End of the road for Diesel cars!

Maruti Suzuki declared today that they would not manufacture cars with diesel engines starting from 1st April 2020! That is the day on which BS 6 norms for pollution will be implemented in India. This time the government is very stringent, and it is declared that from this date, only the cars BS 6 norms will be registered. Forget the selling; there will be no registration of cars other than BS 6! It is a great thing that the government means business, now!

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But is this the beginning of the tumultuous scenario in the automobile domain? Is it a mini tsunami? Has this statement started indicating the way things would happen in the auto industry? All these years life was much more straightforward; introduce a new model, play around a bit with the price and periodically change pollution norms when government forces you. The smooth ride was the norm! But a statement by Maruti says that the cost of development of BS 6 compliant diesel engine and the cost of making the BS 6 engine will be so high that in the small car segment, customers may not be able to afford them. Currently, the price difference between petrol and diesel model of a car is around Rs. One Lac. They feel that this difference could be Rs.2/ lacs for BS 6 cars ( ten lacs is a Million). On a vehicle costing Rs. 5 to 6 lacs, difference of two lacs will be too much, and customers may not be able to afford these cars. For cars/SUV’s costing Rs.10/ lacs and above, though the difference will be similar, % increase would not be high. How this sector will perform from next financial year needs to be watched. For SUV (both mini/standard) good news is Maruti Brezza will not be sold; hence manufacturers will rush to pick up the market share up for grabs. Maruti, however, has left the option open for 1.5 L diesel engine cars, used in Brezza.

Diesel engine cost issue due to BS 6, was expected. Volvo has already declared that they will stop making diesel cars when the norms change from Euro 6 to Euro 7, because of the cost of development and the price of the vehicle. Compared to trucks, the number of cars sold is much higher hence a smaller number of diesel cars will be better from the pollution angle.

Why did people use small cars with diesel engines? The lower price of diesel was the main reason. These cars cost approximately Rs. One lacs, plus plus, more than petrol cars. If the usage of vehicles was not enough, then owning such a car was not cost effective. On top of this, diesel engines have periodic mandatory maintenance cost which petrol cars don’t have. In many cases, it was not viable to own a diesel engine car.

With the imminent entry of Electric Vehicles in large numbers, the market is expected to be shaken further. In the late ’90s of the last century, Toyota came up with Prius, their first Hybrid car. (For those new to this subject, a hybrid car is one which runs on petrol and battery combination; each manufacturer has its own combination of the technology) It was expected that Hybrid would be the future and Toyota was expected to be the leaders. Yes, they are still the leaders in Hybrids. But a maverick called Elon Musk decided to plunge into EV’s. General Motors had manufactured around 500 EV’s at the beginning of this century, but then what happened? Petroleum lobby made sure that this initiative was killed. A few years later GM scrapped the vehicles.

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Combination of Tesla’s efforts, cheaper battery sets (hopefully!) at some stage, fast charging technology are pushing humans towards EV’s. Range per charge still remains the primary concern. Add to this reduction in the price of solar systems is making cheaper fuel for the EV, the Electricity. Now, what is adding to making it more difficult for petroleum products further, are the pollution norms for diesel cars?

What will be the future of diesel engines in the car segment? In India, the overall car segment is under pressure. In the last financial year, four lac more old cars were sold than the number of new cars that were sold. It looks like more small vehicles are being sold in II and III tier cities. Will Maruti’s prediction about diesel engine cars affect thinking by other car manufacturers? Will they also go away from diesel engine cars? Only time will tell.

The current financial year is going to be very tricky for car manufacturers. Let me explain what is involved, as the last date on which the BS IV car will be allowed to be registered. That date is 31/3/2020. To achieve this target, they will have to attempt and sell BS VI models from 1/1/2020. To meet this date, they will be required to push in BS VI vehicles from 1/10/2019. During this transition period, there will be tricky scenarios. BS IV cars will be produced less and less, but customers may want to buy them, as these will be cheaper than BS VI models. There is a possibility that in certain areas there will be customers and no cars; in other areas, there will be cars but no customers. All unsold BS IV cars will have to be sent back to manufacturers for conversion to BS VI at a considerable cost. Predicting requirement from 1/10/2019 to 31/3/2020 is going to be a nightmare for sales teams and along with them the dealers. The trend of lower sales is going to add to the difficulties further.

Will everything be hunky dory after 1/4/2020? That is again a very tough question. To achieve better fuel efficiencies and to go away from petroleum products, there will be efforts to introduce hybrid cars. But except Toyota, nobody has real expertise in this area. The predicted numbers for 2030 are 30 % EV’s, 30% Hybrids and balance IC engine cars, mostly petrol and CNG version. Does it mean that it is a death knell to diesel cars?

Another prediction by Maruti is that for small EV’s, where numbers are high in the typical small car segment, the volumes can be tricky as the price could be between 9 to 12 Lacs. This price is based on battery packs being manufacture in India. Larger cars will cost much more, but the high-price segment is less sensitive to the price tag. How the volumes will be achieved in EV’s, will be difficult to predict. I have not even discussed the charging station infrastructure issues! In India, most cars are parked on the roads for the night, so how and when will the charging be done?

At least in India, there is a significant turmoil about where the car market will go? Will Maruti continue to lead the pack? Will others follow Maruti and go away from small diesel engine cars? Only time will tell.

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One thought on “End of the road for Diesel cars!

  1. Very interesting and thoughtful essay. Very nicely explained.
    India as usual will have its own challenges and complexities.
    Earlier I used to wonder if I would get to see this evolutionary turmoil in my life?
    Well, we are witnessing the onset of Turmoil…….

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