Family Affair Porsche to VW Group: No diesel engines for now, please

A sign VW’s Dieselgate is far from over: Subsidiary Porsche has suspended sales of diesel models at the same time its supplier, VW unit Audi, is under investigation.
Quelle: dpa
The Porsche crest isn't reflecting off any diesels at the moment.
(Source: dpa)

Porsche, the iconic sports carmaker, is currently unable to offer any diesel models to customers because of the never-ending emissions cheating scandal at parent VW and group relative Audi. The company pulled its only remaining diesel model -- a version of the Macan compact SUV -- off the shelves early this year after Germany’s vehicles regulator, the KBA, suspected the model’s engines included emissions-cheating software, sparking an expensive recall of 50,000 vehicles.

Prior to halting sales of diesel Macans, the only other diesel model was a Panamera, which it pulled in mid-2017. Porsche’s diesel distaste appears linked to the ongoing scandal surrounding diesel engines from VW, its parent. Since Porsche doesn’t produce its own diesel motors, it relies on engines from Audi, also a unit of VW and which is currently under investigation.

Munich prosecutors recently searched the homes and offices of former Audi board member Ulrich Hackenberg and one-time development head Stefan Knirsch for indications they were involved in the installation of emissions-cheating software on Audi diesel engines. Three other raids had already taken place this year and last year.

23 p22 Diesel cars in Germany-01

VW’s emissions tinkering software, first made public in September 2015, actually traces its roots back to Audi in 1999, Handelsblatt reported two years ago. The Audi engineers developed software that could turn off certain engine functions, and named the tool “acoustic mode” and “acoustic function.” Audi did not use the tools, but VW did several years later.

Porsche declined to give a reason for not offering any diesel models currently, but a spokesperson said the carmaker hasn’t abandoned the technology. “The Cayenne with diesel will remain,” said the spokesperson, adding that the company had not yet set a date to start selling it.

While unveiling its latest version of the Cayenne, a full-size SUV, last year, Porsche signaled some trepidation about offering a diesel model but buyers flinched because of the better mileage diesel affords the weighty SUV compared to gas engines. Last year, 70 percent of the Cayennes sold in Europe had diesel motors – and in Germany 80 percent.

Although a diesel exit could affect Cayenne sales, it would be easy to absorb in the carmaker’s balance sheet – just 14 percent of all Porsches sold last year were diesels. By comparison, at domestic rivals - Daimler, which makes Mercedes-Benz cars, and BMW - diesels accounted for more than 50 percent of their sales. Diesel models are popular in Germany and many other European countries in large part because the government levies lower tax on diesel at the pump than gasoline.

Porsche has also only offered diesels for about a decade – its trademark 911 has never been powered by a diesel engine. It only introduced the engines when it expanded its portfolio to SUVs.

Andrew Bulkeley is an editor with Handelsblatt Global. Stefan Menzel writes about the auto industry focusing on Volkswagen. To contact the authors: [email protected] and [email protected]