The diesel is one of the German car industry’s signal achievements. The engine once spewed out smoke and soot like an old tractor, accelerated like a ten-ton truck and sounded like it was powered by hammers. Nowadays, though, it’s almost indistinguishable from the combustion engine when it comes to exhaust, speed and sound. The industry spent billions and yet more billions perfecting the diesel engine, transforming its image from stinker to star: economical to drive and cheap to maintain – and supposedly environmentally friendly.
The compression ignition engine made the car industry great. The record earnings that Mercedes-maker Daimler, VW’s Audi, and BMW are seeing, are thanks in large part to their diesel models. Sales quotas of 70 percent and more of total vehicles sold testify to the success. You could almost say the diesel is as important to the German car industry as the search algorithm is to Google.
The flip side of the story these figures tell is of a huge dependency which is becoming a serious liability.
Suspicions flared around Daimler last week, the latest entry in the list of diesel horrors. It doesn’t matter whether Daimler committed fraud or not, as the company maintains. It also makes no difference that the company and its executives are innocent until proven otherwise. It doesn’t even matter that Daimler could afford billions in possible penalties, should they be imposed. What counts is that the Daimler case is corroding diesel’s reputation and accelerating the technology’s demise.