The Future of Diesels?

“The public debate about diesel engines is creating uncertainty—especially for our customers.

“The public debate about diesel engines is creating uncertainty—especially for our customers. We have therefore decided on additional measures to reassure drivers of diesel cars and to strengthen confidence in diesel technology.”

That’s Dr. Dieter Zetsche, chairman of the Board of Management, Daimler AG, and head of Mercedes-Benz Cars on July 18.

So how are they going to “reassure drivers of diesel cars” and “strengthen confidence in diesel technology”?

Simple.

By recalling over 3-million Mercedes diesels.

It will cost the company an estimated 220-million euros.

Serious money.

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The matter to be dealt with: emissions.

In the U.S., Mercedes decided that it wouldn’t seek to have diesels in passenger cars certified for model year 2017.

Maybe next year. . . .

Or maybe it won’t make any difference by them.

According to Zetsche, “We are convinced that diesel engines will continue to be a fixed element of the drive-system mix, not least due to their low CO2 emissions.”

And Mercedes has developed a new diesel engine family that, it says, meets European emission regulations. It spent 3-billion euros on the development of that family.

For the recall, there is no out-of-pocket expense for the vehicle owners. But there will undoubtedly be the inconvenience associated with having to take a vehicle in for service.

What of the confidence?

Wouldn’t one have assumed that Mercedes was providing diesel technology that met all of the requirements.

After all, Carl Benz and Rudolf Diesel were both in Berlin at the same time back in the late 19th century, so odds are there are few, if any, vehicle manufacturers who have more experience in compression-combustion engines than Mercedes.

It is hard to imagine that people are just going to say, “Yes, they recalled all of those diesels. Let’s go buy another!” Especially people who might be a little concerned vis-à-vis their carbon footprint—or perhaps that should be tire track.

Also on July 18 Reuters ran a story based on an interview with Oliver Blume, Porsche CEO, who indicated that they would decide, by the end of the decade, whether they’d continue with diesel engines at Porsche. (As a member of Volkswagen Group, it had its problem with diesels.)

Think about that for a minute: by the end of the decade. About 2.5 years. Almost tomorrow in powertrain development time.

Does diesel have a future for passenger vehicles? I’d be less confident than Dr. Z.

Of course, they’ve made a 3-billion bet on black.