US Diesel Boost a Climate Bonus?

Diesel powertrain sales in some markets, such as Europe, may be in terminal decline but they are finding increasing favor in the US leisure vehicle sector.

Witness, for example, the new Cadillac Escalade full-size SUV that bristles with the latest connectivity and ADAS technology including the automaker’s first lane-changing Super Cruise adaptive cruise control. Yet, in among the reams of technological innovations one quiet change has happened because, for the first time in the model’s 22-year history, the big go-anywhere, family-favorite will see its owners line up at the truckers’ pumps to refuel with diesel.

Of course, they can still opt for the whopping (by European standards) 6.2-liter gasoline V8 but the model is now offered with the 3.0-liter Duramax turbo diesel engine lifted from Chevrolet’s Silverado mid-sized truck. Despite boasting less than half the cubes of its gasoline sibling, the oil-burner claims 275bhp compared to the V8’s 418bhp but matches it for the all-important towing capability of 460ft-lbs of torque. This move to diesel echoes that already seen in the trucking sector where sales of diesel powered models are surging.

The reasons have ramifications that the climate conscious need to consider. The move away from diesel in Europe has much more to do with the densely packed populations of that continent compared to the US. Diesel has for many years been known to pose serious health issues in congested cities owing to the increased emission of carbon particulates from exhausts.

While particulates are comparatively benign for the planet, their ingestion into the human body through breathing does cause increased deaths through cancer and other respiratory illnesses. In the UK alone, around 40,000 people a year perish as a direct result of poor urban air quality.

However, diesel powertrains emit a fraction of the green-house gas CO2 compared to gasoline engines. Also, in most countries still heavily reliant of fossil fuel to produce electricity, the diesel still enjoys the greenest lifecycle credentials compared to BEV powertrains. Yet, the consumer’s move away from diesel to gasoline on healthy grounds has seen the UK’s CO2 emissions soar at a time when governments are pledging action on climate change.

What is interesting, from the global warming perspective, is that the consumers of the more rural economy of the US could be seen to be doing more for the health of the planet’s climate in the here-and-now. At the same time, the BEV dreamers in Europe whose rush to a technology that remains a long way from perfect as an every day, go-anywhere general transport solution, could end up accelerating the demise of our earth’s ice caps and the anticipated loss of much of the planet’s habitable land mass.

— Paul Myles is a seasoned automotive journalist based in London. Follow him on Twitter @Paulmyles_

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