Things really aren’t looking well for small diesels. For years, companies like Volkswagen have been trying to reverse the dirty reputation diesel engines have. These are smart engines, they proclaimed. Small, torquey engines, which achieved impressive highway mileage numbers. Correctly managed, companies like Volkswagen said these small diesel engines can be as clean and earth friendly as their petrol cousins. So popular had the TDI become, Volkswagen began using them in their Audi and Porsche premium nameplates. Sadly, after nearly a decade of diesel love, and just as the engine was beginning to see a change in reputation, Dieselgate happened.
Suddenly, diesel was a dirty word again. A dirty, dirty word. Just as Volkswagen was starting their journey down indictment lane, Fiat Chrysler introduced their EcoDiesel engine for their light duty series of trucks. As TDI cars and SUVs were ripped from dealers across the world, Ram trucks with the EcoDiesel engine began to win awards. Acclaim was given for their mileage, previously unheard of in half ton pickup trucks. Orders quickly passed production capacity and additional lines were added to factories. Even while Volkswagen faced billions in fines, international slander and criminal charges, FCA enjoyed success at the hands of EcoDiesel.
Soon over 104,000 trucks and SUVs would be equipped with the EcoDiesel. Because it uses a DEF, Diesel Exhaust Filter, system, this diesel must be clean. Its name even suggests eco-friendliness. But just as Volkswagen’s charges have wrapped up, we find FCA in a very familiar situation. With the EPA putting them on notice, and federal investigations underway, it seems the EcoDiesel engine isn’t quite so Eco after all. While it’s still very early in the game, if things proceed like they did with Volkswagen, it could be a rather expensive thing for FCA.
(Editor’s Note: The FCA investigation is just getting started, and FCA head Sergio Marchionne has stated that these allegations are “hogwash.” Jalopnik’s David Tracy has an excellent write-up of the differences, so far, between the Volkswagen and FCA claims.)
Worse, it could spell the end of small diesels in cars and trucks. Since Dieselgate, Volkswagen has ceased production of all TDI vehicles across their entire group. Gone is the nearly 1000 mile range in the Porsche Cayenne TDI. They have made no indications about the return of the TDI. Diesel engines from other European manufacturers saw a sharp decline. Both Mercedes and BMW, who jointly developed the BluTec engines, have seen declines in their sales. Internal sources, asking to remain anonymous, even suggested they may cease to exist, at least as North American imports. Thanks to Volkswagen, and now FCA, the future looks very bleak for the small diesel. Even more so for diesel fans.
But there is hope. It comes in the form of the 2018 Ford F-150. Diesel and truck fans were given good news for North America’s best-selling vehicle: A small diesel is coming. New for the 2018 refresh, Ford is introducing a 3.0L PowerStroke diesel engine. While we don’t know much about it yet, we do know it will be mated to the newly released 10-speed transmission. This is a Ford engineered engine from the ground up. It’s unknown at this time, but hopefully this engine is free of hidden emissions control software. Could this new diesel be the spark that reignites the belief in diesels?
We hope so. A platform like the F-150 is ideally suited for a small diesel. It provides an economical diesel option for owners. Mileage gains help Ford meet their EPA requirements. As a buying group, truck owners have been begging for small diesels in pickup trucks. Hopefully Ford has done their engine right. Hopefully, emissions controls are correct. If they have, they may find themselves as the only beacon of hope in the small diesel market. If they haven’t, then nobody will touch the small diesel again.
There is one thing that Ford’s new diesel has going for it: North American development. Both of the diesels now on the EPA’s hit list were European engines modified to meet North American emissions standards. Even the BMW/Mercedes BlueTec falls into this category. But diesels have long been in North America without any of these EPA issues. Ford, GM and Ram all have large, heavy duty diesels in their 3/4 and one ton pickup trucks. Truck owners have enjoyed the power of these engines for decades. It’s likely that because these engines are engineered from the ground up to meet emissions standards, they’re less likely to need complex emissions controls to be converted. Ford’s new 3.0L PowerStroke is no different. It’s a serious home field advantage over the Volkswagen and FCA diesels.
There’s hope for diesels yet.