Questions to be asked about Diesels

There’s a very interesting article in the Detroit Free Press today. One that’s going to see me delving into my email archives tomorrow when I’ve got more energy.

The article is about the possibility of Saturn bringing the Astra to the US market with the 1.9 diesel engine as is used in Europe.

The 2008 Saturn Astra that hits dealerships late this year will have a 140-horsepower 1.8-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine. Saturn hasn’t said how the car does in EPA fuel consumption tests, but you can expect it to be competitive with models like the Ford Focus, Honda Civic, Nissan Sentra and VW Rabbit but well short of what the diesel would achieve.

Saturn executives have their eye on GM’s European diesel lineup. The brand could offer the latest generation of low-emissions diesels alongside its growing lineup of hybrid-electric models as it works to polish its earth-friendly credentials.

Now for some backstory.

A short time after I commenced writing this blog, I became aware of the fact that the United States had put into law that all diesel fuel was going to have to change to be a low-sulfur diesel as of late 2006. Aware of how successful modern diesels were in Europe, I put up the flag stating that Saab should be on this development like a fly on you-know-what.

I kept writing about this ad infinitum until I got a chance to discuss it with Saab USA. At that time I was told that the 1.9 diesel used in Europe wasn’t compliant with US emissions laws, and it’d be too expensive to undergo the compliance tests for Saab anyway. They didn’t see a big market for diesel at the time due to the higher cost of the fuel there and the added cost of manufacture. They were, however, open to reassessment in all of this.

Fast forward to today’s story, and we learn that this very same 1.9 litre diesel engine might be making a US debut in the Astra for Saturn. The only obstacle that’s mentioned in the article is the additional $1,000 or so that the oilburner would add to the price of the Astra. No mention is made of compliance.

So, we have a few options here:

1) Saab USA were rather liberal with the truth when they told me that the engine wasn’t compliant.

2) There’s an as-yet unmentioned possibility of adding technology like urea injection in order to make the engine compliant.

3) Mark Phelan from the Detroit Free Press hasn’t got his facts straight.

I don’t know Mark Phelan, but his work’s always been solid as far as I can tell, so I’ll rule out option 3.

Regarding option 1, if it were merely a matter of compliance costs, I can’t believe that GM wold drop the ball like this. True, it would quite likely cost too much to compliance test the engine just for Saab. But plans like the Opelisation of Saturn don’t happen overnight. They must have known two years ago that this would be a possibility and that the diesel would be an option. Hence the cost wouldn’t have been so prohibitive and if the engine were compliant we’d be talking about its imminent release.

Therefore I’m leaning towards believing what we were told initially about the diesel being a non-option for Saab in US at that time.

By a process of elimination, then, I have to conclude that it’ll be interesting to hear if there’s any new technology to be applied to this 1.9 TiD powerplant.


This is the same engine that’s sold here in Australia in both the Holden Astra and the Saab 9-3 TiD.

The Saab gets better mileage from the engine, despite being quite a bit heavier than the Astra. If you US folks eventually get it, there’ll be a lot of people that end up loving it. It really is a sweet motor.

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  1. Well, I think that it’s still a bit of a long shot for the US market. And I’ll add one other reason to the mix: somehow the environmental aspect of the diesel engine has become a little more important than it was 18 months ago.

    A crappy movie with half-truths had something to do with that. Albert Gore Jr. — wotta laugh riot. He claims to be Mr. Green, yet his home consumes roughly 3x the power and 5x the natural gas than does George Bush’s! Oh, and he also owns a zinc strip mining lease in north central Tennessee that is one of the state’s larger environmental disasters. Albert Gore, Jr.’s motto: “Say anything to get what you want.” Puh-lease.

  2. Swade, the emissions regs in Europe are getting tighter so we are seeing the emergence of Bluetec etc. I guess the current engine may not meet the regs but the 1.9 may be compliant when euro V starts in 2009 as it is rare that the whole engine is changed to meet emission standards. For example to meet euro IV most engines had to have a filter fitted. The benefit is that if Saturn spilt the compliance costs with SAAB and who knows, maybe Cadillac it may be cost effective for SAAB to start importing. So I think no2 is nearer the mark.

    Their comment on the cost of diesels is spot on though. FIAT are saying that in 10 –15 years we will be moving away from diesels due to the high cost of making them clean compared to petrol engines.

    There was a great interview with the head of Bentley, Dr Ulrich Eichhorn in EVO (if you can ever forgive them) on which eco technologies will work. His top 2 are second-generation bio fuels and pure electric cars. From what I read in the interview Bio Fuel will come of age in the next 5 – 10 years, naturally taking over from diesel.

  3. Are you surprised that GM is making Saab miss the boat on this? I’m not.
    This is turning-out to be the same as Biopower (E85) in North America. GM could have made Saab a market leader for this technology, but they are stalling so much that Saab probably won’t be first to market a turbocharged E85 car in the US.
    By the time we get Biopower or modern diesels, the average consumer will think that Saab is a me-too brand copying Volvo or VW! It boggles the mind.

  4. This illustrates that Saab has very little political pull inside of GM. Cadillac: gets what it wants in Europe. Saturn: gets what it wants. Saab: who cares, they only sell 130,000 cars worldwide.

    What really frosts me is the fact that Cadillac is getting the direct-injection engines before Saab. That’s a drop-in upgrade for the 2.8 V6 T, and yet Saab has to wait.

    FWIW I don’t think that the economic objections Saab cites are necessarily false — it’s just that in the case of politically powerful GM brands, these objections are simply waived off in the interest of developing the brand.

    It really hurts Saab to be part of GM Europe, without a real advocate at the highest levels of the company in Detroit.

  5. Greg, which engine is getting the DI in the Caddy stock?

    I’ve been wondering for a while what engine “improvement” was used to “beef” up the 9-3 for 2008, if that rumor is even true.

    Yet another Caddy wins all story… grrr.

  6. LOL! eggs: that “crappy movie with half-truths” won the Academy Award for Best Documentary.

    Seriously, what objection specficially with anything in that film do people have? Maybe we can take this off-line (e-mail) but I’m really interested to know specifically what facts Gore presented you object to and what your source of information is.

  7. Talonderiel: see this link:

    It’s the 3.6-liter to debut in the redesigned MY2009 Cadillac CTS next year as well as the STS.

    Sadly, you’ll notice that’s the same year SAAB gets its new 9-5. You’d think this engine would be shared with SAAB for the 9-5. It’s GM’s biggest V6 engine ever, putting out 300 horsepower. If SAAB threw a turbocharger or two on it there’s no telling how much power and torque they could get out of it.

    Cadillac CTS will also get a 2.9-liter turbodiesel for Europe only. That engine will also make its debut in the MY09 CTS.

  8. Again, with Saab having an opportunity to shine, it proves yet again that they are the bastard child. We’ve all heard a lot of positive talk out of GM for saab, but we haven’t seen a lot of it yet. Then again, we’ve really never been able to trust GM, have we? All this leaves me pretty negative.

  9. Bernard I wonder how you can blame GM for making SAAB miss the boat? SAAB USA decided not to spend money bringing diesels to the US so I think the blame lies with SAAB. When FIAT, who make the engine for the 9-3, say that diesel has had its day you have to ask, is it money well spent?

    On your point of SAAB being seen as me too with diesels In Europe SAAB were one of the last manufacturers to offer a diesel engine in their cars (I think Honda was the last) and VW and Volvo were well ahead of them on this score.

  10. Saw this article yesterday:

    They say the diesel engine in the Astra costs $1000 more than the gasoline version, but are speculating that perhaps it would replace the hybrid powerplant in the Saturn Aura and Vue in the future, so it’s pretty much a wash.

    I find it really weird that there’s no mention of U.S. emissions in any of these articles. Surely it’s a big deal so it shouldn’t be just ASSUMED these engines are compliant. When a foreign manufacturer announces they’re going to import a diesel it’s a big deal and the technology to make it compliant with emissions standards is a major topic of discussion. This article glosses over that entirely.

    I’m guessing the author didn’t take that into consideration.

  11. Thanx for the information Gripen….

    The 3.6 L would be an awesome engine for the 9-5 Aero, especially after it gets the Saab turbo work-over.

    If I remember right, the 2., 3.6, and 3.9 are from the same family… So if DI is designed for one, shouldn’t it be just as easy to implement it throughout the family? (No loss from R&D)

    Maybe I can tell myself that this all goes with the hused “Black Turbo” MY08 9-3 beefed engine… :

  12. Jon,

    I see GM and Saab USA as different aspects of the same thing.

    VW, MB and BMW are bringing clean diesels to North America, either now or in the near future. Saab/GM should have seen this coming and beat them to it (or at least matched them).

    The same thing is happening with biopower. I wouldn’t be surprised if we got E85-capable passenger cars from Ford/Volvo, VW and Toyota before we get them from Saab. The excuse that we hear from GM is that E85 is mostly available in the Midwest where Saab is not as popular, but that sounds more like an opportunity to me.

  13. eggs was nice enough to respond to my request via e-mail and I’m appreciative. However, I want to address this comment:

    “Albert Gore Jr. — wotta laugh riot. He claims to be Mr. Green, yet his home consumes roughly 3x the power and 5x the natural gas than does George Bush’s! Oh, and he also owns a zinc strip mining lease in north central Tennessee that is one of the state’s larger environmental disasters.”

    This is absolutely skewing the truth. Here’s an article from a legitimate source:

    Al Gore Jr. inherited the land the zinc mine is located on from his father, who had bought it in 1973, then leased the mineral rights back to the company he bought the land from for 30 years. That lease expired four years ago and the mine hasn’t operated since. The Gores maintain the only way they’ll renew the lease to the mine’s new owners and allow the mine to operate once again (and employ 250 people) is if they get assurance that it’ll hold the highest environmental standards and be a model for the mining industry.

    This mine has not been found to pollute any of the surrounding environment nor has it threatened the health of neighbors in the area. It can’t be construed as an “environmental disaster”.

    As for Gore’s use of gas and electricity, he buys only “green power” and offsets all of his personal carbon emissions.

    When comments like this go unchecked it does a disservice to the truth.

  14. If I remember correctly, GM has been selling millions of E-85 compliant vehicles in the U.S. for decades (mostly in the midwestern farm belt states). E-85 is not even available in the northeastern U.S. where most Saabs are sold. Apart from Bush and the farmers, most people do not consider Ethanol to be a sustainable fuel. Today’s Wall Street Journal has a huge article about how diversion of grains to ethanol is resulting in huge food price inflation in countries like China and India. Call me old fashioned but I like to see the facts first.

  15. Nice 1985 Grippen, great follow up. Al Gore is right on the money. I think we will see this 1.9TiD within a couple of years, fuel is only going up, and if people in Canada can drive it so can we.

  16. Jon, expressed quite well the situation about Diesel. One of the most important Diesel engines maker, Fiat, with Reinaldo Rinolfi(father of the Common rail tech.) as a head of development, said about a year ago in a interview with Autonews, that Diesel engines hasn’t a bright future compared with petrol engines. The Diesel engines are more expensive to build and design, about 1500-2500 dollars per engine, and nowadays are quite complex and nearly arrived to the top of its performance and efficiency. Instead the petrol engines has quite big margin to increase the availability of new technologies as direct injection, new tipe of turbos, new fuels…. and that gives a more bright future in middle term to petrol engines, in terms of cost-efficiency-performance and also enviromentally friendly issues. In Switzerland, the country were you should stop the engine in many stop lights, reduced the speed limit because the high pollution, also in Belgium, bith countries has a big proportion of diesel cars, and the high rate of pollution is in NO and NO2 particles, that are the weak point of diesel engines.

    For me one of the most important technologies from Saab in the last 5 years is the Saab Combustion Control. Reduction of the consumption about 10-15% and reduction of the CO and C02 emissions about 50% and the NO gases about 75%. And that with only a typical three way catalytic converter. With that technology Saab engines would be able to comply with the compromise of the brands with the UE to reduce the CO2 emission before 2008 to 140gr nowadays they are unable to do. And that with no lost of performance. Do you imagine what would mean this??

    remember the 9-3x, with the nowadays V6turbo 2.8 that had this technology, but we don’t see it in the final version of the engine. That’s disappointing!! and not why the GM-Fiat Powertrain 1.9 TID engine used in the Saab 9-3 isn’t offered in USA.


  17. Theres no 19TiDs in Canada. They and Mexico are using same 07 emission specs (.05g/MILE) as US.
    This is what Ive been yellin about for 4 years now. It aint about Saturn or Saab certifyin an engine…its GM, to be used in many models. And again if MB can get a 6 zylinder to miss NOx by .01g/m WITHOUT Adblue, a 4 zylinder should be a cinch. Shouldin it, Lutz???

  18. Theres no 19TiDs in Canada. They and Mexico are using same 07 emission specs (.05g/MILE) as US.
    This is what Ive been yellin about for 4 years now. It aint about Saturn or Saab certifyin an engine…its GM, to be used in many models. And again if MB can get a 6 zylinder to miss NOx by .01g/m WITHOUT Adblue, a 4 zylinder should be a cinch. Shouldin it, Lutz???

  19. al gore once said that “I believe it’s appropriate to have an over-representation of factual presentations on how dangerous it is.” just how do you over-represent facts? that sounds like a nice way of saying “it’s ok to lie, if you’re lying about the truth.”

    in addition, mr gore has his argument completely backwards. while there is a correlation between CO2 and atmospheric temperature, there is actually an 800 year lag in the rise of C02 BEHIND the temperature increase.

    the current increase of 1 degree C/100 years was not caused by greenhouse gases, but by an increase in activity in the great big BBQ in the sky, the sun. it goes through cycles of its own, and we’re in a warming trend now. in the 1970s, when scientists advocated the burning of coal to warm up the planet, we were in a phase of lessened activity. funny how things change.

    as for Mr Gore’s doomsday forecast due to increased an greenhouse effect — the computer models which are the basis of his argument use a ridiculous figure of 1.0% CO2 in the atmosphere. current composition has it at 0.35%. it would take an act of You Know Who to triple the amount of atmospheric CO2 in any reasonable amount of time.

    disclaimer: i am all for alternative fuels in the spirit of clean air (i live outside of LA), energy independence, and my not-yet-fulfilled lifelong love of driving.

  20. pardon me, my decimals have torque-steered their way one spot to the right of where they should be.

    CO2 is currently at 0.035%. his models use a figure of .10%.


  21. I guess the UN climate report (which concludes that the rise in temperature is man made) is wrong and more than 100 countries has approved a final scentific report that is bullshit…

  22. Don’t worry Helge it’s just more Texas arrogance that we have here in America, people will find a way to attack someones efforts to point out a global problem, makes me ashamed to be an American.

  23. i highly recommend watching The Great Global Warming Swindle. like Mr Gore’s effort, it’s not the end all of viewpoints, but it sure as hell makes you question the religion that man-made global warming has become.

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