by David Johnson
President & CEO, Achates Power, Inc.
It’s no surprise that diesel-powered vehicles are growing in popularity. After all, they’re far more efficient than gasoline engines and much more fun to drive. They’re also cleaner than their predecessors, thanks to ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel and new technologies that include particulate filters, SCR and common-rail fuel injection.
What may be surprising to some, however, is that diesels are becoming more popular than hybrids in the United States. Just ask Volkswagen. In late December, the company announced that it sold over 100,000 TDI® Clean Diesel vehicles from the VW and Audi brands in 2013. This was a significant milestone and, despite a reduction in overall U.S. sales, VW’s diesel sales continued to grow last year. They grew so much, in fact, that the company sold more diesels than any other car company sold hybrids—except for Toyota. In addition, VW sold more diesel cars than the U.S. sales of over a dozen plug-in electric vehicles.
Despite this lack of government support, diesel also showed its appeal among the 2014 winners of Ward’s 10 Best Engines. Three diesel-powered vehicles—the BMW 535d, Ram 1500 EcoDiesel and Chevrolet Cruze Diesel—made the 2014 list. And, by Ward’s own account, “six advanced diesel engines in multiple vehicle segments shook up the competition”. While only three of those six made the top 10 list, all of the models scored well. In addition, it was the first time ever that more than two diesel engines made the list in a single year.
In Europe (and India), diesel powertrains continue their popularity, which is due both to their fuel economy benefits and the consistently high cost of fuel in those markets. What’s new, however, is that diesel engines are now being paired with hybrids in what’s known as a diesel-hybrid system. PSA, the French manufacturer of Peugeot and Citroen, just sold its 50,000th diesel hybrid, an engine architecture that is not yet available in the U.S. The diesel-hybrid system combines a 2.0-liter turbocharged diesel engine—used at the front axle—with an electric motor—setup at the rear. The result is strong city and highway fuel economy combined with low CO2 output of less than 100 grams per kilometer.
At Achates Power, we understand the advantages of diesel and have leveraged those advantages in the design of our opposed-piston, two-stroke engine. After 10 years and nearly 5,000 hours of testing, we’ve proven that our diesel engine is clean and significantly more fuel efficient than today’s conventional four-stroke engines—gasoline or diesel. Unlike hybrid and electric vehicle powertrains, it’s also less costly to manufacture, making it the most viable solution—both economically and environmentally—to meeting consumer and manufacturer demand for lower emissions and better fuel economy at an affordable price (The Achates Power engine is also ready to make hybrid vehicles—gasoline or diesel—even more efficient).