons for customer acceptance and demand. In Europe, fuel and displacement tax policies; high-quality, low-sulfur diesel fuel; small lightweight vehicles; and emissions standards that are focused on carbon dioxide rather than particulates and oxides of nitrogen set the stage for diesel's explosive growth and popularity.
In the United States, though, low gasoline prices, high-sulfur diesel
fuel, larger vehicles, and the world's most stringent particulate and NOx emissions standards have created a market that limits the potential for diesel technology.
Stricter emissions standards will continue to play a major role in the acceptance and application of diesel engines in both markets.
In the United States, sales of diesels in SUVs and pickups will grow with advancements in diesel engine refinement. New low-sulfur fuel and advancements in combustion and aftertreatment technologies will enable manufacturers to meet emissions standards. And while a small market is developing for diesel cars, relatively low gasoline prices and expensive aftertreatment systems may mitigate that growth.
In Europe, the world's largest diesel market, increasingly stringent emissions standards may cause diesel growth to plateau, resulting in a more equitable balance of gasoline and diesel engine technology.
GM will continue to focus on increasing the diesel capabilities in each market where they make the most sense.
As GM Powertrain Europe ramps up, the focus will be on the refinement of diesels in GM's core brands, while developing opportunities for diesels in luxury vehicles.
In North America, SUVs and other light trucks will be the primary focus for GM diesel technology advancements. New applications, such as the 2006 Chevrolet Express and GMC Savana vans, will increase GM's diesel market share. With extensive upgrades, the 2006 Duramax will set a benchmark for diesel power, torque and refinement.
Looking toward 2007 and beyond, GM will be well-positioned to compete in the vehicle segments where there is significant consumer demand.