The dangers of demonising diesel

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Back in the 1980s every other truck on the road seemed to have a Cummins-Eaton-Rockwell power train. And the beating heart of the truck was the Cummins diesel engine. Even today, Cummins can claim to be the world’s largest independent manufacturer of diesel engines.

But increasingly it sees its future elsewhere. In fact, it is now planning to work with Russian truck manufacturer Kamaz to develop electric powertrains. Kamaz might not be a well known manufacturer outside Russia, but last year it built some 43,000 trucks between 8 and 40 tonnes.

Malory Davies, FCILT, Editor.

Malory Davies, FCILT, Editor.

While Cummins is looking to transition gradually away from diesel, car-maker Porsche has decided to drop the diesel propulsion completely and focus on hybrid technology and electro-mobility.

Diesel has never been major part of Porsche portfolio – the company said that in 2017 it made up 12 per cent of its sales worldwide. And Porsche is part of Volkswagen, the company that was fined €1 billion for using emission test “cheat devices” on its diesel engines.

Chief executive Oliver Blume said: “Porsche is not demonising diesel. It is, and will remain, an important propulsion technology. We as a sports car manufacturer, however, for whom diesel has always played a secondary role, have come to the conclusion that we would like our future to be diesel-free.”

However, others are demonising diesel – and it is having an impact. In the car-buying world diesel is in sharp decline. Figures from the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (ACEA) for the second quarter of 2018 show diesel down 15.5 per cent, petrol up 19.8 per cent and electric up 43.8 per cent.

Not only that, it’s causing grief among fleet managers. A survey of 500 fleet managers by the AA and BT Fleet Solutions, released last week, identified high levels of frustration with “anti-diesel rhetoric”, especially among managers who see cleaner diesel vehicles as an effective way of meeting the clean air agenda.

While 35 per cent of fleet managers expect to be using electric vehicles in the next five years, most are also dubious about the feasibility of such models for long-haul journeys or heavy goods.

Not surprisingly, the report highlights the fact that diesel-fuelled vehicles continue to be the most popular choice for fleet industry professionals because of a lack of cost-effective and operationally-appropriate alternatively-fuelled vehicles.

The real uncertainly in all this is what the law-makers have in store. There is a lot of speculation about whether or not the European Union will produce a Euro VII standard. The consensus seems to be that it will – in fact Cummins used the IAA Commercial Vehicles Show in Hannover to highlight some of its work on reducing NOx further in anticipation of Euro VII legislation “during the coming decade”.

The European Commission has already proposed a seven per cent CO2 reduction by 2025, and a 16 per cent reduction by 2030.  That is going to be challenging for manufacturers, according to Joachim Drees, chief executive of MAN Truck & Bus and chairman of the commercial vehicle board of ACEA. This is because development work is already underway on the trucks that will be sold in 2025, and they will have to move quickly to accommodate any changes.

Not surprisingly, ACEA is pushing for a quick decision to minimise uncertainty. Operators too need certainty to plan their fleet strategies. The demonisation of diesel only makes that harder.

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