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.