The two automotive shows, 4,412 miles apart, couldn’t offer a different picture of the industry if they tried.
- On one end, the Geneva Motor Show in Europe has journalists proclaiming “the future is electric” and predicting an end to internal combustion engines within the next decade.
- Meanwhile, the NTEA Work Truck Show in Indianapolis celebrates the workhorses of the auto world – the big, heavy duty trucks and vans that drive at least 10 sectors of the world’s economy, highlighting the newest-generation internal combustion technologies right alongside electrified options.
While it’s true that these two shows are aiming for fundamentally different audiences – Geneva to mainstream European car shoppers, and Indianapolis to American commercial fleet owners and operators – the two shows exemplify the push and pull of fuels and technologies that will power the future.
The reality of the situation lies, as always, somewhere in the middle. As the French auto forecaster Inovev pointed out, “In spite of the trend towards car market electrification, only three battery electric vehicles…are presented at Geneva.”
The thread to pull? CONSUMER CHOICE.
In most circles, diesel is the gold standard for efficiency in both work trucks and personal automobiles with its unique combination of energy-dense fuel and efficient combustion yielding unsurpassed power and performance. Diesel’s driving range and flexible fueling options, including the option to use advanced renewable low-carbon biodiesel fuels, are increasingly important and desired qualities by both work truck fleets and consumers. Neither personal vehicle drivers nor work truck fleet operators are one-size fits all consumers; both have diverse needs and value ranges of options and choices.
As Ford’s director of fleet, lease and remarketing operations, Mark Buzzell, said, “For 34 years, Ford has consistently sold more commercial vehicles every year than any other manufacturer because we listen to our customers then get to work developing the products and technologies they need. The updates we’re announcing…were driven by our customers’ focus on improving safety, reducing cost and increasing uptime and productivity.” Ford’s F-series pickup trucks and Transit vans dominate the US diesel market today.
Heavy duty work trucks and vans, like those on display this week in Indianapolis, are the powerhouses of the global economy. After Class 8 “big rig” trucks, these pickup trucks and vans are used for everything from hauling construction equipment and materials, to the last-mile delivery of Amazon packages – and anything in between. Surely explorations and attempts to offer electrified or alternative powertrains in this sector have made headlines this week, but so has news about diesel:
- Ford announced a substantial build-out of its available truck and van lines: the 2020 Transit van will add a 2.0L EcoBlue bi-turbo I-4 diesel engine option, and an all-new medium-duty F-600 Super Duty pickup truck – equivalent to a Class 6 truck – will be offered with diesel powertrain options, as will Ford’s F-650 and F-750 medium-duty trucks. The company also noted it is directing 90 percent of its investment dollars into trucks, vans and utility vehicles.
- Nissan donated a heavy-duty Titan XD Diesel pickup truck to Habitat for Humanity, customized to meet the needs of the non-profit’s home-building mission. While assembled as a PR tool, this custom truck reinforces the utility of “the ultimate work truck” to the construction industry.
- These new entries are being showcased alongside the other powerful new diesel offerings from RAM, Chevy, Navistar, Mack Trucks, Kenworth, Peterbilt and Western Star.
The news out of Geneva isn’t all electric, either. Mazda has revealed a new compact crossover, with the company’s diesel engines featuring prominently in the lineup: the Mazda CX-30 will be available with either the Skyactiv Euro 6d-TEMP and the Skyactiv-D engine, among other options. (By the way, Mazda’s diesel technologies are highly anticipated in U.S. markets, too.) And Mercedes Benz continues to invest in diesel engines for its European markets; BBC’s Top Gear claims, “Mercedes has invested over £2billion in diesel engines, even as it plunges headlong into electrification with the EQ brand. Benz sees a future for diesel alright, and putting its money where its mouth is, there’s new diesels for the GLC [SUV].”
And there’s more. From auto executives on the show floor:
- Mazda’s UK CEO, Jeremy Thomson: “It’s [diesel] a solution that is important…I still think there’s a place for it. There is still a huge opportunity for the internal combustion engine to be an effective solution for today’s and tomorrow’s needs…. For many years, manufacturers developed diesel engines to a level where they became very sophisticated. It seems a shame to let go of that. We’ll have conventional petrol, conventional diesel engines in our range – as well as pure battery electric and range-extended electric, and plug-in hybrid too.”
- Saudi Aramco’s CTO, Ahmad Al Khowaiter: “The growth of transport is greater than the growth of alternative drivetrains…Improving combustion engines is key to sustaining our business in the long term.”
- PSA Groupe brand Citroen’s CEO Linda Jackson, looking to expand into India: “We are in process of launching electric cars in Europe but we are still offering diesel and petrol. So when we go to India we will be going with which is the most prevalent and then look for trends of the market. So, obviously when we come in with diesel and petrol, and if there is requirements for electric it will be launched.”
- Kia Europe’s COO Emilia Herrera: “We don’t think the future is 100 per cent electric, so we’re prepared for all types of engine technology…Dieselgate changed the thinking of the consumer. There was a time when people were buying diesel even if they didn’t need it. It will remain at a certain percentage from one market to another, as it makes a lot of sense for driving long distances or in bigger segments like SUVs. Maybe we will add some electrification to it, but diesel is not dead.”
As UPS president Carlton Rose, giving a speech about the potential virtues of electrification at the Work Truck Show, had to admit, “I have one big problem with predictions: they are wrong more than they are right. In 1957, Popular Mechanics predicted that in 10 years, by 1967, you’d be able to order a light truck that would fly using fans. Didn’t happen. In 2013, futurists said self-driving vehicles would be standard by 2018. Nope. Didn’t happen.”
In the end, legislative or regulatory mandates prescribing technologies takes away choice, leaving consumers flat-footed with limited options that may not meet their needs. One thing the Geneva and Indy shows have in common is this: It is clear that there will be more choices in fuel types for both consumers and work truck operators. It should be consumers that drive the fuels and technologies for the future. There is every reason to believe that diesel will be one of those choices.