IT MIGHT seem like there’s a dark, sooty cloud hanging over the future of diesel powertrains right now, but at least one man is bullish on the longevity of oil-burners.
That man is Andreas Bovensiepen, the head of BMW tuning house Alpina and son of the company’s founder. Ask him whether the negativity surrounding diesels is weighing heavy on his mind, and the answer is surprisingly upbeat.
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For Alpina, a brand whose product strategy has long given equal attention to diesel powertrains as well as petrol, there’s a sizable commercial risk should diesel fall out of favour. However Bovensiepen says new measures to ensure the cleanliness of diesels give him the confidence to keep oil-burners in the Alpina portfolio.
“Finally now with build technique and the high level of technology that BMW [has] with catalytic converters and AdBlue, a lot of tests have proven that diesel is really clean now concerning NOx – it’s very very low,” Bovensiepen said.
“In Europe we now get RDE – which is Real Driving Emissions, where we have to prove, on the roads, that your car in every occasion is clean – not only on a test dyno.
“This means now that diesel is getting really clean – and it has to be, otherwise you cannot offer this kind of car. So I think diesel will have a good future, especially in cars with two-litres or more capacity.”
And Alpina is banking heavily on diesel right now. Its first concerted assault on the SUV segment is underway with the X3-based XD3 and X4-based XD4, both of which are diesel-only and powered by a quad-turbo 286kW/900Nm version of BMW’s 3.0-litre turbo-diesel inline six. As the brand’s first SUV offerings, they’re expected to drive sales well beyond the firm’s current circa-1700 car annual total.
Sadly for Aussies, only the XD3 is coming our way and with just two turbochargers under its bonnet due to right-hand drive packaging constraints. Expected to land locally toward the end of 2018 or in early 2019, Alpina’s local arm anticipates the XD3 should prove more popular than its existing range of sedans, coupes and wagons.
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Beyond the XD3 and XD4, Alpina is also planning to turn its hand to the plus-sized X7. The X5, however, is not in its product plan – the company made a “strategic decision” to stay away from it, to keep from treading on the toes of BMW’s X5M and X5 M50d.
And as long as diesels remain viable – and BMW’s hybrid portfolio is built around four-cylinder power – Alpina is in no rush to dip its toes into the realm of electrification either.
“I can imagine [we will] in the mid to long-term, but our customer expects a six-cylinder inline engine. Currently as you know the BMW hybrid strategy is focused on four-cylinder, which is not our target group.”
Another key concern beyond mere cylinder count is weight. According to Bovensiepen, present-day hybrid and EV tech is simply too heavy for cars that are designed around sporty appeal.
“As with new technology, you have to learn in the first and second generation and then you get better batteries, this electric stuff gets made smaller,” he said.
“In the beginning everything is huge, big, heavy and that’s difficult for a sporty car – probably as difficult for M as for us. If you have a second engine in the car and a battery, it gets quite heavy.
“So I think the time currently is not right for us, but in some years it could be quite interesting.”