Audi’s diesel decision

Posted on Dec 10, 2009 by

Diesel-powered cars are not popular in the Middle East

The decision by to launch two new diesel Q7s in the Middle East is a very interesting one.

Historically, diesel has been shunned in the region. Petrol is in plentiful supply, and it’s cheap – where European countries have used tax incentives and socio-environmental concerns to push people towards diesel, there has been no such drive here.

But perhaps that’s changing. Audi is the first volume manufacturer to formally launch a diesel offering, and it’s a sign of several changing factors.

Firstly, diesel is no longer the smoky, smelly and noisy technology that many in this region still think it is. Such a view is understandable – the only exposure those in the Middle East get to diesel is via old-fashioned truck engines, hardly the greatest advert for an alternative fuel.

But in Europe, diesel technology is now hugely popular and refined to levels that would have been unthinkable 10 years ago. Modern diesel engines bring with them better fuel economy and, in the performance models, often better performance than their petrol-powered siblings thanks to larger torque figures. It’s the torque of an engine that gives you the ‘grunt’ under acceleration. Modern diesel engines also put out far fewer polluting gases than petrol engines, particularly carbon dioxide.

Secondly, it’s a reflection that the quality of fuel in the region is improving. Despite the region’s natural fuel resources, the quality of the finished product has not been on part with the West, particularly where diesel is concerned.

Manufacturers have long given the amount of contaminants in local diesel as a reason for not bringing the technology here before now. Modern diesel engines require a high-grade fuel – too many contaminants block up the very fine injectors used to get the performance necessary.

But pressure from the governments around the GCC have seen big improvements in recent years and Audi clearly feels that the standard is now high enough to be able to offer its diesel products, which have been highly acclaimed in Europe.

Their decision could well also be a sign of changing social values in the Middle East. The region has lagged behind other parts of the world in the green movement, with often only lip service paid to environmental concerns.

But now the issue of sustainability is becoming more prominent and more visible action is being taken. Dubai’s taxi fleet is running hybrid cars to reduce its polluting exhaust emissions. Manufacturers like Mercedes-Benz, Lexus and Toyota have hybrids either on sale or on the way to the region.

Next week’s Dubai Motor Show will feature a sustainability forum, where motoring experts will debate the future of environmental motoring in the region, and many manufacturers will be showing off their experimental green technology. Additionally, show organiser Helal Saeed Almarri told journalists at a press conference that hatchbacks were now outselling SUVs in the UAE – something unthinkable a few years ago.

The Middle East, it seems, can no longer ignore the environment. The region’s reputation for wastefulness and pollution is one of its more unfortunate images abroad, but more is now being done to consign that stereotype to history.

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