The current trend of diesel powered vehicles has captured the attention of all automotive fans. It is reasonable to assume then we are going to see all sorts of new studies about the different engine types. A new study by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute found that diesel is the MORE cost-effective than gas. Do you buy it?
Diesel engines are superior to gas engines in a few critical ways:
- Diesel engines are more efficient due to the thermodynamic benefits of their higher compression ratios
- They’re much more durable – diesel engines commonly run 2-3 times longer than a comparable gas engine
- They put out more torque for any given RPM than a similarly sized gas engine, meaning that a tiny little diesel engine can power a small car very efficiently (Ford’s euro-spec Fiesta diesel gets 60+ mpg with a 1.6L motor)
Point #1 and #3 are very important, as they are the main reasons that diesels are so popular around the world. In Europe, for example, about 50% of the vehicles (be they tiny little commuter cars or big trucks) are powered by diesel. Considering that the average cost of fuel in most Western European countries ranges between $6-8 per gallon (1.27-1.72 euros per liter), the fuel economy benefits of diesel engines make them a very popular option.
Yet in the United States, diesel vehicles are barely 5% of the market. Why? What is it about diesels that people in the USA dislike?
The answer? Emissions rules, the “carbon penalty,” and a myriad of other smaller issues keeps diesels from selling. What follows is an attempt to explain – comprehensively – why diesels don’t (and probably won’t ever) sell at any substantial volumes in the USA.
Sometimes some of the most innovative design ideas rely on concepts that are actually very, very old. History is littered with theories, materials and feats of engineering that were patented long before their time, intriguing developments that simply were not capitalized on in their era for a variety of different reasons. One technology that falls under this general heading is compacted graphite iron.
Compacted graphite iron (CGI) was developed more than 60 years ago as a high strength alternative to standard gray iron. In fact, CGI is 75 percent stronger and stiffer than traditional gray iron, and it also offers better resistance to fatigue than both aluminum and gray iron. This strong and lightweight material was used only sparingly over the decades following its discovery, with applications including high speed train brakes and commercial diesel truck engines.
In a more modern setting, CGI has found its way into the factories that produce premium luxury cars, such as those run by BMW and Audi who use the metal in a number of different engine designs. Jaguar and Hyundai have also adopted the use of CGI in several high performance applications. In the motorsports world, NASCAR has heavily adopted CGI technology, with the majority of teams using this material for their engine blocks which see some of the harshest abuse that a motor can take. Even TRD has gotten into the act, using a CGI block for its Craftsman series racing truck engine.
For half-ton truck owners, the most intriguing possibilities offered by compacted graphite iron relate to its potential in the lightweight diesel field.
When you’re dealt the right cards, doubling down is a great way to win big. Nissan looks like a company ready to double down on their investment in the truck segment, but do they have the right hand? Here’s a look at Nissan’s history with the Titan and where they might be headed.
UPDATE: Unfortunately, this is old news. Toyota back-tracked on this announcement and these plans are dead. Read the full story on the diesel Toyota Tundra.
Boy, do we like it when we’re right…here’s the Reuter’s press release trimmed-down to the important facts:
Toyota President Katsuaki Watanabe said on Sunday the Japanese automaker will launch a diesel-powered Tundra pickup truck and Sequoia SUV in the United States…Toyota has repeatedly hesitated to committing a diesel vehicle for the U.S. market…especially for use in larger vehicles.
“I am happy to confirm that a new clean-diesel V8 engine will be offered in both the Tundra and the Sequoia in the near future,” Watanabe told a news conference at the North American International Auto Show.
The “near future” is likely to be next year…we think the Diesel Tundra will debut in late 2009 as a 2010 model.