Is Diesel Dead?

Credit: Daniel Acke r/ Bloomberg / Getty Images

It wasn’t more than three years ago that we learned that Volkswagen was flat-out lying about the emissions coming out of its diesel engines. The scandal marred the entire Volkswagen Group’s reputation and sent seismic waves across the industry. 

The idea of emission-friendly diesels has since become something of a running joke, and car companies know it. Overnight, Volkswagen shifted its entire green strategy from fuel-efficient TDI diesels to EVs, and others under the VW umbrella, like Audi, followed. The state of diesels for the near term is, well, pretty damn unclear. 

At this week’s New York Auto Show, we sat down with three industry leaders for some color on the viability of diesel. Is the end nigh for efficient oil burners?

Lex Kerssemakers, Senior Vice President, the Americas Region and President and CEO, Volvo Cars of North America

“For us, we have clearly elected not to offer diesel in the United States. We [made] that decision about three or four years ago, and we decided to go for four-cylinder turbo engines combined with electrification. We strongly believe in electrification. That’s the future. In the next years, it will continue to be a combination between traditional combustion engines. In the end, electrification will play an increasing role. So, for us, no diesels in the United States. We also believe that the diesels in Europe will slowly but gradually fade away: the cost becoming too high, the petrol engines increasing in efficiency. There we also see a decreasing role for diesel. Very clear.”

Duncan Aldred, Vice President of Global Buick and GMC

“We’ve got some great diesel technology available within the corporation. It is interesting, obviously, what happened in Europe, with the growth of diesel over 15 years. And the legislation actually drove the sale of diesel, and quite honestly favored the sale of diesel, which is why it became 50 percent of the market there. It was natural demand. Taxation policies basically drove it. It’s interesting now because it’s unwinding. European legislation is, in some cases, penalizing diesel now. I don’t know where it will end up within the U.S. market. We’re not offering a diesel within the Buick lineup. Again, that’s consciously so. We’ve got the technology, if we felt it fit the customer and the brand profile. We don’t see a real need for it within the Buick lineup at this time. Obviously, we could go there if needed.”

Anthony Garbis, Product Manager, Audi

“When we saw it before, in sedans, it was virtually nonexistent. We saw some in SUVs, like Q7, [which would] do OK with diesel. It’s a couple of things. One, gas is inexpensive now. Efficiency on gasoline motors has gotten very high. When you look at our A4 Ultra, doing 37 mpg on the highway, you’re getting almost diesel-rated numbers out of these cars already. It’s tough to say. But in the sedan segment, it’s very tough. BMW just [announced] their 540d, so I guess we’ll see what happens.”