Diesel and petrol pumps

Volvo CEO says this generation of diesel engines could be the last

Image credit: Dreamstime

Hakan Samuelsson, CEO of Volvo Cars, has announced that the company may stop developing new diesel engines, since the cost of reducing nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions has become too expensive.

“From today’s perspective, we will not develop any more new-generation diesel engines,” Samuelsson said during an interview.

The CEO confirmed that Volvo would continue to develop current diesel models introduced in 2013 in order to meet emissions standards, although the costs of adhering to tighter anti-pollution regulations would make developing new diesel engines uneconomic. The current generation is likely to stop being produced after 2023.

In a statement published afterwards by Reuters, Samuelsson said that he believed that diesel would still play an important role in helping Volvo meet CO2 emissions targets and that a definite decision regarding the future of Volvo’s diesel engines was not required yet.

Diesel engines – which compress air to high temperatures and pressures rather than using spark plugs – are more fuel efficient than petrol engines, but emit more nitrogen oxide (NOx). NOx gas reacts with moisture and other compounds to form small, harmful particles, which penetrate lung tissue. This causes and aggravates respiratory disease and worsens heart conditions.

Widespread fury over Volkswagen’s cheating of emissions tests to hide their cars’ NOx emissions has placed car manufacturers under greater scrutiny by legislators hoping to reduce the levels of pollutants emitted by new cars.

A recent study published in Nature found that real world NOx emissions are up to 50 per cent higher than results from laboratory testing. The failure of diesel vehicles to meet official limits, the researchers argue, causes 38,000 deaths a year. Diesel cars make up half of all new registrations in Europe, the world’s largest diesel market.

European emissions standards require that passenger cars emit no more than 0.08g/km of NOx.

Goldman Sachs estimates that a crackdown on emissions could add a cost of €300 per engine to diesel, as carmakers struggle to bring real-world emissions down to their acceptable test levels.

According to Samuelsson, tightening emissions legislation will force the price of diesel cars to rise, until hybrid vehicles become an attractive alternative. Volvo will invest in developing electric and hybrid cars, with its first fully electric model due to become available in 2019.

“We have to recognise that Tesla has managed to offer such a car for which people are lining up,” Samuelsson said. “In this area, there should also be space for us, with higher quality and attractive design.”

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