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The relentless rise of diesel

publication date: Jan 10, 2013
author/source: Tony Lewis

There’s a rather interesting figure to ponder: 31. 

That’s the number of diesel-powered models that were on sale in the USA at the end of 2012, according to Autocar magazine. Not much choice, you might think. 

It could rise to as many as 60 this year [2013] as car makers use diesel power to meet Washington’s demands for greater economy and lower CO2.

Peugeot 405 from 31 years ago made its mark 

That is still a long way short of the amazing choice we have this side of the Atlantic and whether the same sales success is repeated there as here depends on the American public realising just how much progress has been made with diesel technology.

But it wasn’t always thus. You might expect to see the name of fellow Western Group member John Kerswill on this rather than mine. John was, after all, founding editor/publisher and grand fromage at Diesel Car magazine for many years. I joined him as his deputy/production editor (we all had at least two jobs then) as one of my early freelance contracts in the late 1980s.

In those days we seemed to spend our time driving cars from Peugeot like the likeable 405 (pictured) or Citroën (it was shortly after the BX was launched; I liked it so much that I ended up by an ex-press fleet BX). 

We got excited when the diesel share of the UK market approached anything close to 10 per cent. We would eagerly await the arrival of the SMMT figures each month and pore over them, trying to find clues that the diesel market really was about to take off . . . 


Citroen BX GT  

Now of course, diesel/petrol sales are around 50/50 and the last 25 years have seen massive strides in diesel engine technology.  Yet well into the 21st Century I would make a point of trying to book in a diesel-engined test car whenever an editor or similar was visiting from the US and requiring a lift. Playing ‘guess the engine’ with them was always great fun.  But it’s been a long, hard road to get here.


You can’t help but think if all the money spent researching lean-burn petrol engines and other routes to greater efficiency had been invested in diesel technology we would have arrived here much quicker. 

Now small capacity, three cylinder petrol engines are all the rage with some suggesting that engines like Ford’s EcoBoost will usurp diesel in the quest for ever-greater economy. This will be the trend for the next few years.

Today, the industry in Europe can give itself a pat on the back for it is also well on course to meet EU CO2 thresholds ahead of schedule. A recent report from the European Federation for Transport and Environment found that that the car industry as a whole cut its average CO2 emissions by three per cent in 2011 to 136 grams per kilometre; the 2015 target is 130g/km. 

Doing especially well are Toyota, Peugeot-Citroën and Fiat who reached their 2015 targets four years early, says the report. 

But I can’t but wonder how much further down this road we might have been today if the US had embraced diesel engines with the same enthusiasm Europe did all those years ago. 


© Tony Lewis

 Former group and GoMW chairman has immense experience

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