Proton GDI TGDI Press Conference 1

Proton chairman Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has hinted the national carmaker is not looking at building diesel powertrains anytime soon, as Europe – once having an overwhelming preference for oil burners – is starting to reconsider the use of the technology in the wake of the Volkswagen “dieselgate” scandal.

When asked about whether the company was looking at building diesel engines, the former premier responded: “Diesels were the preferred engines in Europe, but now they have different ideas – you know what happened to the records of the performance of the diesel engines recently. So now, people have to rethink whether it is better to have diesel engines or petrol engines.”

The remark likely referenced VW’s emissions cheating controversy, in which Wolfsburg deceived lawmakers not once, but twice. In the United States, it was revealed that the company had installed “defeat devices” in its diesel cars which deliberately manipulated emissions control systems to pass strict emissions tests conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), but turned them off outside of the labs.

As such, the diesel models had better performance and fuel efficiency in everyday driving than with the control systems switched on, but were producing as much as 40 times the permitted level of harmful nitrogen oxide (NOx) pollutants.

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Shortly afterwards, VW admitted to a separate scandal, in which engineers doctored in-house fuel consumption and carbon dioxide emissions testing – including overinflating tyres and mixing diesel into the cars’ engine oil – to meet internal targets and obtain lower taxes imposed on its cars in Europe. Put them together and you can begin to see why Proton is hesitant about building diesel engines.

That’s not all – there has been a steady movement in Europe away from diesels, before the VW scandals even came to light. Customers have long been swayed by the low CO2 emissions and superior fuel efficiency of these powertrains, which suit the tax structures typical in countries in the continent, making diesel-powered vehicles cheaper both to buy and run.

But diesels generally produce higher NOx than equivalent petrol engines, and the push for oil burners in countries like the United Kingdom have seen emissions there soar to double the levels seen a decade ago – estimated to be contributing to thousands of deaths annually. As such, European regulators are clamping down on NOx and other emissions, such as particulate matter, linked to the combustion of diesel fuels.

The new Euro 6 emissions standard, which all new cars sold in Europe have had to comply with since last year, restricts diesel-powered vehicles to producing just 0.08 grams of NOx per kilometre, compared to 0.180 grams per kilometre for Euro 5. By contrast, the limit for petrol engines has stood at 0.06 grams per kilometre since Euro 5.

Proton Iriz EV 2

Legislators have also been promising incentives for owners to move away from diesel power, with France dangling €10,000 to switch to electric vehicles – something Proton has also been working on with the Iriz EV.

It has to be said, however, that while Proton may have ruled out building its own diesel engines in the foreseeable future, it might still be looking to acquire them from other carmakers – in 2014, chief technical officer Abdul Rashid Musa said that Proton is looking at sourcing diesel engines from foreign companies, although it is unclear whether this is still the case.

In any case, Proton appears to be sticking to its guns when it comes to petrol engines – it has recently announced a new range of direct-injected petrol engines in both naturally-aspirated (GDI) and turbocharged (TGDI) forms. The engines will meet the forthcoming Euro 6c standard coming into effect in 2018, and the company hopes it will propel its future models well beyond 2020.

“Believe me, petrol engines are going to be around for a long, long time – if not in Europe, at least in Asia,” concluded Mahathir.