The Japanese Diesel Race

Last week, Nissan released more details on the diesel engine that it will introduce in America in 2010, after debuting a diesel SUV in Japan later this year. Nissan has lagged behind Toyota and Honda in hybrid production, but appears ready to join its Japanese competitors and other global automakers in the race for the next generation of mass-produced, clean-running diesel vehicles.

Nissan said its European-derived diesel will not only meet California’s minimum emissions levels—known of Tier 2 Bin 5—but that its technology could be as squeaky clean as the greenest hybrids, meaning that it will be available in all 50 states. While Nissan could offer the first diesel light-duty vehicle from a domestic manufacturer in Japan, it’s likely to trail behind Honda in its move to the United States. When the Nissan engine does migrate to the U.S. in 2010, it will be used in the Maxima sedan.

In Japan, Nissan’s M9R four-cylinder diesel engine will be used in its X-Trail SUV this fall. Derived from the Renault 2.0-liter CDI in use in Europe, the engine will meet Japan’s stringent new emissions regulations by employing piezoelectric-controlled injectors, a variable nozzle turbo, a diesel particulate filter, and NOx storage-reduction catalyst that doesn’t require urea.

Along with its low emissions, the engine is expected to deliver on the traditional diesel strong points: power and fuel efficiency. In Europe, Renault’s engine provides about 150 horsepower with 240 foot-pounds of torque—comparable to Nissan’s 3.5-liter V6—while offering 40 mpg fuel economy.

Before Nissan’s diesel Maxima reaches American showrooms, Honda will probably have a diesel available on its Acura TSX models. The company has said it will offer the engine in 2009, but it has yet to officially confirm the model that will carry it. The Honda diesel features V6-like acceleration while producing fuel economy better than its similar-sized four-cylinder engines. Toyota, Subaru and Mitsubishi have all talked about bringing diesels to their light-duty vehicles in the U.S. around 2010.

Bringing diesels to the Japanese market could be even more challenging than in the United States. Japanese perception of diesels as smoky, smelly and slow is entrenched, and according to Nissan, less than 1 percent of passenger vehicles sold in Japan are diesels. In the U.S., the percentage of diesels sold is a few points higher, but much of this difference comes from the popularity of large pickup trucks.

As gas prices maintain record-high levels, no major auto company can afford to ignore a technology that wrings more miles from a gallon of gas. Japanese automakers currently own more than 90 percent of the growing hybrid market, and they seem determined not to be left out of the diesel market either.

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  • Bryce

    A growing demand for diesel from the introduction of diesel engines will only make diesel pricier. Seeing as diesel is already outpacing regular petroleum by nearly a dollar (it is over 5 dollars over here) and couple that with the initial higher cost of a diesel, I don’t see how this would make economic sense to car buyers, unless it was for fleets or shipping. (which shipping ususally is on diesel already) Maybe some cheap biodiesel will save the idea.

  • Dom

    2009-10 are going to be rather exciting model years. Lots of diesels coming, among other technologies. There are so many great diesel cars available in Europe (and many other places too), I hope this is just the beginning!!

  • steven tyler

    some great posts and comments! i actually learned something. i am an insider with one of the “big 3” and know that there is a diesel-electric hybrid that will be launched within 3 yrs. it will outperform any hybrid on the road today.

  • steved28

    What, you don’t make enough money singing for Aerosmith?

  • mdensch

    Wow, he sings for Aerosmith AND works for Chrysler . . .

  • Need2Change

    2009 will bring some interesting vehicles. The three Honda new Honda hybrids and an updated Prius probably top the list. I’m expecting all to exceed 50 mpg. The Ford Fusion hybrid could become a player as well if it can reach 40 mpg and is priced right.

    I’m a little more on a performance nut than most who comment here, and I find the new Ford EcoBoost Technology interesting. Ford plans to replace the 300 hp 4.6 litre V8 engine with a 3.5 turbocharged V6, direct injection engine that has 350 hp, weighs 200 lbs less, and is projected to have 2 mpg better city and highway mileage. (I know. I know. Improving city mpg from 17 to 19 mpg does not appear to be a big deal for most. But for me, it is a big deal to build a lighter car that has 50 more hp and two better mpg.) (This may the the last chance to buy a new muscle car.)

    But 2010 could possibly bring in the Volt, Plug-In Escape, Plug-In Prius, Mitsubishi All Electric car, Nissan All Electric, and many other innovative cars. And Israel and Denmark will begin implementing their electric car infrastructure.

    The next couple years will be exciting, even though I’m not all that excited about diesels.

  • Bryce

    I am curious which “big 3” player you are talking about mr. steven tyler??? Also, what kind of vehicle might this application be put on? An economy car, a truck, a sedan??? (I will of course take whatever u say with a grain of salt….sorry)

    Don’t forget about the Silverado Hybrid and all the vehicles that are going to get the 2-mode application. Mmm…..just imagine…..a 2-mode Malibu with the new styling. *salivates*

  • Bryce

    O yea, and Turbo chargers I think are the way of the future. If u can switch v8 engines to v6 turbo chargers and v6 to 4 cylinder turbos, you would use less gas with the same or better horse power and aceleration.

    On that note, the power generator in the volt is a turbo charged 3 cylinder, as I have heard.

  • Anonymous

    It’s great that Nissan is coming out with a diesel, but I have many problems with the emissions statement:

    “Nissan said its European-derived diesel will not only meet California’s minimum emissions levels—known of Tier 2 Bin 5—but that its technology could be as squeaky clean as the greenest hybrids, meaning that it will be available in all 50 states.”

    This does NOT make any sense !
    1. Tier 2 Bin 5 is a federal standard. (The roughly equivalent CARB standard is LEV II.)
    2. CARB standards are typically tougher than federal, but the statement above suggests the opposite.
    3. Besides, I thought the new Diesel standards are now as tough in the rest of the US as they are in CARB states. So any diesel that passes one should pass the other.
    4. The best selling hybrids (Prius, Camry, Civic) are Tier II, Bin 2 ( and PZEV). This is MUCH cleaner than Bin 5, which is what other diesels (VW,Mercedes) are struggling to be able to accomplish in 2009. Considering all the other errors in this post, it makes me doubtful about your statement about this diesel being as clean as hybrids. A PZEV diesel? I’d like to see that (I really would).

  • Anonymous

    by the time r and d is done with diesel technology plug in hybrids willreder those oil burners OBSOLETE, WHY WOULD ANY ONE ON EARTH BUY A NEW VEHECLE THAT BURNS DIESEL AT 5 TO 7 DOLLARS A GALLONwhen a plug in hybrid might go100 miles on asingle charge????

  • KMCoates

    I appreciate your skepticism, but your lack of technical knowledge is showing.
    1. Tier 2 Bin 5 and CARB LEV II are virtually the same.
    2. Historically CARB has been tougher, but the goal is to commonize standards as much as possible, which is what is happening with T2B5/LEVII. Heavy-duty vehicles are already there.
    3. Which is why everyone is aiming for T2B5/LEVII. Sell in CA means sell everywhere.
    4. Much cleaner is a very relative term. The main difference between Bin 5 and Bin 2 is NOx, but the numbers are at such a low level as to be barely measureable. Ask CARB, they had to develop new test equipment to be able to measure below Bin5 levels. That said, Bin 2 is a real challenge for diesel, as it is for gasoline engines. On the other hand, PZEV’s additional hurdle of zero evap? Not a problem, diesel’s already there. Ask your E85 vehicles about that. Also curious of what you mean by “all the other errors in this post”–please elaborate.

  • Dom

    Thanks for clearing things up “FOD”. It really bothers me when people bash a technology yet know very little about it.

  • Anonymous

    FOD – our two posts agree quite well on most points. Both of our posts contradict the blog post, which is wrong in 1) calling Tier II Bin2 a CARB standard (even though they are similar), 2) suggesting the federal standares were traditionally tougher than CARB, and 3) not realizing that CARB and federal standards for
    diesel cars are now very similar.

    The only disagreement we have is on point 4, about whether a Bin2 diesel is realistically possible in the near future, and whether they’ll be as clean as the cleanest hybrids.

    But you saying that bin II is hard to meet for gasoline engines is a bit misleading. There are MANY Dozens of gasoline Bin II vehicles available. It must not be that hard.

  • MilwaukeeT

    Can someone please market a small turbo diesel hybrid? I’m not even asking for extended EV range here.

    PLEASE??? Anyone???

  • carLover

    Diesel is great to the environment but got really high cost in the market. I’ve seen some news in Mercedes Blog about high-end cars like Mercedes and Volvo that got plans or already got some models that uses diesel. But with this advantage, can they decrease the cost of diesel?