Advanced diesel engines are one option automakers can turn to for complying with upcoming U.S. fuel-economy standards. German OEMs in particular are the technology’s strongest proponents, but at the opposite end of the Eurasian landmass, Honda is not so bullish.
The famous Japanese brand offers a variety of diesel-powered vehicles in the Old World, notably in the European versions of the Civic and Accord, but don’t look for torque-rich, oil-burning Hondas to make the trans-Atlantic journey anytime soon.
According to Tetsuo Iwamura, President and Chief Executive Officer of American Honda Motor Co., Inc., the company would have to sell between 30,000 and 50,000 diesels in the U.S. annually to make a business case for offering them here. He also said they would have to be offered on the Accord and Civic models “to be accepted by the mass market,” noting that Honda is a mainstream brand and customers should not have to pay a premium for its vehicles.
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That’s the route Mazda is going, announcing it will be the first Japanese automaker to offer a diesel-powered passenger car in North America, starting late next year. At that time the Mazda6 diesel will hit dealers, with rumors that both the CX-5 crossover and Mazda3 compact could share the engine in a bid to make a solid business case.
Diesel engines are more efficient than their gasoline counterparts for a number of reasons. For starters, the fuel itself is about 15 percent more energy dense. Additionally, diesels run at much higher compression ratios – another efficiency advantage. Plus, with no throttle bodies restricting airflow there are fewer pumping losses – energy wasted moving air into and out of cylinders.
In spite of these benefits cost is a crippling issue. Diesel engines are more expensive to build than their gas-powered brethren because they feature more rugged construction as well as pricey fuel-injection and emissions-control systems. Even the fuel itself costs more. Beyond these factors, Iwamura said oil refiners in the U.S. are optimized to produce gasoline; they’d have to invest in their production facilities to make more diesel. As such he said there’s not enough of the fuel to go around, which increases its price.
Add it all up and in the near-term anyway it seems as though American customers will have to do without diesel-powered Hondas.