Light diesels poised for growth

A new study by research firm Frost & Sullivan projects that diesel engines could capture up to 10% of North American light vehicle powertrain sales by 2015. This would represent roughly three to four times the market penetration of 2004.

The firm said its “Strategic Analysis of North American Automotive Light Diesel Technologies” reveals that light automotive diesel powertrains captured unit sales of around 500,000 in model year 2004 and are estimated to reach two million units by model year 2015. Sales growth will be driven by good fuel economy (both in the city and on the highway), high torque delivery, and long durability compared to gasoline engines, the firm said.

“A key challenge for the automotive light diesel engine industry is to survive the tightening emissions regulatory requirements with affordable products that continue to last well and deliver the expected good fuel economy,” noted Frost & Sullivan senior consultant Larry Rinek. He said Tier 1 system suppliers are helping diesel engine builders minimize engine-out emissions with various direct injection techniques. These include higher common-rail injection pressures and more injection events per cycle, combustion chamber/piston bowl modifications, and exhaust gas recirculation [EGR] technology, as well as reduced tailpipe-out emissions via effective exhaust aftertreatments.

“Those above strategies, plus alternative combustion schemes, could help the automotive diesel industry to survive and prosper in North America,” Rinek said. However, he cautioned that such advances are by no means a guarantee at this point. “The fundamental diesel emissions problem is high generation of smog-forming NOx, plus a heavy dose of particulate matter such as fine carbon soot,” he said.

“There is a risk that conventional-combustion diesel engines will become obsolete or essentially legislated out of existence for highway vehicle use – and clean automotive diesels are threatened by ever-tightening U.S. EPA exhaust emissions regulations, the toughest on earth,” Rinek noted. “Companies participating in this market need to help find a way for diesel engines to survive and offer practical technology solutions.”

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