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Is diesel dead? Toyota, Subaru flag the end of oil-burning engines in Europe

By Barry Park, 08 Mar 2018 News

Is diesel dead 12

Japanese car makers are turning off diesel in Europe to focus on hybrid. If it affects us, Australia may take some time to adjust

THE 2018 Geneva Motor Show could go down in history as the one in which the diesel engine was put on life support. Soon, though, we may also be pulling the plug.

Toyota and Subaru have both used the show to confirm that they will stop selling oil-burning engines in Europe – the former has always had an aversion to the fuel, and the latter has struggled with seamlessly adapting the technology to its boxer engines.

Toyota used the launch of its new-generation Corolla small car at Geneva to announce that its new generation of more fuel-efficient petrol-electric hybrid drivetrains meant that there was no longer a need to offer a fuel-saving diesel alternative in Europe.

“Six months ago in Frankfurt we announced a second hybrid electric powertrain for all our core models in the future. And here it is,” Toyota Motor Europe chief executive Johan Van Zyl said.

“The new Auris (Corolla's name in Europe) will be the first Toyota to offer the choice of two hybrid electric powertrains. It will have the super-efficient 1.8-litre system, the same as in the Prius and C-HR. And it will also be available with a new 2.0-litre hybrid with 180hp (134kW).”

Zyl said a 1.2-litre petrol engine would complete the Corolla range in Europe. “But, you may ask, where’s the diesel powertrain?” he said. “The answer is simple; there isn’t one.”

He said the car maker would instead build on the success of its hybrid line-up, which meant it would be “phasing out diesel engines from our passenger cars in Europe”.

“Customer demand is a clear sign that our petrol-electric hybrids are a strong and popular alternative,” Zyl said.

Europe's rush to abandon the fuel-efficient oil-burning engines comes in the wake of the Dieselgate emissions scandal, increasing pressure on European cities to crack down on polluting nitrous oxide emissions, and revelations this week that a Eurozone backlash against diesels has pushed up carbon dioxide emissions.

In Australia, the smallest vehicle that Toyota offers a diesel alternative for is the RAV4. It is expected a hybrid version of its smaller SUV, the C-HR, will add a petrol-electric hybrid drivetrain.

Subaru, meanwhile, announced it would soon stop selling diesel engines in Britain, after the company late last year flagged plans that it would dump its oil-burning technology by 2020 in favour of developing hybrid powertrains.

The Japanese car maker has done little with its unique boxer engine since it was revealed in 2006. It sells the engine here as an alternative to the 2.0-litre petrol engine in the Forester and Outback.

It is believed the first of the hybrid drivetrains could soon make its debut under the bonnet of a WRX-badged sedan, a car flagged by the Subaru Viziv Performance STI Concept unveiled in January, and hinting that a Subaru was soon to add a new hero car to its showroom.

The concept car wears the same garish, pumped guards as the Viviz Touring Concept unveiled at Geneva this week – a concept that hints at a new-generation Levorg wagon.

Subaru Australia said diesel remained an important part of the product mix here, where it accounted for about one in every 10 sales across the Forester and Outback range.

The car maker has only recently announced a series of running changes to the Outback as part of a mid-life update, with an oil-burner featuring in the mix. 

Diesel sales in Australia have slowed dramatically as mum and dad buyers’ interest in passenger cars using the fuel wanes. In 2017, the oil-burning engines only accounted for less than 2.3  percent of passenger car sales, a 20 percent slump over the previous year’s figures. In contrast, diesel SUVs accounted for almost 35 percent of private sales, and fell only 8.3 percent compared with 2016’s figures.

But is hybrid the saviour in Australia? The numbers suggest it isn’t. Hybrid sales to private passenger car buyers in 2017 ended the year relatively flat, but were still outsold by diesels two to one. Among the SUVs it’s much worse: diesels outsold hybrids by a factor of 10 to one.

The death of diesel and the rise of hybrid in Australia may yet be a long time coming.