VW Scandal Bad News For Diesel

Yves here. As John Gapper describes in today’s Financial Times, diesel engine manufacturers routinely gamed emissions tests, but Volkswagen was apparently the most extreme. From his article:

It has become so common to game European fuel efficiency tests with tricks such as taping up doors and overinflating tyres to curb drag that most diesel cars are less fuel-efficient and environmentally friendly than claimed. In the US, Ford was found to have fitted an illegal “defeat device” — the charge facing VW — to vans in 1997, and Hyundai and Kia were fined $100m last year for fixing their tests.

By Tom Kool, Deputy News Editor, OilPrice. Originally published at OilPrice

The outlook for diesel looks grim after U.S regulators found that the world’s second biggest car manufacturer cheated on its emission tests.

Last Friday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reported that Volkswagen violated the U.S Clean Air Act. The German auto maker deliberately rigged the so called emission control systems in several models of their cars in order to reduce nitrogen-oxide emissions when tested in the lab.

However, when tested on the road, the size of the ‘diesel deception’ proved to be bigger than many could have imagined. Bloomberg reported on September 22 that on an open road test both the ‘Jetta’ and ‘Passat’ models exceeded U.S nitrogen-oxide emissions standards by up to 35 times.

It was Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn who admitted that the company ‘betrayed the trust’ of millions of people in a mea culpa on September 21. He announced his decision to resign two days later.

Winterkorn must have known his position was untenable after Volkswagen’s stock lost around a third of its value in two days. According to Bloomberg, even the German government pressed for ‘quick action.’

The company has already announced it will allocate $7.3 billion to deal with the costs of the emissions scandal. Whether this will be prove to be sufficient to pay for all the consequences remains to be seen. It is clear, however, that Volkswagen’s reputation as a manufacturer of ‘clean diesel’ vehicles has taken a devastating hit.

Damage Report – Diesel Vehicles Could Result in Lower Demand for Diesel

The Volkswagen scandal is not just likely to cause damage upon the company itself, it might also cause damage to the rest of the industry, including parts manufacturers, and other car makers.

There is also the possibility that other car builders may have also manipulated tests.

Maybe even more important is the damage done to the image of diesel as a ‘cleaner’ fuel.

This image was shaped back in the 1990’s as Volkswagen, along with other European car makers, started to pursue diesel innovations as the EU pressed to reduce CO2 emissions. It appears that regulators have opened their eyes to the fact that diesel is still not as clean as unleaded gasoline.

It is too early to predict exactly what the fallout will be for the automotive industry, but with the clean air debate intensifying globally, U.S and E.U regulators will now seek to impose stricter emission test guidelines.

Now that diesel is not as clean as it appeared and stricter emissions tests and perhaps even stricter regulation can be expected, one has to ask; does this mean the end of diesel for light vehicles?

“Yes, it probably does,” Max Warburton, senior automotive industry analyst at Bernstein Research, said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal.

This is not just alarming for the automotive industry, but could also lead to a structural demand shift in fuel products.

That shift could not have come at a worse time for diesel.

As can be seen in the below chart, fuel stockpiles are building worldwide and ultralow-sulfur diesel futures are sinking back to yearly lows. In addition, the sales of light vehicles run on diesel is also tapering off in the U.S.

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This second chart indicates that the US diesel retail price is also approaching its six year low.

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As can be seen from chart 1, diesel vehicle sales in the U.S only amount to 2.7 percent of total U.S auto sales. Diesel has had trouble penetrating the U.S. market. The VW scandal will ensure that it won’t.

Diesel has Become Vulnerable

In Europe however, diesel forms a much bigger part of the total amount of fuels sold. Roughly half of all European demand for refined products consists of diesel. Mainly caused by a favorable tax regime in many European countries, diesel has gradually replaced gasoline as the major road fuel, as can be seen in chart 3 below.

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Needless to say, a change in tax policies, more stringent emissions tests and/or legislation will rapidly lead to a slowdown in new diesel vehicles sold.

And decision makers are in fact becoming more aware of hazardous emissions from diesel engines.

According to Viren Doshi, a senior partner in Strategy&, “There is increasing concern from the regulators around health issues linked to particulates in the air.”

Copy of tomvw4


Already, diesel’s share in new car registrations is falling in Europe’s top 5 diesel consuming countries like France, Spain and Germany as can be seen in chart 4.

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Chart 5  indicates that diesel is losing the battle against gasoline.

The explanation for the switch back to gasoline can be attributed to better fuel economy of gasoline run cars and the ongoing crude oil price slump which has increased the supply of unleaded gasoline.

Oliver Jakob, from oil consultancy Petromatrix merely sees the scandal at Volkswagen as a ‘’potential accelerator’’ of a trend that has already started.

Not Just Volkswagen, but the Downstream Sector Could Also Lose

Even though a complete collapse of global diesel demand is unexpected, European diesel demand is bound to slow down in the coming years. The negative consequences of this transition in demand will mostly be felt by the downstream sector. In recent years, new refineries in Asia, the Middle East and Europe have invested significantly in converting heavier crudes into diesel. The global supply of diesel has turned into a glut. Over the past year, refiners have done well because of the improved margins due to cheap oil. However, refiners churning out diesel could find the market increasingly hostile as their product becomes subject to heightened scrutiny.

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  1. PlutoniumKun

    My understanding is that one of the key drivers behind the push for diesel in Europe was the oil and refining sectors – crudes imported to Europe tend to have heavier fractions than in the US, so rising gasoline use was causing a glut in heavier fractions, namely diesel – so investing heavily in diesel for smaller vehicles was seen as a ‘win-win’ in terms of balancing demand for oil products while being seen as ‘greener’. But if there is a rapid pull back in demand for diesel this will create all sorts of problems for refiners if it is matched by increasing demands for lighter grades. It could potentially significantly raise fuel costs even if crude costs stay low.

    Ford could be one big winner out of this – their gasoline engines are the most advanced, but they struggled to compete against diesel in many markets.

    1. craazyboy

      “will create all sorts of problems for refiners if it is matched by increasing demands for lighter grades.”

      Considering that lighter grades are disappearing from the face of the planet, that would be a problem.

      At least in the USA we are driving SUVs and Ford F150s. We aren’t like the stupid Europeans.

      ‘Course in large trucks and buses, we still use diesel. Some cheap ass consumers around here like the 500,000 mile lifetime of a diesel engine. If we can throw away all the metal 4 times as often, that should give the economy a boost.

      Then we do have a use for high sulfur refinery gunk. We burn it in ocean freighters. So the sulfur emissions stays were it belongs. In our oceans.

      P.S. I’m still wondering about the units used in all this analysis. Seems like NOX per second. Shouldn’t it be NOX per mile? (ok – kilometer, if we insist on being scientific about things)

      1. optimader

        P.S. I’m still wondering about the units used in all this analysis. Seems like NOX per second. Shouldn’t it be NOX per mile? (ok – kilometer, if we insist on being scientific about things)

        Indeed. No perspective what it all means. Maybe NOX equivalencies like: Overloaded Gavel Truck pulling away from a traffic light NOX equivalent miles, or maybe February in Maine poorly tuned Residential Oil Furnace NOX per gallon equivalent miles??

      2. different clue

        There is nothing more scientific about kilometer than about mile. The “kilometer” is merely a thousand “meters”. The “meter” was introduced by the French Revolutionary government right after the French Revolution as part of a social-cultural engineering project to abolish customary and traditional units of measure in order to degrade and attrit traditional French culture. The “meter” was said to be a “millionth of the diameter of the earth” or something equally science-y sounding. But the French Revolutionary measurement-meisters were quite wrong about the diameter of the earth, so the meter is actually a millionth of precisely nothing at all. The introduction of metric measure was intended as an act of cultural vandalism and cultural genocide against the French culture of the day. I see nothing scientific about that, and I see nothing scientific about the “metric system” today. Its only advantage is that it is very easy to work in, being based on powers of ten.

        We could make our own American Metric System with the same kind of trickery. We could make the foot the basis of our American Metric System. The foot, the decifoot, the centifoot, the millifoot, etc. The kilofoot, the pentakilofoot (5 kilofeet which is sort of close to the current mile) and so on. There, see? Metric! Ounces and kilo-ounces, quarts and kiloquarts, and so forth.

        1. craazyboy

          hahaha. Scientists are so snobby. I like centipede and millipede – based on the “standard stride”.

          But if you really want to go loony – check out English magnetic units. That’ll do it.

      3. downunderer

        Yes to that “pollution/km” idea. I’ve been driving passenger diesels for over 30 years, both in the US and way down south here; VWs and Toyotas, and they *always* beat gasoline cars’ mpg by a significant amount. No third-party high-tech testing needed to know that.

        My diesel heavy-hauling (1250kg) full-time-4WD Toyota HiAce van gets about 22 mpg, which is what I recall my first American “economy” lemon got (an early Ford Falcon, about 1960). And the 15-year-old passenger station-wagon equivalent Toyota Caldina more like 42 mpg.

        Then there’s the joy of all those spark plugs and their wiring I’ve never had to gap and replace, the timing and points I’ve never needed to adjust, the distributor innards I’ve never had to replace, the carburetor that just isn’t there – and all the environmental costs of those replacements that have been avoided.

        And here, where diesels are so common that every station routinely has it at every pump island, I’ve never seen a passenger car, van or pickup (“ute”, as they’re called here) blow black smoke or smell bad like the old big rigs too often do. Regular inspections and road rules don’t allow it.

        So whatever happens may be publicity and politics driven(!) rather than a consequence of environmental realities.

  2. PlutoniumKun

    I should also add – almost certainly a coincidence, but in the last week Peugeot-Citroen announced they were abandoning their diesel hybrid range to focus on gasoline and plug in hybrids. The stated reason was that the market was too small, so it was better to focus on gasoline which sells better worldwide. In a roundabout way, I think this scandal could in the longer term be very good for the environment. Diesel engines, rather like natural gas electricity generation, has been something of a stalking horse for delaying a transition to genuine alternatives such as all electric vehicles and renewable electricity generation. Hopefully we will now see all the major car companies focus exclusively on hybrids and electric plug ins.

    1. Gio Bruno

      Diesel engines were NEVER cleaner than gasoline engines. (Natural gas is always cleaner than coal.)

      What has slowed the conversion to electric/hybrid vehicles is the cost of vehicle. (And the deceitful PR and practices at VW.) As battery technology improves (and costs drop), many people will find the ‘zip’ of an electric vehicle ideal for many trips, near and far.)

      This VW scandal has also aided BMW, Mercedes, and Dodge (Sprinter) sales. I’ve been skeptical of the pollution-free claims of VW for years. Simply stand near the exhaust of a running diesel engine from one of these makers’ vehicles for an extended period and you can smell the pollution.

      1. optimader

        I’ve been skeptical of the pollution-free claims of VW for years.
        Don’t think theve ever claimed pollution free, that’s the propaganda domain of the “zero emission” electic cars.

          1. optimader

            ..and on the eight day god created PV arrays to power all the zero emission cars.

            PV, great innovation but I’m sorry, are they Naturally occurring or are you just not considering the resources to create these pv arrays in your Energy Balance?

            How many will be reqd btw?

            1. craazyboy

              You melt the state of Nevada and pour in the right doping elements. Hook up to ultra high voltage nationwide grid – and we’re all tootin’

              Ya just gotta think big!

              Then you can focus on where you will buy your $12,000 battery. Wal-Mart?

  3. rusti

    Contrary to the absurd fantasies of the brainwashed “because markets!” faithful, it’s obvious being in the industry that firm regulatory requirements as a precondition to sell products gives a clear direction to manufacturers and drives innovation. New EPA and EU directives for emissions lead to creative solutions, but the requirements and testing need to be implemented well, which gives an obvious incentive for the ownership class to want to neuter the EPA rather than setting engineers to the task of meeting requirements. The Volkswagen case is such a clear-cut violation of ethics with such obvious consequences for public health that I haven’t seen the usual droves of commenters around the Internet complaining that the EPA is the root of the problem.

    I think for passenger cars, distribution trucks and buses it makes a lot more sense to go towards electrification than “clean” diesel. The same is true for industrial equipment and gardening stuff. So long as the energy storage is appropriately sized it should be (and increasingly is) competitive in a number of applications, with the added benefit of reduced noise levels in urban environments.

    I don’t see much in the pipeline (pardon the pun) to displace diesel for long-haul ground transit though unless major infrastructure investments are made specifically for that purpose. It’s pretty damn hard to beat diesel engines for durability, energy density, scalability and price.

    1. drexciya

      Nope, it creates artificial markets and products. There’s a whole range of cars, like the Ampera/Volt, which would have been completely unattractive without the tax breaks. I’m firmly against that, since I’m required to pay for the tax breaks these cars get. Also, these cars are mainly bought in the lease market and not in the regular market and that’s only for the tax breaks. People in that market typically use them in a way you should not use such a vehicle, completely removing any potential benefit to the environment.

      1. rusti

        I guess whether or not it’s an “artificial market” depends on whether you view vehicle electrification as an inevitability or not. The Volt, the Tesla models, the Leaf, and others have done a huge amount of the upfront work that will be required for widespread adoption and there’s no question that the tax breaks facilitated that happening.

        If the benchmark for widespread adoption is whether or not battery energy density competes with fossil fuels, along with charging infrastructure, the horizon for deployment is many more years in the future than it would be otherwise. But I’m curious to hear what you think an appropriate course of action is? Presuming you’re not a climate change denier.

        1. drexciya

          The problem is that there are lots of ways to decrease fuel consumption, but they are more expensive or they collide with other requirements. Cars have become bigger (compare the same model of the same brand with the equivalent of 15 years ago) and because of better protection against collisions, heavier.

          So things are never easy. EV cars currently are only useful when you only drive short distances, that’s why there are hybrids. But batteries are heavy and they only improve very slowly. Also take into account the wear and tear on said batteries and things aren’t that clear.

          I would start with improving public transport and (in the US and UK) making bikes more attractive. Although I own a car, I hardly ever drive a short distance inside the town I live, because a bike is way more efficient. Let’s start by getting down the number of kilometers driven down and you have already gained a lot.

          As to the whole anti-diesel stance; I drive a small diesel car and the fuel efficiency is excellent. If you drive it in a proper way (that’s also a very big thing), you can get pretty far. But drive a car in the wrong way, or do some mods (chip tuning) and all is for naught. We’ve seen some egregious problems pop up with the Prius when driving it at top speed (it was worse then a BMW M3); of course you’re not supposed to do that, but some people do.

          I’m not against the EV per se, but currently it’s a niche thing which only works because of subsidies. The hydrogen/fuel cell option might be better in the long run, but has it’s problems as well. Given the fact, that you cannot easily modify our electrical infrastructure, to switch just like that, you have to conclude you will still have fossil fuel cars in the near future, so we should make the best out of it. And diesel is a pretty good example for certain use cases. In The Netherlands you already get alerts from the lease company if your fuel consumption is above average and that should serve as a real incentive; tackling driving style is way more useful then some artificial benchmarks.

            1. Vatch

              Absolutely! Just yesterday in the Naked Capitalism links section, there was an article from OilPrice:

              “There Are 800 Fossil Fuel Subsidies Around The World”

              This refers to an OECD report; note that the OECD is a a hardcode international establishment organization. This isn’t a radical environmentalist group that might be accused of exaggerating the number of fossil fuel subsidies.

              1. Vatch

                I meant to say “hardcore” instead of “hardcode”. And “is a a” should have been “is a”. My fingers have a mind of their own!

          1. rusti

            I’m not sure I understand how you envision a transition actually taking place within any sort of time window that lines up with climate change projections without massive intervention in the forms of subsidies, taxes, public infrastructure investments and research grants. Saying that we should “make the best of” fossil fuel cars in the near future while Mr. Market brilliantly works his magic is no sort of solution.

            And if Battery Electric Vehicles are a subsidy dumpster for your tax dollars, then you must find the idea of a hydrogen economy absolutely abhorrent. The efficiency of hydrogen production is lousy and comes primarily from natural gas. The Japanese are planning to subsidize the hell out of it and the outlook is still dire.

            I don’t own a car but I realize that very few people are going to be compelled to make that lifestyle choice under our current political framework, asking people to lay off the accelerator is a good idea but the impact is trivial relative to the scale of the problem.

            1. craazyboy

              Hydrogen should be a non-starter. We already know all we need to know about hydrogen. Even the DOE, after initial cheerleading, proclaimed it dead back around the 2004 timeframe.

              1. optimader

                Hydrogen, pretty damn small molecule they found out.
                Selective catalytic reduction (SCR) is the commercially viable solution to Diesel NOX reduction. just have to use it!

        2. upstater

          The solution to personal transportation is not self-driving electric vehicles. It is a revitalized railroad system and encouragement of development in rail corridors and public transit.

          Electric power automobiles and self-driving cars only will encourage more sprawl to exurbs and building of energy-hogging McMansions reliant of fossil fuels for heating.

          1. rusti

            Yours is definitely the wiser course of action and rebound effects are inevitable. I’m just thinking like an engineer acknowledging the current political and technological reality as I perceive it. There are a lot of ideological battles to be won in the public sphere before the idea of drastically reducing energy consumption in terms of housing size, vehicle miles traveled, consumer goods availability and so forth becomes popular.

          2. different clue

            If fossil fuels cost enough, those suburban houses would be McThermoses rather than McMansions . . . the sort of McThermoses built in Finland, northern Norway, northern Sweden and etc. But oil would have to be at or over ten dollars a gallon to torture society into choosing McThermoses over McMansions.

            ( Or maybe instead of heat-leaky big McMansions, builders would start building heat-leaky little McHuts and McHovels).

            1. craazyboy

              It always scares me when they say they have to make things expensive enough so rich people can’t afford to waste it.

          3. drexciya

            Urban sprawl is very underrated indeed. It has created unnecessary traffic and given the large McMansions in the US also lots of inefficiencies. In Europe there are regulations promoting better building standards, also concerning energy efficiency.

      2. Praedor

        All markets are false because all are relayed and restricted. It has ALWAYS been that way and always must be. The incentives for EVs or hybrids is good and proper as means of encouragement of both initial purchase and ongoing development. Just as laws or regulations mandating more and more electric generation come from renewals is both good and necessary.

      3. dw

        if you have to pay for the tax credits, then i guess you would agree that you have to pay for tax cuts? and that would also apply to any tax credit. will diesel (as it was done in the EU) was an artificial product since there are lower taxes (and fees) for diesel products as opposed to gas ones. course without rules, thee would be a panic when gas prices sky rocket (again), as there wouldnt be any cars to buy that fit the new market. and of course safety would havent been a big concern (think not? seat belts were an option on vehicles as far as the 50s, and air bags not long after that, and guess what? neither were commercial successes. and with out uls, vehicles would still pollute just as much as they did in the sixties, cause buyers wouldnt have bought that, even if the skies wee smog bound, and cities a death trap

    2. craazyboy

      There is a lot to be said for “diversification” of technologies and transportation “infrastructure” or “existing vehicle inventory” – whatever we should call it.

      Just because there isn’t a one size fits all solution (never was) and going “all in” on one is very risky – just because there isn’t a really good solution in either vehicle technology or fuel type and source. Plus tech doesn’t advance if no one is working on it.

      1. rusti

        I’m with you. There’s always a group of internet cheerleaders who align themselves with a particular technology and anything else getting a few tax dollars drives them into a Hulk rage. I hope there are multiple successful alternatives to fossil fuels for different applications.

  4. vlade

    There’s a couple of issues here.

    Firstly, the emission regulations are getting to the point where it’s almost physics-defying. As in the amount of energy required to move the vehicle from an internal combustion source, which has a theoretical limit to its efficiency, requires a certain amount of fuel (diesel or gasoline). That amount of fuel will release a given amount of CO2. We’re not there yet, but the real low hanging fruit is now all gone, and it’s becoming exponentially harder to optimize, to the point of it being uneconomical. It’s questionable how much of total-life-CO2 can now be saved with todays technologies (hybrids tend to generate CO2 at different parts of their lifecycle – it still tends to be lower, but if say our electricity usage for transport went up, it’s questionable how much CO2 would be really saved). The only real, known solution right now is to use transport less or to use more of mass transport vs. individual transport. One person in a car is not going to be an efficient means of transportation ever.

    Secondly, talking about non-CO2 emissions, especially in the diesel area, there has been a huge effort put into making the car (especially small car) engines efficient and cleaner. On the other hand, there has been little to no effort spent on other major diesel engine areas, especially shipping engines.

    For comparison, one – yes ONE – super sized container ship can emit during one year same amount of SO2 emissions that about 50 MILLION cars.

    The world shipping fleet pollutes about six times more than all the cars combined. For comparison, there’s about 760 million cars in the world, but only about 90,000 cargo ships.

    Note that these are the non CO2 emissions, in CO2 emissions large ships are more efficient than smaller cars (size matters.. ) – the world shipping industry uses about 8 million barrels a day vs. abut 13 million barrels a day by the US transportation system (US has about a third of all world’s cars).

    1. rusti

      Interesting post. Regarding your first point, Volkswagen says that this only applies to EA 189 engines and that their others are EU 6 compliant. In my eyes that indicates that the software defeat device was a deliberate business decision to improve margins and market share through false advertising. My understanding is that their competitors’ vehicles running realistic drive cycles will result in a lot higher emissions than the tests would indicate too just without such a deliberate software hack and not to the same extremes. That just underscores the need for competence on behalf of the regulators setting standards and writing test procedures.

      Regarding your second point, I think it’s tough to regulate container ships because they spend so much time in international waters, but it should be possible to crack down at the choke points and set requirements on what ships coming into ports can spew out. Your assessment about single-passenger cars is equally applicable here with the absurdity of burning millions of barrels of hydrocarbons per day so people can have a wider variety of out-of-season fruit and cheap plastic toys.

      1. cnchal

        . . . In my eyes that indicates that the software defeat device was a deliberate business decision to improve margins and market share through false advertising. . .

        No it isn’t. It is a criminal act. No if, and or buts! There is no possible defense for this.

      2. different clue

        Or abolish Free Trade and restore aggressive Protectionism, and have every country make within its own borders as much as it can make and grow. Driving trade way down would drive use of ships way down and solve the pollution problems caused by Free Trade right there.

    2. drexciya

      Some excellent points here Vlade. This mass hysteria is totally out of proportion compared to the environmental impact of ship engines (with some very vile fuels being used) and let’s not forget about way less regulated market for pick-up trucks and SUVs in the US. And in some cities in The Netherlands, where older diesels have been banned, scooters and mopeds are still allowed, which are in dire need of cleaner engines and fuel.

      It would be bad if this incident would lead to not having any diesel options anymore in smaller cars (smaller in the US; the Gulf/A3 are average sized cars in Europe).

      The reason that diesel is selling less well in Europe is simply because the taxes (which are higher for diesel and for LNG in The Netherlands for instance) make the point where it becomes more economical harder to achieve.

      And when it comes to stupid test results and cars made to bend the rules, you needn’t look any further than (plug-in) hybrids. The Outlander PHEV has a lot of tax cuts, but it’s a really awful vehicle from a fuel economy point of view. I don’t know about the official figures, but getting higher then 1liter/8km is really something. The tax cuts for these vehicles will be repealed in the coming year and then we’ll see if these vehicles are really attractive.

        1. drexciya

          I think this is blown out of proportions, compared to the GM failure to create a safe car. I’m not saying that I think this should be marginalized, but the outrage is over the top compared to the small price GM had to pay for making cars that kill instantly.

      1. dw

        but much lower in other EU countries. course it might be because the market has changed as those who are strongly impacted by those tax changes just dont buy at all

      2. cnchal

        And when it comes to stupid test results and cars made to bend the rules . . .

        Equivocate all you want. The fact is that there was a limit on a pollutant that that particular engine couldn’t meet, for whatever technical reason, and human beings in charge of this company decided to commit crime rather than engineer their way through this. This is so far past cheating. Audi has a commercial where the tag line is “Truth in Engineering”. Sounds fatuous now.

        That they would rather break the law than do it right is, and I hate this word, stunning.

    3. Synoia

      Ships may emit much CO2, but airplanes emit more.

      I don’t have extensive numbers, I have is a data point for a 747.

      A fully laden 747 weighs about 150 tons at take off, with 75 tons of fuel. It takes about 50% of the fuel to take off an reach cruising altitude, and moves 20 to 30 tons of cargo.

      A large container ship probably uses 150 tons of fuel per day, and moves hundreds of thousands of tons of cargo.

    4. craazyboy

      Something really, really needs to be done about ocean freighter pollution. They are using raw high sulfur refinery gunk for fuel – because a diesel engine can burn it. So we pump all the sulfur out of the earth and dump it over the ocean. Then we also get the worst of low tech diesel pollution, NOX and particulate.

      Then they say ocean freight is cheap. Another example of “eternalizing cost”.

      Particulate has very high global warming effect. Then it would be kinda rude if we wiped ourselves out due to ocean acidifaction and ozone layer going away – before we got global warming. That would be silly of us. Wouldn’t it?

      1. susan the other

        Exactly. And then some. What is wrong with us? When the Pope tells Congress to stop global warming all avoidance is over. And it’s not like we are as dumb as we are lazy. We can do this. All it takes is leadership. Unfortunately we’ve had the wrong president. He is there philosophically, but he avoids confrontation like a mouse.

  5. diptherio

    Whatever happened to bio-diesel? We used to run our university park-and-ride buses on 100% BD when the weather was nice and it was great — smelled like french fries everywhere you went! Unfortunately, when the weather got chilly, we had to start mixing in the conventional stuff, until in mid-winter we could only run a 40% blend (40% BD). While it’s not ideal for cold weather climes, any place that doesn’t experience much cold and likes fried food (as used veggie oil is the major component) could probably do worse than shifting to Bio-diesel. Doesn’t require much in the way of engine retrofit either.

    1. Praedor

      Bio-diesel is as bad as corn ethanol. It throws lots of otherwise food producing arable land into fuel production. It’s a bad idea in general to produce fuel from crops because it also discourages setting land aside or leaving it fallow for wildlife and green space, a net negative for ecology and biodiversity.

      Bio-diesel can be made from algae but the efficiency isn’t there for producing the needed amount. I was all set to buy a diesel pickup some few years ago with the intent of making my own bio-diesel from cooking oil and ethanol (and wood ash for the potassium hydroxide). But the demand for coming used cooking oil had gone up by then and was hard to come by in quantity needed). Went gas instead.

      1. diptherio

        We make our bio-diesel from used fry oil. Used, as in recycled. I’m not suggesting we grow crops to turn into fuel (obviously a bad idea since those crops are largely dependent on petroleum-based herbicides/pesticides and fertilizer) but rather that, given the right climate, re-using an otherwise wasted product might not be a bad idea.

        So, again. Does your country eat a lot of fried foods? Do you have a warm climate? If you answered yes to both of these questions, biodiesel might be right for you (I’m looking at you, India).

        1. craazyboy

          The problem is, basically, we can’t get enough French fry mileage.

          But some promising things are going on in the field of algae farming. They can be ok with non-potable and briney water, don’t need farm land, fat butts, heart attacks…nice features like that.

        2. drexciya

          The problem with using that fuel is that exactly because of the newer, stricter rules, you cannot use that as fuel in relatively new diesels (at the minimum you will revoke your warranties). It seems to work excellently in slightly older diesel engines.

  6. b

    The piece is wrong in arguing that diesel is dirtier than thought.

    The stuff here in question is NOx which can be eliminated with an appropriate catalyst. That is the way VW and others are doing it. But eliminating the NOx also uses some fuel in that process. VW is able to have their diesel motors NOx clean but they then do not get the superb mileage they advertise.

    To get both, low NOx and large mileage, VW cheated by having low NOx and lower mileage on the test stand and higher NOx but also high mileage on the road. No engineer believed their advertised numbers not the advertised numbers of the other manufacturers.

    That diesel is in principle the better engine because it is more efficient than gasoline engines (even when including fuel consumption for NOX cleaning) is certain. For thermodynamic machines based on hydrocarbons It stays the way to go.

    1. rusti

      Volkswagen might have been particularly egregious in their defeat device, but I think there is a fair amount of evidence that most models are dirtier than assumed by people outside the OEMs themselves. As you say it’s a performance trade-off, and I think OEMs aren’t going to do much more than the bare minimum to pass.

    2. cyclist

      The VW scandal in the US is probably linked to the fact that the emissions system parts like catalytic converters have a mandatory warranty of 8 years/80k miles. VW, on their ‘smaller’ engines like the 2.0L model fitted to most of their cars in the US market, chose to use a catalytic converter like ‘diesel particulate filter (DPF)’ in the exhaust system to meet emissions. Some other diesel cars (mostly with larger engines) use a system where urea is injected into the exhaust, but this requires a separate tank that must be filled with a substance sold as ‘adblue’.

      From what I understand, the software would turn the DPF off under normal use, because if it were used all the time it would be kaput after about 30k, and it is an expensive item. The diesels I’ve rented in Europe were all small (typically 1.2L turbodiesels from the likes of Renault or Fiat – a class of cars simply not sold in the US) and did not have the ‘adblue’ system. So I don’t know offhand if they use something similar to the DPF, or if Euro NOx standards are just that much lower. BTW, rented those cars because diesel cost about 30% less than gasoline and they get great mileage.

  7. Paul Tioxon

    Like clean coal, clean diesel is another lie from the oil industry gladly co-conspiring with auto manufacturers who did not want to retool for electric cars which they could have decades ago. The oil industry has known it is a merchant of death no different that the cigarette makers, except they kill millions more annually and sicken countless more. So, having a supposed fossil fuel that is cleaner than gas was a selling point to the middle of the road citizen too dubious of hippie engineering proposals for electric cars and too in love with their wallets to pay more as first adopters of electric vehicles. In lieu of electric cars and trucks, the hiking and skiing set could maintain some heartfelt environmentalism with their diesel cars.
    In the meantime, no flat screen TV proved too big or expensive, no gas powered generator proved too redundant or expensive as an electric car or solar panel. And now, as the subsidy for fossil fuels includes the cheating on emission tests how soon will the heartfelt enthusiasts turn to solar power and electric vehicles?

  8. Alex morfesis

    Lies lies all lies…ve Germany’s neverr mislead… ve at zimply miss oondahrstoodt ya okayz zo ist knaught zee cheetyngz okayz …undt datz ahn ordertz…itz varry komplikatzyd dist zneaky amerukanz trix ahwer varry exzolantz engouneerz ya und zay no take gyftz az required und egzpected as inst dys germanz vay…ist varry undtfair to germanz…dysz slahnderz ya ahourt reptunazion…bootz vy day no taykz gyftz…varry kahnfoosehd dys amerikahnz zystum

      1. alex morfesis

        not so much effort…6 months trying 2 learn german @ a jesuit high school I later transferred out of…what you see is probably all that registered in my pea brain…mensa schmensa…sometimes it all seems like I have aspergers…

  9. Ken

    Power/Efficiency/Emissions control computers are present and in use on all modern cars, gas and diesel. This article does a good job explaining the dance that is choreographed by these computers between performance and emissions, and the dealing done between the automakers and the EPA.

    I don’t see anything inherently wrong with diesel engines, Chevy has offered a small diesel in it’s Cruze which is similar in performance/efficiency to the VW’s in question. No doubt VW’s arrogant decision to cheat the system should be dealt with harshly, but it’s not necessarily a condemnation of small diesel engines.

  10. Craig Rachel

    The outlook for electric cars looks much more grim.

    Hydroelectric and other renewables account for about 13% of electricity capacity. Coal & petroleum products about 67% and nuclear getting about 20%. Natural gas is capturing most of what coal is giving up. Wind had tremendous initial growth and is now leveling off after claiming a paltry 4% of the electricity market. The same thing will happen to solar. Solar still trails “wood & wood derivatives” by a large margin.

    That’s all EIA data.

    60 years ago, there were 2.5B people. It’s over 7B now. UN says it’ll be close to 10B by 2050. The only thing driving a Tesla will do is put more money in Elon Musk’s pocket.

    1. Vatch

      60 years ago, there were 2.5B people. It’s over 7B now. UN says it’ll be close to 10B by 2050.

      Yes, condoms and The Pill can be major weapons against greenhouse gas emitting fossil fuels.

      1. Craig Rachel

        No, sure, a 50% increase in world population in 3 decades will be offset entirely by some solar panels on your Bay area condo

        1. Vatch

          Exactly right. When one person converts to renewable energy, he or she does a good thing, but only one person’s fossil fuel use is being reduced or eliminated. So the effect is rather limited.

          When one restricts one’s family size, the benefits accumulate throughout the future. By preventing (or at least inhibiting) the exponential population growth of our species, we can make a huge difference in future energy use.

  11. Jeff N

    The way I understand it, when you “refine” oil, you always get some gasoline and you always get some “diesel fuel”. You can’t choose to refine an entire barrel into all diesel or all gasoline.
    My theory has been, here in the USA, that the corporate government wants the more efficient diesel allocated to the trucking companies/business, and the less efficient gasoline for the consumers.
    I have been in love with VW diesel for about 5 years, and I’m currently preparing to transplant a 1998 VW diesel engine into a 1984 VW Rabbit.
    That said, I am horrified by VW’s actions here. For me, a TDI car doesn’t need to be about the performance; any performance gained is a bonus, not the goal.

    1. hunkerdown

      For years, (rather expensive) catalysers have been in use at refineries that will crack heavy oils including diesel into lighter hydrocarbons using hydrogen from natgas, much as AdBlue introduces hydrogen etc. into the exhaust system’s catalyst to break up nitrogen oxides. (See also “processing gain“, of which this is one component.) But entropy does not favor the synthesis of molecules, so it might be better to start with vegetable oils and analyze instead.

  12. tim s

    The explanation for the switch back to gasoline can be attributed to better fuel economy of gasoline run cars

    I could forgive the poor grammar, but not the ignorance of the facts about the greater energy content per volume of diesel vs gasoline and the greater MPG of diesel vs gasoline.

    Clean diesel is marketing only. Diesel engines are much cleaner than they used to be, at least on the consumer level, but are still not as clean as gasoline, visibly speaking at least, but then the visible is not necessarily the most important.

    There is still the CO2 (gasoline) vs NOX (diesel) issue. If the choice is greater climate change vs greater respiratory ailments, then I’ll have to go with the diesel.

    1. cnchal

      There is still the CO2 (gasoline) vs NOX (diesel) issue. . .

      Whaaat? Both engine types emit CO2 and other elements that make up the stream of pollution trailing in the wake of a car.

      It seems these little VW deisels like to run lean to make power and mileage, and that creates lots of extra heat during the combustion process, which causes the NOX reading to skyrocket. To prevent that, a richer mixture is needed to relatively cool down the combustion process, which means more fuel will be used on every stroke, and each stroke will have less power.

      The urea injection system is supposed to address that, but it costs money to put it on a cheap car assembled in Mexico or Tennessee, so Volkswagen management decided that it was better to break the law and perform a criminal act with every car made, than to do it right. The CEO resigning after saying “we screwed up” is a joke. These were not mistakes.

      . . . If the choice is greater climate change vs greater respiratory ailments, then I’ll have to go with the diesel.


      I get that you like diesels. I like them too. Hell if these cars become orphaned for cheap, maybe I’ll get one. After it’s been fixed.

      1. TimmyB

        Exactly right. VW, same as Navistar, decided to forego using DEF to cut nitrogen oxide emissions. Those efforts, same as Navistar’s, failed. I assume VW will attempt to fix.the problem by adding a DEF system to their diesel engines. Problem solved.

        1. cnchal

          . . . I assume VW will . . .

          For VW, fixing the problem is making the car run on the “test setting” permanently, which no doubt will hurt power and fuel mileage. What I haven’t seen yet is, by how much.

          Retrofitting a DEF system onto a car not designed for it is a kludge.

          I am going to assume that VW isn’t the only one pulling stuff like this, and not necessarily diesels either. I am suspicious of five and six hundred horsepower cars, and wonder if they have some special algorithm to allow a boost in pollutants under certain conditions.

          That these “folks” continued to lie and mislead and plain BS for a considerable period of time when confronted with evidence that something wasn’t adding up, takes the cake. There are a lot of people involved, and either everyone in the know treated this like an inside joke, or there is so much fear and bullying in the VW organization that no one dare raise his or her head.

          1. downunderer

            “I am suspicious of five and six hundred horsepower cars, and wonder if they have some special algorithm to allow a boost in pollutants under certain conditions.”

            Me too. It is easy to envision the same cheap accelerometer that we have in our smartphones being a part of any car’s computerized sensor systems. It would switch off the economy modifications when it registered actual vehicle acceleration as opposed to an engine racing while the car is stationary on a test stand. And if their engineers can’t do lots trickier things than this chemist’s imagination can, they’re overpaid.

            1. craazyboy

              I can do that with gyro/accelerometer board and a little C code. One piece price on EBay about $5. If they buy the surface mount chips in volume and mount on their board, probably less than $1. And I’m an electronics challenged mechanical engineer.

              The only thing I’d add is zero to 60mph times are 3 seconds on these cars – so we won’t be polluting for very long.

              1. optimader

                It would switch off the economy modifications when it registered actual vehicle acceleration

                The MEMS accelerometer/signal already exists in the airbag control unit (ACU) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Microelectromechanical_systems

                Personally, a more effective approach I’d expect is using the induction manifold pressure (signal already exists) or throttle position (signal already exists). Use the ACU accelerometer to defeat manipulation if a threshold value for movement is not sensed (re: testing on a dynamometer).

          1. craazyboy

            NOX does get used up in the ground level ozone reaction.(smog) Can’t remember if it’s a factor in the important ozone layer. I think CFCs (chorine) were the main culprit there.

            1. optimader

              NOX is water soluble so as far as greenhouse gas persistence issues go it is a variable issue. By my way of thinking what’s legitimately significant as an air quality management issue in dry and stagnant air locales like LA and Phoenix is less significant in wetter climate locals, say Minneapolis or Seattle.
              Presumably the bigger concern in wetter climates should be CO2.
              IMO herein lays an issue of simplistically designing National air quality mandates based on California.

              1. craazyboy

                ‘Course cars don’t stay put where their bought thru out their service life.

                But that would be a good use of programmable emission controls. When you go in for the emissions check (we do it in AZ every two years) they can set it to meet local standards.

  13. alex morfesis

    bad news for diesel but new chance to build a better plan…we could do many things if there were any bulbs working in washington…but mostly they are all burned out…

    the USA has basically 8 corridors of economic activity…

    Sacramento to El Paso

    Boston to Richmond

    Cattle run to MEX: Sioux City to Brownsville

    North Appaltrail: Louisville to Syracuse

    Minneapolis to Detroit

    Memphis to Raleigh

    The Morman Triangle: SLC to Denver to Albuquerque, and

    Florida (just florida)

    in these 8 corridors, the 150 to 250 counties that make up more than half the US GDP could be focused on first as they are the most populated and concentrated of the 3000 counties in the US of A…high speed rail for passenger and freight use would create scaling opportunities…

    discooperationalism creates unwarranted and unneeded use of fuels…

    how many people drive in empty cars on the roads…would it really be that hard to coordinate travel activities…

    technically, corporations and developers are(were ?) required to try to have a plan for commutes under the 1990 clean air act…was involved in Chicago with some HUD regional planning organization which was working on Trip Reduction Ordinances but it just goes to show…if you are not there to push the damn boulder over the mountain, it is sisyphus time…it appears the rules got watered down during the chaney dictatorship…these TRO’s seem to have melted away…

  14. Jim Haygood

    ‘The explanation for the switch back to gasoline can be attributed to better fuel economy of gasoline run cars.’

    In principle, it’s the opposite: diesel has a higher potential fuel economy. Diesel engines use higher compression ratios, so that combustion occurs at higher temperatures. This exploits a thermodynamic limit called Carnot efficiency, which says that the maximum efficiency depends on the temperature difference between the high temperature reservoir (the combustion chamber) and the low temperature reservoir (the atmosphere).

    Otherwise, it probably wouldn’t be worth the extra expense of diesel engines, which have to be stouter and heavier to bear the stresses of higher compression ratios than gasoline engines.

    The end of diesel for light vehicles? Only if U.S. regulators choose to de facto ban diesel by setting emissions limits at unattainable levels. European regulators are unlikely to take such drastic action. Diesel still has unsubstitutable applications in heavy trucking, locomotives, generators, etc. so technological progress on reducing emissions will continue.

  15. Gio Bruno

    The end of diesel for light vehicles? Only if U.S. regulators choose to de facto ban diesel by setting emissions limits at unattainable levels

    Isn’t that exactly what transpired? The small VW vehicles (without a urea reservoir) couldn’t attain the MPG and emission limits simultaneously. Oh, and they weren’t “zippy” enough when constrained by the emission rules. Good luck getting that TDI Golf re-registered in California.

    1. cnchal

      What Volkswagen has done has blown me away. For them to resort to this criminality and idiocy is . . .___

      The length of time (years) that they were doing this, the BS when confronted with evidence something wasn’t adding up, the phony recall to fix the problem and then finally an admission when push came to shove that they wouldn’t be able to sell these cars without a proper technical explanation of these discrepancies.

      What’s that saying about cockroaches? There is never only one. VWs blatant criminality makes me suspect that this is widespread in the auto industry.

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