Born-again diesels: battery-car killers

Mazda's new, light-weight diesel engine

Always a low-performing, highly-priced “nice idea” and a gruelling sell, battery-powered electric cars are about to be blown off the road by the latest generation of diesel engines.

The Economist reports on new, low-compression diesel engines that are lighter and quieter, more efficient, spin faster and boast cleaner emissions than their predecessors. What’s not to like about them?

The Economist says these amazing advances (emphasis added):

will put diesels on much the same footing—on an equivalent miles-per-gallon basis—as many of the electric vehicles available today. Their big advantage will be that they will come with none of the range anxiety and recharging difficulties to worry about. Roll on the day.

What’s the world coming to? All this wondrously productive research and development occurred without the assistance of an eco-mentalist propaganda campaign or government subsidy.


I mentioned this story to my elder son Michael just now. He told me that recent Tesla sales are good: “their marketing plans are on target,” he said. Whoops, I thought, and Googled “tesla sales statistics.” A story in Business Insider offers some perspective on the encouraging sales of the only Tesla model by comparing them with four luxury car manufacturers sporting a range of models.

2012 US luxury vehicle sales

Tesla is a tiny fish in a very large pond. The new diesels might well wipe them off the map. Where is that miracle battery technology?

11 Thoughts on “Born-again diesels: battery-car killers

  1. Andy on July 9, 2013 at 10:07 pm said:

    I looked at diesel cars a while back, and these were some of my findings:

    Golf TDi has better open road MPG than a Prius

    Almost everyone I know in the UK drives a diesel now. The modern VWs turn off the engine automatically when you stop, brake automatically, and start again when you press the accelerator. We in NZ get crippled by diesel kms which were designed for trucks and commercial vehicles, not modern diesel cars

    The Chevy Volt / Holden Volt is subsidised in the US to the tune of around $40,000 per vehicle. This is largely to comply with emissions targets (esp in California)

    In NZ, the Holden Volt costs around $80,000. It is the same size as an executive 5 seater saloon (that costs somewhat less), but only has 4 seats because the extra space is taken up by the 120kg battery.

    The Holden Volt has “extended range mode”, which is a petrol powered generator in the car that is used to recharge the battery if you can’t get to a recharge point and maybe don’t have the 12 hours handy to wait for a recharge

    If you think this is crazy then let me tell you about STOR …..

  2. California requires that a certain percentage of cars sold are electric, so companies like GM are pushing the Volt.

    Unfortunately, no one is that interested. They are having to offer fairly large discounts, or use government subsidies.

    Electric cars have been around a while now. They are hardly the “new thing”.

    I did hear on the radio some mention of reform of the diesel kms road user charges for small modern diesel saloons in NZ

    It does seem unfair that these are taxed at the same rate as a Ute or SUV

    • Richard C (NZ) on July 10, 2013 at 5:34 pm said:

      >”It does seem unfair that these are taxed at the same rate as a Ute or SUV”

      Interesting, hadn’t thought about that. Also unfair that the 1.9/2.0/2.2 diesel “softroaders” and “crossovers” (CX-5, Rav 4, Outlander, Sportage, i35, XTrail, Kuga, ASX, etc) are taxed at SUV/Ute rates at the 3.2L upper end say. But weight is the determining factor not capacity with the first band up to 3.5 tonnes “gross laden weight”:

      Gross laden weight (GLW)
      The greatest of:
      * any weight specified (following the latest modification, if applicable) as a vehicle’s GLW by the vehicle’s manufacturer
      * any weight specified as the GLW of a particular vehicle (or a vehicle of its kind) by the NZTA
      * the weight of a vehicle together with any load it is carrying, including any equipment and accessories.

      Gross vehicle mass (GVM)
      The greater of:
      * the mass specified as the GVM of a particular vehicle by the vehicle’s manufacturer
      * the mass specified as the GVM of a particular vehicle (or a vehicle of its kind) by the NZTA.

      [GLW and GVM are equivalent]

      http://www.nzta.govt.nz/resources/roadcode/heavy-vehicle-road-code/information-for-heavy-vehicle-drivers/general-heavy-vehicle-definitions-and-specifications.html

      You must pay road user charges if your vehicle:

      * is over 3.5 tonnes manufacturer’s gross laden weight
      * uses diesel or other fuel not taxed at source.

      http://www.nzta.govt.nz/vehicle/registration-licensing/ruc/overview.html

      http://www.nzta.govt.nz/vehicle/registration-licensing/ruc/rates-fees.html#powered

      Ford Ranger 3.2L
      Gross vehicle mass (GVM) 3,200 kg, [includes load]
      Kerb mass 1,921 kg (XL 2WD Super Cab Wellside) [no load]

      Mitsubishi Pajero 3.2L
      Gross vehicle mass (GVM) 3,030 kg,
      Kerb weight 2,270 kg

      Mazda CX-5 2.2L AWD
      Gross vehicle mass (GVM) 2,105 kg,
      Kerb weight 1,572 kg

      Holden Cruze CDX sedan
      Gross Vehicle Mass (GVM) 1838 kg [for 1.4L petrol, can’t find 2L diesel] say 1850 kg
      Kerb weight 1569 kg [2.0L diesel]

      There’s no difference between CX-5 softroader and CDX sedan in kerb weight but the CX-5 can be up to 255 kg heavier fully laden. I don’t see any real difference for road tax purposes though because they are essentially in the same category weight wise. The nominal threshold if 2 new bands were introduced would be GVM 2.5 tonne if it were to include all the softroaders and crossovers with sedans in the lowest band to give bands 0 – 2.5 and 2.5 – 3.5 tonne.

      A 2 tonne nominal threshold would include all the 2L sedans but exclude most of the softroaders and possibly crossovers which would fall into a 2 – 3.5 tonne band going by the CX-5. Not as fair perhaps as a 2.5 threshold but better than what we have now.

      And what would the appropriate fees and transaction costs be for those 2 new bands given the present 0 – 3.5 tonne RUC rate is $53 ($ per 1,000 km GST inclusive)?

  3. Here is a relevant article on electric cars

    http://spectrum.ieee.org/energy/renewables/unclean-at-any-speed

    The idea of electrifying automobiles to get around their environmental shortcomings isn’t new. Twenty years ago, I myself built a hybrid electric car that could be plugged in or run on natural gas. It wasn’t very fast, and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t safe. But I was convinced that cars like mine would help reduce both pollution and fossil-fuel dependence.

    I was wrong.

    I’ve come to this conclusion after many years of studying environmental issues more deeply and taking note of some important questions we need to ask ourselves as concerned citizens. Mine is an unpopular stance, to be sure. The suggestive power of electric cars is a persuasive force—so persuasive that answering the seemingly simple question “Are electric cars indeed green?” quickly gets complicated.

    As with most anything else, the answer depends on whom you ask. Dozens of think tanks and scientific organizations have ventured conclusions about the environmental friendliness of electric vehicles. Most are supportive, but a few are critical. For instance, Richard Pike of the Royal Society of Chemistry provocatively determined that electric cars, if widely adopted, stood to lower Britain’s carbon dioxide emissions by just 2 percent, given the U.K.’s electricity sources. Last year, a U.S. Congressional Budget Office study found that electric car subsidies “will result in little or no reduction in the total gasoline use and greenhouse-gas emissions of the nation’s vehicle fleet over the next several years

  4. Richard C (NZ) on July 10, 2013 at 1:43 pm said:

    For big km driving and loads, diesel is the only option. I drove an old Hilux 2.4 4WD work vehicle on and off road all over the western BOP and it didn’t miss a beat. Probably wasn’t really that frugal because it was foot-to-the-floor most of the time (plenty of torque – not much power) but it did seem to be a long time between fuel stops and servicing (I didn’t check because I wasn’t paying). It was a fantastic work horse set up for off-road with bash plates etc i.e. some extra metal, but it was also surprisingly maneuverable around town and came in handy mounting kerbs to park in otherwise impossible places where my electricity network jobs took me.

    But that was a simple old-tech normally aspirated engine. The latest crop force a lot of power from small engines e.g. Hyundai/Kia (2.0, 135 kW and 2.2, 145 kW) and Ford’s Kuga (2.0, 120 kW) for example. Mazda’s Skyactiv above (2.2, 114 kW) not so much but I’ve read some bad Mazda CX5 diesel motor-specific experiences and some generally bad Euro experiences (not necessarily motor-specific). The Euro servicing costs can be astronomical if you happen to have one with problems but you don’t hear a lot about that from the prestige garages (e.g. VW Toureg or BMW and Land Rover) unless you go searching for anecdotes.

    Same, but in Australia, with the new big engined Toyota diesel Landcruisers for example where fuel quality is critical and a lot of after market filtering is a must in the outback where the diesel is dodgy.

    A diesel rebuild or even just some extra servicing immediately throws out the pre-purchase economics of diesel vs petrol if petrol is an option. I would like to see more of the post-purchase experiences of newest diesel ownership because fuel consumption is only part of it and possibly the minor part (depreciation is a major cost) – and that goes for EV’s too and EV vs diesel or EV vs petrol. How many kms do you have to drive the diesel (or EV) to make break-even on the extra capital cost of the diesel (or EV)? And how many extra if there’s some unforeseen servicing? And what depreciation are you incurring in the process?

    Andy mentions a 120 kg EV battery. The weight of the vehicle and power-to-weight makes all the difference. For example, my present personal vehicle is a lightweight (1060 kg kerb) 2003 Corolla with a 100 kW 1.8L engine and it works fine at just over 7l/100 km. The next model was about 260 kgs heavier which is like carrying 3 adult passengers everywhere but with the same engine and that didn’t work. Consequently the next model came out with a 2 litre engine to make it work but it doesn’t perform as well as my older version. I’m reluctant to part with what I’ve got knowing this.

    The Prius/Insight/Leaf/Volt type of EV (and Hybrids) are similar to conventional petrol/diesel configurations in terms of chassis/body etc so the same weight considerations apply. Not so something like a sports-style Tesla where componentry and bodywork is lighter but more expensive so out of reach of normal purchasers but just the thing for psuedo-green movie stars. But for relatively cheap light-weight frugal petrol sports cars, take a look at the new Toyota/Subaru GT 86/BRZ two seater rear drive with the Subaru 2 litre boxer motor:

    Toyota 2.0L 86 Manual $42,286 147kW, 0-100km/h 7.6 seconds fuel consumption 7.8L/100km:

    http://www.trademe.co.nz/motors/new-cars/toyota/86/coupe/nzvtoyo2013aeaa.htm

    That’s a great little toy to me but not necessarily very useful. A useful comparison to me from the latest crop is Mitsubishi ASX AWD diesel vs Ford Kuga AWD diesel both of which also have very attractive petrol options for non-long-haul consideration. An EV doesn’t get a look in:

    Mitsubishi ASX SUV 2.2L AWD Diesel $41,990 112kW fuel consumption 5.8L/100km

    http://www.trademe.co.nz/motors/new-cars/mitsubishi/asx/suv/nzvmits2013aebi.htm

    Ford Kuga SUV 2.0L AWD Diesel $45,990 120kW fuel consumption 6.2L/100km

    Why, you might ask, does the Kuga need to force the extra 8 kW? Ans: simple, it’s about 170 kg heavier but the the engine is 0.2 L smaller capacity.

    It was conventional wisdom that a diesel depreciates less but I’m wondering if that will continue to be the case with the current crop after a bit of wear. I don’t even want to think about EV’s down the track.

    BTW: I’ve found buying ex-lease fixes the depreciation problem to a certain extent.

    • Richard C (NZ) on July 10, 2013 at 2:47 pm said:

      >”plenty of torque – not much power”

      Two anecdotes.

      I went out to a job where cables were being laid next to a flat harbour-side road that was not much above sea level or water table. The ground was sodden and an attempt to farm the land over the fence had been abandoned and left to revert to swamp. In normal 2WD mode I parked off the road on the soft wet ground thinking “I’ve got 4WD, I can get out of this” but normal 2WD was normally all that was necessary because the tyres were off-road and the diesel didn’t send the wheels spinning like a low-torque but higher power petrol would.

      Job finished, I jumped in and started up, let out the clutch slowly in 1st and expected to go even without touching the throttle because the torquey diesel usually didn’t need help but there was no perceptible movement whatsoever. I applied throttle – nothing, no movement, no engine signals. Still in gear motor running my immediate thought was “hmm, what’s gone wrong here”. I stuck my head out the window to check and the rear wheels had been slowly revolving (not spinning) in the slush all the while I had been pondering what the problem was but not even a hint of traction.

      Engaged 4WD and drove off onto the road after a bit of to-and-fro but it is one of those weird things that I’ve experienced in a high-torque diesel that never happens in a low-torque petrol (you know when there’s no traction in a petrol). It is the same backing up the slope out of my driveway, no throttle needed in the diesel but some revs reqd in my low-torque petrol.

      Another work vehicle I had to use around town from time to time but wouldn’t given a choice was a Nissan Navara Td ute we called the “license loser”. 2nd was okay but once in 3rd at the right revs there was a strong torque surge that immediately took you way over 50km/hr. This is no small thing when you’re charging around town dodging speed cameras (and forgetting to) getting to jobs when mgt seemed to think it was possible to be in two places at once. When it came time to distribute the speeding tickets that had arrived from the cameras I received a couple. I double checked the details because the vehicle was allocated to another guy who took it home at night. Sure enough he got them late evening and they would have cost him a days wages apiece.

      I haven’t driven an EV but I do know that an electric motor torque curve just keeps on going up so I would think an EV would perform similarly. I think that is the appeal of the Tesla but I doubt I’ll ever know.

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