Diesel has come under some criticism in recent years, and in markets like Europe where diesel penetration is up to 90 per cent in some regions, that’s been a hard pill to swallow.
Still, there are cities that are pushing for bans on diesel cars in the near future, with the emissions of older vans and heavier trucks being called into question. Then there’s the question of the truth around emissions from countries around the world – the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is taking Audi to court over its claimed emissions and the brand’s role in the so-called Dieselgate scandal.
Audi chairman of the board Rupert Stadler suggested to Australian media at the 2017 Geneva motor show that the German brand doesn’t see diesel as the devil, but that there is a problem with the reputation of the fuel.
“I have a very clear position on that. There are a lot of critics out in the market when it comes to diesel.
“I'm no politician, you know. I'm not and we have to take positions in favour of our customer. And the customer demands and the customer decides,” he said.
“Yeah, there are probably cities who decide whatever they want to decide. But we have to decide in favour of the customers, and the customer also should be happy in that urban environment to say, ‘yes, it meets my desires, or not.’ ... Maybe diesel is an answer or no answer. I'm not a politician.”
Audi has stated it will have three electric vehicles in its range by 2020, and Stadler said that some of the diesel desires may well be met by more efficient petrol engines in the short to medium term.
“Because we all know that probably in the next ten years, we will have maybe 30 per cent of pure battery-electric vehicles, but there will still remain a 70 per cent of gasoline and diesel cars. And this is fact and this is reality. And we cannot ignore the reality,” he said.
“The key question is, what can we do still in terms of further diesel development and gasoline development to get better fuel emissions, better fuel consumption? There is still work to do for the engineers. No doubt about it.
“But we should now not sacrifice the diesel only because there is a big discussion about that one. People still love the diesel because of good range, of good torque, and of good fuel economy. We should at least try to accept that,” he said.
Stadler admitted that the resources being utilised on diesel drivetrains aren’t as great as those being put in place around electric cars at this point in time.
“I would say that, looking a little bit towards the future, the diesel engineering and development will bring higher cost burden also to the diesel, but also to the gasoline engines with particulate filters and so on.
“Of course, in the smaller segments, like the AO segment, there is an Audi A1 or Volkswagen Polo or Seat Ibiza, the life for diesel will be very difficult, but in the A or B segment, this is the customer who is taking 20,000 miles a year, 30,000 miles a year, he still talks positively for the diesel.”
Stadler admitted that Europe is a particular market where diesel is strong. He said that in China there’s no diesel scene and probably never will be, while in the US – due to low petrol prices – diesel remains an anomaly.
“In Europe, this is the home turf of diesel and I'm absolutely convinced that the diesel remains here. We have countries, like in Austria, where the diesel mix is on the level of 90 per cent,” he said. “Should the diesel go back to 60 per cent? Could be, but there is still a 60 or 70 per cent in different markets.
“Diesel is stable,” he insisted. “The diesel take rate is stable, as we see it.”
Stadler said that diesel remains a key option for customers within Audi, and that the brand needs to find new ways to appeal to diesel buyers.
He said that the SQ7 – which has a high-output 4.0-litre twin-turbo diesel backed by a mild hybrid system – is in hot demand because it offers a different take on an oil-burner.
“We have a waiting list for the SQ7 which is four or five months. Of course, it's an insulated diesel with high-tech additional electric power booster. But I think it is our job to make the technology not only sexy, but also compliant.”