Cadillac’s Hazy Diesel Engine Program Tentatively Bites the Dust

It’s looking increasingly like the compression ignition engine won’t get an opportunity to redeem itself at Cadillac. After making diesel a dirty word in the early 1980s with the help of Oldsmobile’s cantankerous, oil-burning 5.7-liter V8, GM’s luxury arm dived back into diesel development towards the end of the last decade. A recession and bankruptcy put the kibosh on those outsourced plans.

Then, in 2014, happier economic times brought about a renewed interest in the pursuit of diesel. Cadillac hoped to woo MPG-loving Europeans by outfitting new sedan models with diesel powerplants developed in-house. Americans would get a taste, too.

Scratch that, says Cadillac president Steve Carlisle. 

Speaking to Automotive News, the brand’s head honcho, who took over from a deposed Johan de Nysschen in April, says Cadillac is having second thoughts about diesel. Blame newfound scrutiny from regulators and the tarring and feathering of the fuel by European lawmakers — the same people who, just a few years earlier, incentivized its use.

“We have been working on diesel, but the markets may be changing more quickly than we anticipated,” Carlisle said. “Going forward, we will focus on electrification.”

The Cadillac boss stopped short of saying the program’s scrapped. Frankly, it’s odd the program made it this far. It was only a year old when Volkswagen’s diesel debacle made headlines in 2015. Cadillac’s parent offloaded Opel, a key engine development partner, in 2017. The tea leaves weren’t exactly promising smooth sailing in the years ahead, yet Cadillac pressed on, hoping to offer four- and six-cylinder diesels in a variety of models, including the just-launched XT4 crossover.

The plunging market share of diesel in Europe, further vehicle emissions tightening, and a German court ruling allowing cities to ban oil-burning vehicles have probably made things too bleak to continue. Back in January, de Nysschen was busy pouring cold water on plans for a diesel-fueled entry into the European market.

“If we want to be successful in Europe, we have to have the product – smaller cars and crossovers with the right propulsion systems,” de Nysschen told Wards Auto.  “If we went to Europe now and wanted to be successful, we would have to invest in developing a family of diesel engines, which would be insane because they would have a very limited lifespan. It would make no sense.”

One wonders how far the program progressed.

In the U.S., diesel faces calmer waters. Fiat Chrysler still offers the 3.0-liter EcoDiesel V6 (after getting itself in deep EPA trouble not long ago ago), and Ford and GM have light-duty diesel 3.0-liter six-cylinders on the way. There’s also 1.6-liter and 2.8-liter diesels on offer in smaller GM cars, crossovers, and mid-sized trucks.

Carlisle believes diesel still has a place in modern world, especially in trucks, and will for many years to come. Whether this is enough to keep the program alive remains to be seen.

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