Unintended Consequences Drive GDI Engines to Your Shops Part 9: Key Trends and Wrap-Up

Following trend information benefits service providers and vehicle owners, so this article reports reliable sources featuring US car manufacturers.

First, we look beyond the automated vehicle mobility trend. With numerous uncertainties, it’s a complex subject in need of more research — including design engineer resignations over litigation concerns. Another controversial trend is hybrid and electric vehicles, often hurried to market in efforts to meet the federally mandated CAFE requirement of a 54.5 mpg fleet-wide average by 2025. This requirement not only applies to cars but also pickups, SUVs and vans. Some controversies include the subjects of carbon footprint and maintenance. Are these vehicles clean? More research is needed on battery waste, electric-power smokestacks, etc. Some safety issues include owner exposure to high-voltage jolts and liability for technician exposure to high-voltage discharges.

Let’s move beyond controversies to more than a 100 year history proven safe, fuel-efficient, and durable: diesel engines. For this article, we will focus on diesel engines in cars, vans, SUVs and light trucks. With diesel engines well proven in overseas markets, we’ll assess market trend indicators from US manufacturers.

Positive encounters on the diesel road included a 1960s, a three-cylinder diesel engine was introduced that was powerful, fuel efficient, practically indestructible — with preventive maintenance. Then a 1970s came a four-cylinder diesel engine driven to 323,000 miles, providing trouble-free transportation and fuel efficiency — with preventive maintenance.

But then came a US market bump; in the late 70s and early 80s, a US manufacturer converted their 350 cubic-inch V8 gasoline engine into a diesel. Many failed. According to Popular Mechanics, “The engines were so bad, they spurred legislators in several states to draft early lemon laws. In the long run, they ruined the American consumer’s appetite for diesels for 30 years or longer.”

Non-automotive news publications jumped on board, including a New York Times article titled, “G.M.’s Dreadful Engines Gave Diesels a Bad Name.”

Meanwhile, in Europe, diesels had overtaken the majority of the market. According to the US Department of Energy, “In 2011, diesel car sales made up for 51.8 percent of the European market.”

US Diesel Recovery

In the US, diesel engines finally carved a dedicated-owner niche in the heavy-duty pickup market with US manufacturer successes including Ford PowerStrokes, GM DuraMaxs, and Ram applications of Cummins diesel engines.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles N.V. (FCA), owner of Chrysler, Dodge, Ram and Jeep explored diesel engine options for their Jeep Grand Cherokee and Ram light-duty pickups. Ram Truck’s Chief Engineer, Mike Cairns, observed, “For years, we have had customers asking, why not a light-duty diesel? There is a lot of interest. People know they will get great fuel economy, great durability and reliability with a diesel.”

Cummins was long established in Ram’s heavy-duty market. However, FCA also owned MV Motori, a Cento, Italy-based diesel engine manufacturer with Maserati design connections and light-weight diesel engines, proven in marine applications and Maserati sedans while meeting Euro emissions standards. In 2014, Ram 1500 offered the EcoDiesel option, a light-weight MV Motori engine with European-bred fuel efficiency, smooth power and Euro durability. (Fig. 1) US competitors took note when “USA Today” reported in 2014, “Consumer Reports crowns Ram diesel as best pickup” and quickly announced diesel engines for its lighter vehicles.

In 2015, General Motors (the previous 50-percent owner of MV Motori, before selling to Fiat in court-ordered recovery) introduced pickups with a new lightweight 4-cylinder 2.8L Duramax diesel engine featuring advances for powerful, fuel-efficient, smooth and quiet driving.

Apparently, GM is treading lightly in memory of the gasoline-convert-to-diesel debacle that impacted diesel’s reputation for decades in the US auto market. According to Car And Driver in 2016, “Cadillac is working on four- and six-cylinder diesel engines … [President] De Nysschen is optimistic about the prospects for the diesel engine, even though he acknowledges that ‘the reputation has no doubt suffered a bit.’”

How did Ford — with its flagship EcoBoost engines — respond to Ram’s EcoDiesel? Reportedly, in 2018 Ford will offer their F150 pickup with a lightweight Lion series diesel engine developed and manufactured at their British Dagenham Diesel Centre for Peugeot Citroën, Jaguar and Land Rover vehicles as an alternative to EcoBoost gasoline engines.

US Diesels on the Rise

In 2012, research firm LMC Automotive forecast that, “the number of diesels on American roads will double by 2018.” Answers to why include:

  • “The [diesel] price premium over a gasoline car is lower than for a hybrid or electric car,” according to Business Insider, which also said, “Diesel cars hold their value better than gasoline cars.”
  • “As a fuel source, diesel can produce more power per unit compared to gasoline (14-percent more energy by volume),” according to the Automotive Training Center.
  • Quora reported that with low-end torque from diesel engines, “pulling power is high, acceleration is good … Gears are tall (You can pull through more speeds in single gears, hence overtaking is fun).”
  • “Diesel powerplants work very differently than gasoline engines, resulting in … increased lifespan,” according to Cars Direct. Also, according to Cars Direct, improved accident safety due to a “Lower fire hazard. The chance of the fuel igniting when an accident occurs is lower with diesel fuel as it has a higher flashpoint than gasoline.”
  • “Diesels last longer [partly because] diesel fuel has superior lubricating properties,” according to WyoTech.

Also, diesel engines have reduced training requirements, with maintenance procedures often already familiar to many techs. In diesel engines, compressed hot air sets off the fuel igniting processes, eliminating spark plug systems, which mean that diesels often prove more reliable in the long-run. When compared to hybrid and/or electric vehicles, there is reduced liability due to high-voltage electrical discharge exposure; diesel fuel proves efficient in both hybrid and non-hybrid applications; but most importantly, there is currently a readily available diesel fuel infrastructure, including at most convenience store locations.

Cars Direct reported the end of diesel’s reputation as loud, slow, and dirty, “With advanced technologies, the problems of diesel engines have almost all been eliminated.” How strongly are US auto manufacturers dedicated to the future of diesel engines for cars? Details beyond the scope of this article available upon customer contact. In the meantime, drive one of today’s diesel-powered cars or keep an eye out for one of the ads featuring the “All new Jaguar diesel lineup.”

Series Wrap-Up

While this series attempted to provide needed information related to unintended consequences driving aging GDI and TGDI engines to shops, we recognize that there’s more available and recommend further research. For example, review the “Learning Objectives” list for an SAE training seminar dominated by GDI and TGDI subjects.

So we sign off of this series wishing you success with millions of engines including the GDI and TGDI engines we covered in previous articles and the auto and light truck diesel engines we covered in this article.

If you only get one key take-away from this article series, it should be this: Preventive maintenance can provide effective engine deposit problem solutions for all engines, and it’s always the best return on investment for motorists.