Edmunds on Diesel

I know I’ve been rattling on about the Biopower fuel system a lot recently, mainly due to the 9-5 Biopower concept being shown around the United States recently.  But don’t worry Fred, I haven’t forgotten about diesel.  Most of the US has, though. 

I’ve written here several times that Saab USA will be held accountable if the 1.9l 9-3 TiD isn’t introduced into the US market next year.  2007 will mark the time when low-sulphur diesel fuel becomes mandatory in the US, making the diesel variants of many successful European cars more appealing.  Saab’s 9-3 TiD has been going great guns, leading a Saab revival in the UK, and should be a certain starter for the US market if GM are on the ball.

Mercedes Benz have already announced their plans for diesel next year.  Audi’s deisel’s are being noticed too.  So Saab really don’t have much in the way of excuses if they miss the party.

Edmunds Inside Line have recently published an article on the evolution of the modern diesel and the benefits it enjoys over its gasoline siblings.  It should be a very interesting read for you US folks that are unfamiliar with the benefits and recent refinements in the diesel powerplant.

Final thoughts
While diesel clearly isn’t the answer to everyone’s prayers, the U.S. market is unquestionably missing out on the modern diesel phenomenon. Bountiful torque, excellent refinement and a huge range are qualities well suited to the American highway. It is surely time to put away the prejudices of the 1970s and embrace the modern diesel engine.

Absolutely.  This is market share for Saab that’s just begging to be picked up.  Here’s hoping they do the right thing.

Some numbers from Saab UK:

Saab 9-3 1.8t with gasoline engine

Power (bhp) – 150,  Torque (Nm) – appr 220,  Acceleration: 0-60mph – 9.0sec,  40-60mph – 8.0sec,  Economy: mpg combined cycle – 36.7mpg

Saab 9-3 1.9TiD

Power (bhp) – 150,  Torque (Nm) – appr 320,  Acceleration: 0-60mph – 9.0sec,  40-60mph – 6.5sec  Economy: mpg combined cycle – 48.7mpg

Saab also have the 175bhp gasoline model in the UK and the diesel outstrips that one at 50-70mph too.  The diesel will do it in just 7.7 seconds whilst the gasoline model takes 10.0.

For performance and economy, diesels seem to be leading the pack at the moment.  It’s just a shame they don’t have ‘the’ sound.

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UPDATE:  Thanks to SaabKen in comments, there’s some timely news about GM Powertrain Europe expanding it’s R&D base.  From Automotive News:

General Motors is significantly building up its diesel expertise in Europe.

Within two years, GM Powertrain Europe will more than double product engineering staff at its new headquarters in Turin, Italy.

The big staff nembers are due to more stringent emissions requirements in the EU through 2010 and 2015, but obviously this could mean good things for deisel expansion elsewhere too.

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UPDATE 2: Greg, also in comments, points out the biggest hurdle in getting diesel into the US – public perception.  The cultural perception of diesel engines in the US involves clouds of smoke and rattling train-engines.  Managing this change in perception is going to be one of the biggest challenges facing car companies if they want to get diesel products and all their advantages into the marketplace. 

They say significant perception change takes a generation to cycle through fully.  So here’s hoping the first part of the job’s nearly done, with many younger buyers not having much negative experience with diesels. 

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9 Comments

  1. It’s difficult to understimate how poor the diesel reputation is here in the U.S. GM tried some diesels in the late ’70’s and early ’80’s with absolutely disasterous results. They were substantially slower, dirtier, and more unreliable than the typical American car at the time.

    I remember in 1989, I was in law school and looking for a used car (my previous used car, a 1975 Chevy Impala, had died an unnatural death in an accident). Being a student, I was looking for inexpensive. I actually test drove a 1980 Oldsmobile diesel station wagon, in very good condition, with a newly rebuilt engine. By the time I looked at it, the seller had cut the price to $800, and for all practical purposes could not give the car away. I passed on it as well.

    This was a good development, because I took my $800 and bought my first Saab instead (a ’75 99LE CombiCoupe, in emerald green).

    The point of all this being — diesel has a huge hill to climb in the US regarding consumer acceptance.

  2. 48.7mpg! I don’t know about the rest of the US, but I’m sold! Even at a reasonable 27.9mpg I’m spending between $250-$300 every month on gas. >:/

  3. I would argue that GM rarely shows the foresight to be a leader in any category. They bought Saab only becuase every other manufacturer was buying euro brands and that’s all that was left. With diesels, they’ll wait until another manufacturer is successful first, again establishing Saab as a follower where they once were a leader. I don’t expect that to change, successful diesel Saabs in Europe or not.

    I would buy a European diesel-engined car, having read about their goodness in CAR magazine many years ago. They would regualrly prefer the diesel model over petrol for reasons of performance AND economy.

    I would try introducing Saab diesels in progressive markets like California and the northeast US NOW, and see how they’re received. They could even offer them only as 2-year leases with no opportunity to buy-back. However, I think GM is either afraid, or too stupid to try.

    I hope I’m wrong.

  4. Greg, I also think that many too young to remember the 70’s and 80’s associate diesel with the monster American full-size pickups with diesel. When one of those things pulls up beside you you have to turn up the radio to hear over the clattering,and make sure your windows are closed to keep the stink out. It will take a big advertising push to educate the consumer about the new generation of automotive diesels and, hopefully, bio-diesel.
    I guess if I liked the ring-a-ding-ding sound of a 2-cycle, I should be able to get used to the diesel, but somehow it’s just not the same.

  5. Right now, European spec diesels are a year away. The sulfur content of U.S. sold diesel is presently too high for these engines. It would make no sense to modify them for one year’s worth of sales. They will wait until 2007 to bring them in.

    I think 2007 will be the year of the diesel in the U.S. – especially if gas prices continue to climb.

  6. Personally I love diesels, (modern ones mind you) 300+ Nm at 1700rpm and upwards is so much fun !
    To bad that the authoroties here in Sweden puts a “green tax” on diesels that costs almost $1000 US /year for a 9-3 or 9-5 wagon size car.

  7. Maybe the new diesels are better than the old ones – I sure hope so. When I walk around downtown Salt Lake City, what I smell is diesel exhaust, not gasoline exhaust. When I get stuck in traffic behind a diesel car/truck, I can smell it – unlike gasoline powered vehicles (unless they are really old, pre-emission controlled). They seem to smoke and clatter a bit less than in years past, but it is still noticeable.

  8. It is all about fuel quality ie 15ppm sulphur and at least 45 cetane. Using this fuel and bioD there is a huge difference in the smell factor on the loneliest Saab diesel in the US. Considering that even the convertibles are getting diesel options this year surely shows they can pass the “sniff” test. And at idle they sound way better than 2-strokes…not that that wasn’t music to many people’s ears.

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