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Agreeing to Disagree

During a powertrain roundtable discussion at Infineon Technologies’ (www.infineon.com) annual media day, panelists John Pinson, group manager-diesel engine research at General Motors, and David Hermance, executive engineer-advanced technology vehicles at Toyota, became entangled in a heated discussion over the future viability of diesel engines in the U.S.

During a powertrain roundtable discussion at Infineon Technologies’ (www.infineon.com) annual media day, panelists John Pinson, group manager-diesel engine research at General Motors, and David Hermance, executive engineer-advanced technology vehicles at Toyota, became entangled in a heated discussion over the future viability of diesel engines in the U.S. Pinson, an avid promoter of Rudolf Diesel’s powertrain system, predicted advanced technologies—including Homogeneous Charge Compression Ignition (HCCI)—would make diesels cleaner and therefore more advantageous for the U.S. market. Hermance countered saying 2007 emissions regulations will make it cost prohibitive for diesels to compete with gasoline HCCI engines or hybrids. Hermance also said the U.S. market cannot be compared to Europe, where more than 50% of the vehicle population is powered by diesel engines, because (1) diesel fuel costs more than unleaded regular gasoline in the U.S. and (2) diesel engines emit 15% more CO2 than gasoline-powered mills. “If you’re worried about greenhouse gases, [diesel] doesn’t work. The driver’s to me don’t look aligned to bring significant diesel penetration in the light-duty market. I just don’t see it happening,” said Hermance.

Pinson, evidently taking a swipe at Toyota and its decision to advance high-cost hybrid systems, said, “If you look at what is our next most viable alterative to achieve significant gains in fuel consumption, we come up against hybridization and the diesel engine and both of them have their own intrinsic cost structures which have made them, up to this point, difficult to sell.” He adds that unlike hybrids, which achieve their peak fuel economy in limited driving scenarios, “the diesel engine… is efficient over its entire driving cycle and retains its efficiency up to peak load.” Still, Pinson acknowledges U.S. automakers do not have enough diesel capacity installed to meet even minor demands in the U.S. So, the debate will rage on.—KMK