As a longtime diesel aficionado, I have some thoughts about the recent revelation regarding Volkswagen’s intentional cheating on emissions tests, allowing vehicles to apparently meet standards when they actually did not while traveling on public roads.
Looking Back Before Looking Forward
We have already passed the crossroads for light-duty diesel acceptance in the USA. The overly belabored weaknesses of 1970s and 1980s G.M. diesel designs have finally faded in the press (which occurred long ago in the minds of most consumers).
Installing the naturally-aspirated International 6.9L V8 in 1983 Ford F-series pickups was a good, modest start. A positive diesel future was sealed when Chrysler and heavy-duty engine manufacturer Cummins installed the venerable 5.9L ISB turbodiesel in a mature Dodge pickup body. Light-duty diesel emission requirements were limited in those days, but have been updated several times since, becoming much more stringent. Yet manufacturers have developed technologies to meet the standards while simultaneously and dramatically improving performance. The massive toque and horsepower offered in newer diesel pickups from Ford, GM, and Ram were reserved for medium-duty and larger commercial trucks just a few years ago. Sometimes manufacturers even met future emissions requirements early, as Cummins did at one point with their 6.7L ISB.
More Diesel Cars Please
Smaller automotive diesel options (cars) have been few, with VW and Mercedes being the main players in the U.S. for decades, and BMW joining the fray more recently. VW has been the volume seller of diesel automobiles, which has much to do with the lower price of their vehicles and the miles-per-gallon they have been able to squeeze from a gallon of fuel.
The unfolding scandal interests me not only because of my enthusiasm for turbodiesel cars and light-trucks, but I also have a long standing connection to the VW brand. In my youth, my first two vehicles were 60s vintage VW Beetles. Before that, I literally learned to drive a manual transmission in my Papa’s 1978 VW Rabbit diesel 4-speed. Two decades later my wife and I owned a 2000 Golf TDI, putting 166,000 miles on the odometer before taking advantage of the excellent diesel resale value, and buying a new, 2013 Jetta Sportwagen “clean diesel”. Siblings and parents own VWs, and with my encouragement two cousins purchased late model VW TDIs.
Is this ridiculousness by VW going to hurt diesel sales from other manufacturers in the long run? I don’t think so. The emissions are extremely low (when met) and the economy and performance advantages many.
© 2015 James Langan/PhotoWrite