BMW has decided that sales of its diesel powered cars and SUVs (SAVs in BMW parlance) in North America has been too anemic to continue offering the few diesel models that became available just in the past few years. The company is instead going to push plug-in hybrid (PHEV) technology in its vehicles for those who are concerned about fuel economy.
The 2018 BMW models offering diesels consisted of one 3-series (328d), one 5-series (540d xDrive) and one X5 SAV (35d). The latter two models are to be eliminated immediately in 2019; the 3-series will follow soon but not immediately. It will be the last German diesel model offered in the US – Mercedes-Benz, Audi-VW and Porsche have all already eliminated diesel models from their lineups.
By 2021 BMW will be offering an X5 plug-in hybrid which utilizes a 3-liter straight-6 gasoline engine plus an electric motor with a battery capable of a 40-mile range between charges.
In Europe diesel vehicles have been and continue to be popular. Diesels offer high fuel mileage (as much as 25% higher than gasoline) and long cruising range on a single tank of gas. Automobile fuel tax in Europe is structured to encourage people to buy high-fuel-mileage vehicles. And gasoline is deliberate taxed higher than diesel. So if you can buy diesel cheaper than gas, and you get better mileage too – well, why not? You get the diesel.
In North America, particularly in the US, diesels have a bad rep among the general population. True, if you owned one of the old Mercedes diesel cars or a VW diesel Jetta 30 or 40 years ago, you ended up loving the longevity, the fuel mileage and the low maintenance. But chances are your neighbors could always tell when you started your walnut-grinder of an engine and passers-by did not appreciate the stench of a running diesel. In later years, Mercedes developed urea injection to clean up the smell. Then came electronics and catalysts and turbochargers. The modern diesel engine became a refined thing with plenty of horsepower as well as high torque, lower noise levels (thanks to better noise-insulating materials) and much cleaner emissions.
But then, in 2014, came the Volkswagen-Audi (VAG) diesel fiasco: the company rigged its on-board computers to lie to emission-test equipment. When it was caught, VAG had ruined its diesel vehicle market.
Meanwhile the demand for better fuel economy waxes and wanes with the price of gasoline, but there is now enough of a market in the US and Canada for high fuel mileage so that nearly all car manufacturers have to offer something for that market segment. And so, here come the hybrids and plug-in hybrids.
The odd part of this is that diesel would fit North America and hybrid tech should suit Europe. Or so it seems to me. Consider this: Diesel engines perform best over long distances. Hybrids and battery-powered vehicles have a short-range before having to recharge the battery. Given the geography of North America and the way our cities are spread out, I can imagine that diesel tech would take over and maintain a steady hold on our transportation needs. But something (the smell, the noise, the low price of fuel – who knows what) has made diesel cars losers in America and such they remain. BMW is still saying that they may bring back diesels to this continent if the demand is there, but they don’t seem to be counting on that.