Today’s diesel powered cars are a far cry from the noisy, smoke-belching vehicles of years ago. Today’s diesels are cleaner, quieter and offer superior fuel mileage. So why are there so few in the US? In Europe, some 50% of the passenger cars on the road are diesel, in the US, about 4%. That’s right, just 4%, why? Polls reveal that Americans just aren’t as comfortable with diesel-engined passenger cars and some say it has to do with Oldsmobile. Here’s the story:
In order to meet new American emissions regulations in the mid-1970s, executives at General Motor’s Oldsmobile Division decided to engineer a new diesel engine for passenger car use. The reason was simple, diesels were not subject to the same Federal emissions requirements as gasoline engines and this helped them meet the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFÉ) requirements of the time. The rush to build a V8-based diesel was on within GM.
The first Olds diesel vehicles hit the dealer’s lots in 1978 and immediately there were problems – the engines ran poorly and failed quickly. Ask any car buff and they will tell you that the problem was that GM engineers “used GM’s standard 350 block engine with few modifications”. Historians say this isn’t true. The service techs at Car City West Used Cars know the story well and tell us the trouble came from the cylinder heads alone.
Diesel engines have higher compression ratios than gasoline engines do and this puts higher stresses on engine head bolts. This usually means engineers use more head bolts and stronger ones. But, in order to keep the tooling simple, the engineers at Oldsmobile maintained the same 10-bolt pattern and head bolts as the older gasoline engines. This proved to be a disaster.
Even though improvements were eventually made in the headbolts and head design, it was too late and this caused a massive class-action lawsuit against Oldsmobile. In fact, the Oldsmobile diesel debacle was so bad that it spurred lawmakers in many states to draft early lemon laws.
Today we may be seeing the result of this: an American consumer who is suspicious of “American-built Diesels” and perhaps diesels in general. This, of course, is a shame because there are quite a few excellent diesels on the market, in particular the Cummins diesels that have been installed in Chrysler products for quite a few years now.