By on March 7, 2018

Despite a multi-billion-dollar emissions scandal, a massive corporate black eye, and all signs pointing towards a future devoid of diesel passenger cars, Volkswagen Group CEO Matthias Müller isn’t willing to let go of the past.

While addressing media at the the Geneva Motor Show, the VW boss — perhaps angered by all the newfangled electric cars in attendance, one of which is a Volkswagen — predicted the public would soon realize the error of its ways and return to the comforting arms of diesel propulsion. There’s a renaissance on the way, he said.

However, the fly in Müller’s soothing ointment appears in the form the The Government and the industry’s (and public’s) inclination to go where the incentives are.

“Diesel will see a renaissance in the not-too-distant future because people who drove diesels will realize that it was a very comfortable drive concept,” the top executive told the crowd. “Once the knowledge that diesels are eco-friendly firms up in people’s minds, then for me there’s no reason not to buy one.”

Indeed, there’s plenty to love about compression ignition. Diesel powerplants offer gobs of low-end torque and glorious fuel economy — even with the car’s emission controls in the “on” position. But there’s a problem. To enjoy the diesel car lifestyle, those vehicle must first be affordable, available, and — ideally — legal to drive.

Across the globe, automakers have read the writing on the wall are busy phasing out light-duty diesels in favor of investment in electrification — Volkswagen Group included. Porsche has all but sworn off the fuel, while VW Group doesn’t even bother with diesels in North America anymore. For some companies (Infiniti and Mazda, mainly), near-future success lies in developing ultra-efficient gasoline engines.

European diesel sales sank nearly 8 percent in 2017. At one point early this decade, oil-burners made up more than 55 percent of the continent’s new vehicle sales, spurred by tax incentives created by governments seeking greater fuel economy. Now, those governments want to curb air pollution. As emissions standards become ever more stringent, regulators on both sides of the Atlantic are making damn sure automakers don’t try to pull a fast one. And whose fault is that? Right — Volkswagen’s.

The days of diesel incentives are coming to a close (VW’s apparently on board with the idea), and heavily taxed Europeans won’t take too kindly to further punishment at the pumps. Already, government incentives for electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles, coupled with a growing availability, have seen the region’s green cars sales soar (comparatively speaking). Battery electric vehicle sales rose 53.7 percent in the European Union in 2017. Of those countries, Germany — birthplace of the diesel engine — took to the electrified lifestyle in a big way, with a 119.7 percent increase.

Even with all of these factors working against the technology, there’s still another diesel assailant: cities. Local governments in western Europe are hopping on the “diesel ban” bandwagon like it’s a new dance craze, falling over each other in a rush to either ban the operation of diesel (or all ICE) cars, or at least levy fees within urban boundaries. The highest court in Germany says it’s completely legal for towns and cities to do so. Should an automaker go to the trouble and expense of developing the cleanest diesel engine in history, there’s still no guarantee a future buyer could even drive the thing in Berlin, Paris, or London.

Still, despite pledging $42 billion towards the creation of electric vehicles and self-driving technology, VW feels there’s still a need for diesel. Basically, it comes down to fuel efficiency vs. emissions. Gasoline engines spew less carbon dioxide per gallon of fuel burned, but gas-powered vehicles, especially heavy SUVs, burn more fuel covering the same distance.

“The rules of the game in the EU in relation to climate protection and emissions goals on CO2 are so challenging that governments cannot do without diesel,” Müller said.

VW brand chief Herbert Diess backed up this assertion, implying that electric cars aren’t ready to fill the void. “We need diesel to get to the CO2 goals,” he said. “Electric vehicles in many cases won’t keep frequent drivers happy.”

Based on these comments, it seems Müller’s diesel “renaissance” is, at best, more of a “longer goodbye.”

[Source: Bloomberg, via Automotive News Europe]

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21 Comments on “Volkswagen CEO Really Wants the Good Old Days Back, Predicts Diesel Resurgence...”

  • avatar

    Didn’t VW just criticize diesel recently, and try to lobby against its use in the EU?

  • avatar

    In December, this very same man was calling for an end to diesel subsidies, and saying how bad diesel was.

    So which is it, Muller?

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    “Diesel powerplants offer gobs of low-end torque and glorious fuel economy”

    “Electric powerplants offer gobs of low-end torque and glorious fuel economy”

    EVs have two big downsides: refueling time for long-distance driving (cue asdf here), and varying depreciation due to battery degradation. But the near-zero maintenance, quiet ride, and ease of use are ideal for many.

    • 0 avatar

      Yeah, and EVs are better suited for the more urban countries like Germany where diesels are popular today. I think it will be a long time before a super commuter outside of Dallas picks up a Bolt, but I’m considering one for grocery/in law trips here in NYC.

    • 0 avatar
      Brian E

      Refueling time isn’t just an issue for long distance driving; it’s also an issue for anyone who can’t install a charging setup where they park the vehicle. Not being able to fill up the car in a pinch is a huge problem even if all of my driving is easily within a 100 mile radius. The irony is that EV range works very well for people living in dense urban areas, but charging currently only works for people who have their own garage.

      • 0 avatar

        The framing in your comment is misleading.

        In the USA, the median driver lives in an ‘urban area’, it’s true, but it’s suburban development at suburban density; not remotely “dense urban” that would make charging difficult. Miles driven in this environment for the 98th percentile driver are within the range of the Bolt, and charging is not an issue, because, suburban houses pretty much all have garages or at least driveways.

        (I’m an exception; I live in a house built in 1896 – no garage, no driveway; but I recognize I’m the exception. Oddly enough the 0.1% of people who drive regularly on huge road trips don’t seem to recognize how exceptional _they_ are, though).

  • avatar

    Diesel vs EV?

    Would I rather get kicked in the gonads or elbowed in the face?

  • avatar

    “People who own horses now will return to horse ownership once they have experienced the cumbersome purchase experience of gasoline in pharmacies. Therefore we will stay the world’s most succesful maker of coaches, limousines, broughams, cabriolets and phaetons.”

  • avatar

    Current electric vehicles are impractical for some of us who cover long distances and where time constraints are a factor. I am also not impressed by the ultra fast acceleration and high horsepower figures of these cars. What good is all that power when it wears down the battery so quickly?

    When they build an electric car with 1000 km of range that can be fully charged within 5 minutes then you will have my attention. Because this means even at higher speeds you will more or less have a guaranteed range of perhaps 400/500 km. Until then I will continue to drive my heavy, fast and frugal diesel SUV, which even at high Autobahn speed still provides me with a respectable 700 km of range.

  • avatar

    I wonder if anyone has asked about the ability of the power grid, here or in Europe, to handle X% of vehicles in the mix being electric. Solve for X at limit of grid capacity. Any assumption that most charging will be done at night will require removal of rose colored glasses.

    • 0 avatar

      Electricity consumption is actually falling in North America. The sky won’t fall.

    • 0 avatar

      Now that you have told them, I am sure someone will finally look into, to only discover that it’s a well perpetrated myth pushed for years, frequently by the oil lobby ….. don’t worry your lights will not go dark, because people turning their EVSE’s on ….

    • 0 avatar

      Why *wouldn’t* most charging be done at night? It’s the most obvious time. Sure, some people will be charging during the day for whatever reason, but 75% of charging at night is not at all an unrealistic goal.

      • 0 avatar

        If you drive up 70% of the streets in this city, you’ll see cars occupying most of the parking spaces. These are people who rent, which is becoming more and more popular in many cities. Plugging in a car would be folly for many reasons; cords all over the road, kids unplugging them for “fun”, rain and snow, etc. Those are rentals in two family houses, apartment buildings would have their own issues. Imagine the power draw with 100 or 200 cars charging. EV technology is 10-15 years ahead of infrastructure. Big problem.

  • avatar

    Could this ‘diesel renaissance’ be code for doing the sensible thing and using them in plug-in-hybrids in place of petrol engines?

    You know, like Mercedes is doing?

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    There might be a resurgence. Several new diesel vehicles have arrived or are arriving (2018 Terrain and Equinox, 2019 Santa Fe, 2018 CX-5, Td6 Range Rover Sport, Discovery and Range Rover, 20d XE and F-Pace); I just don’t think Volkswagen will be invited to the party.

  • avatar

    Diesel made sense for passenger cars back when gasoline turbos were rare and temperamental, and diesels were held to more lenient emission standards so they could be simple and bulletproof and last 200K+ miles.

    But today, a diesel engine is usually no better than a turbo gas engine (and turbo gas engines are now common and reliable), and a diesel is required to have expensive and unreliable emissions technology that gas engines can do without. It really only makes sense any more for light trucks where the torque for hauling/towing capacity is absolutely needed. Even then, I think that gas-electric hybrids can do better than diesels with no more overall complexity or cost. I think that the 2020 hybrid F-150 will be the vehicle that drives home the fact that diesel is obsolete.

    • 0 avatar

      The diesel emissions technology is actually very reliable if used correctly. And this means no short trips.

      That is really the problem. Many Europeans buy a diesel because they like the excellent fuel economy without realizing that their short trips will eventually harm the engine/components. In such situations the SCR/DPF/Catalytic Converter (as well as the engine) do not get to reach their optimal operating temperatures. This is particularly destructive for a DPF which can quickly clog and then fail, and in the process take out other critical components of the diesel vehicle. It is a common issue here. Someone who works and lives in the city will drive say 10 km to work; none of the components have reached their operating temperatures. This is repeated on a weekly basis. It spells doom for the engine and the anti-pollution add-one.

      The bigger issue which scares me is this nonsense about small displacement turbo gasoline motors with high horsepower outputs (a 1.2-l turbo engine with 200+ horses for example). The general consensus is that such engines will at best last 300,000 km, if at all. For gasoline engines my personal preference will always be for natural aspiration, which has sadly disappeared except for a handful of performance engines found in impractical sports cars.

  • avatar

    The hubris (or outright stupidity, or both) is strong in this one, it is!

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