Volkswagen to Kill Diesels in Favor of Hybrids for Smallest Cars
Exploding costs and brutal new emissions laws will do what the Dieselgate emissions scandal couldn’t do–kill off Volkswagen’s small-diesel-engine range, or at least the ones smaller than those it sold in the United States, VW executives are saying.
Volkswagen’s head of development, Frank Welsch, said this week that the next generation of the 1.6-liter turbo-diesel four-cylinder engine, used in an all-new Polo going on sale later this year, will be the last small diesel the embattled giant ever develops. (VW has no current plan to offer the Polo in the United States.) All new diesels in Europe after 2020 will need exhaust-scrubbing technology that will cost their makers up to the equivalent of more than $850 a car, even for the smallest city hatchbacks.
The company will continue to develop its larger, more versatile EA288 2.0-liter TDI—which it uses in everything from hatchbacks to mid-size SUVs by Audi, Volkswagen, Seat, and Škoda—but nothing smaller. The world’s biggest carmaker will turn instead to hybrid power for its smallest cars, with electric motors boosting their three- and four-cylinder gasoline powertrains.
While VW’s new 148-hp 1.5-liter gasoline engine posts an emissions figure of 112 grams of CO2 per kilometer, the EU’s 2020 regulations demand a European fleet average of 95 grams. Volkswagen, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, BMW, and Daimler have their own targets for that deadline date that vary between 88 and 101 grams. It’s from the EU and it’s complicated, so it’s best not to dig too deep into these disparities. Suffice it to say that, when paired with an integrated starter/generator (ISG) electric motor, VW’s small gasoline engine will slide well under the EU’s figure.
“Mild hybrids are right on the cost of small diesels. [Diesels] are finished. In the small cars, like the Polo and the Up, diesel will be much too expensive in 2020,” Welsch said.
“The take rate of diesel in small cars is going down step by step. They are expensive, so we have to see if there is a future for diesel in these small cars at all,” he cautioned.
“In the very near future, people will say, ‘Okay, to add a diesel is 25 percent more than the car’s price,’ ” he warned. “They will say, ‘Forget it.’ ”
For all the data and market information Welsch quoted, the decision to cull the small-diesel family has been pretty recent.
Only a year ago, brand boss Herbert Diess confirmed Volkswagen would develop a modular 1.5-liter TDI four-cylinder to be built deep into the 2020s. That engine was meant to share a record number of parts with the 1.5-liter TSI gasoline four-cylinder (which will be launched in the Europe-market Golf this year) as the two technologies came closer together
But Welsch, who was based in Volkswagen’s diesel-free China operation during the gestation of what became VW’s emissions-cheating scandal, had other ideas.
A Future of Hybrids across the Range
Volkswagen senior management believes the crossover point where mild-hybrid gasoline powertrains swamp small diesels by delivering cleaner emissions at lower cost will come somewhere around 2021 or 2022—coinciding neatly with both the introduction of the EU’s new emissions law and the timing of the facelift for this year’s all-new Polo.
“We think there will be a time, not so far away, when people will go for [gasoline] or a combination with hybrid—not diesel,” Welsch insisted.
“A mild hybrid is cheaper than diesel and has more or less the same CO2. From my perspective and Mr. Diess’s, this is four or five years. Maybe five years, it depends on the markets.
“We will have mild hybrids across the range. I think in most cases we will have 48-volt power and 12-volt power, even for the Polo.
While all diesel-powered cars and SUVs face a sharp jump in price after 2020, bigger diesel-engined cars and SUVs will be better placed to absorb the costs of the EU-mandated upgraded aftertreatment systems.
“Right now it works, but we all know what we will have to do in coming years with the new EU regulations. And then it doesn’t work.”
“To make these diesels fulfill these new regulations will cost at least 600 to 800 euros per car [about $650 to $850], and that’s just materials costs,” Welsch said. “It’s not in the engine, though. It’s for everything behind the engine. It’s all the aftertreatment. For a small diesel, the aftertreatment is as expensive as the engine is. That’s where we end up.”