20th March 2018
Geneva 2018 – plenty of fuel for thought as manufacturers’ differing takes dilute clarity
In the first part of our Geneva International Motor Show 2018 roundup, we resisted the ridiculously fast hyper cars with predictably sensational price tags and focussed on models that will be making their way onto organisations’ fleets in the near future, along with fleet-focussed technology for today’s connected world, plus a remarkable tyre concept with the environment in mind.
We conclude our look at Geneva 2018 by turning attention to a key decision that many fleet managers face – whether or not to ditch diesel as soon as possible and either return to petrol or embrace electric power.
Isn’t the decision obvious?
If headlines were to be wholly believed, diesel is dead. Geneva 2018, however, painted a rather different picture, giving fleet managers, SME owners and others plenty to ponder.
On the one hand, Subaru1, Toyota2 (the world’s largest car manufacturer by volume) and FCA announced at this year’s Geneva International Motor Show that they are to stop producing and selling diesel cars in Europe. For these brands, this is fair enough, with diesel comprising just 7% of Toyota’s UK sales in 2017.
The Germans’ ironic stance
On the other hand, marques that have traditionally and continue to prove popular among fleets aren’t so hasty to dismiss diesel. “I’m firmly convinced that diesel will experience a revival”, Volkswagen’s Matthias Müller revealed in a television interview for Reuters.
Head of R&D at Mercedes-Benz and Daimler, Ola Kallenius, similarly told the Irish Times3 that the perennial business favourite believes that “diesel has a bright future”, while SKODA Ireland’s brand director John Donegan candidly remarked: “I think it’s crazy. I don’t think diesel is dead and there are not enough incentives in place in to support consumers making such a big move so quickly. Diesel and petrol have played such a big part in the motoring psyche that it is going to take some time for us to evolve towards hybrid and electric. It’s not something that is going to work overnight. I think the announcement suits Toyota’s agenda but not the motoring public.”
We actually think that manufacturers, the government, local authorities and other organisations are offering some excellent incentives to motorists who are considering the switch to hybrid or electric, but would agree that adoption is unlikely to accelerate, partly because of the infrastructure which is still limited in certain ways, plus such vehicles’ relatively more expensive price-points.
Falling NOx but rising CO2 a headache
Ushering motorists away from diesel in a bid to reduce NOx and particulate matter levels has ironically put major OEMs in a position whereby they may now fail to meet the EU’s strict CO2 goals4, leaving all-electric cars like the Jaguar I-PACE, Audi e-tron and forthcoming Volkswagen I.D models as the perceived redeemers.
Kallenius used Geneva 2018 to put forth the argument that Mercedes’ new generation of diesel engines (which incorporate urea injection technology known as ‘Adblue’) impressively mitigate NOx emissions, making them almost indistinguishable from petrol engines5. “If we stay rational, it’s still a very good choice for many customers, especially if you do a lot of miles,” he said. We would agree that high-mileage motorists are still best sticking with diesel.
Although Daimler/Mercedes will gradually phase diesels out and focus on EQ hybrid models plus pure EVs, Geneva saw it present a powertrain concept that Autocar Professional reckons ‘could be the saviour of diesel’6.
Reviving and improving old technology
Underneath the skin of the rather ordinary-looking C-Class saloon exhibited on the marque’s stand, not far from all the adrenaline-racing AMG metal, lurked some very interesting technology indeed. Yes, the French have done it before with the Peugeot 3008 and Citroen DS5, and Mercedes has itself also dabbled via small numbers of various models badged ‘300 BlueTEC’ – but the luxury manufacturer is now most serious about diesel electric playing a key role in its interim fuel strategy.
While Autocar is questionable in stating that ‘plenty of more reputable engineers’ would say that it’s ‘twaddle’ that diesels are toxic and poisoning our children, based on the admitted fact that Euro 6 units are cleaner than ever, their labelling of the media and political worlds’ anti-diesel messaging as ‘grandstanding and wilful misrepresentation’ holds some merit.
With the acceptance that diesel vehicles are still the most suitable for high-mileage drivers due to their stronger fuel economy credentials, it certainly sounds plausible that Mercedes introducing the ‘de’ badge for diesel-electric power could indeed prove to be the ‘best of both worlds’, blending diesel’s undisputedly more impressive range, torque, fuel consumption and low CO2 figures with zero-emissions electric motoring when driving in urban environments.
Company car drivers would no doubt relish the prospect of 300bhp, 500lb ft of torque, 70mpg combined and a real-world EV range of 25 miles from a Mercedes C or E-Class. Fleet managers and finance departments will admittedly have to weigh up P11d values, though, as Mercedes ‘de’ models are likely to be relatively more expensive owing to the added technology involved.
Mazda has yet another solution
Away from the Japanese firm’s jaw-dropping Vision Coupe7, of particular interest to fleet managers grappling with which fuel(s) to pursue is Mazda’s latest SKYACTIV-X engine, which uniquely features Spark Controlled Compression Ignition (SPCCI) that combines the merits of petrol’s lean-burn spark ignition with the benefits of diesel compression8.
With a claimed 30% boost in fuel efficiency during low-speed driving and a 20% improvement overall9, this 2-litre engine could well strike the right mix for fleets whose drivers cover short-to-moderate annual mileages. Mazda, a brand that has unashamedly expressed a reluctance to jump on the electric bandwagon, is clearly a fan of petrol being the go-to all-round fuel of the moment and the foreseeable future10.
The Geneva International Motor Show once again proved fascinating even when overlooking the more fanciful creations on display, and fleet managers certainly won’t be able to complain about the lack of fuel choice on offer, with some very interesting new directions being taken.
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