Why Diesel is Not Going to be a Hit in Japan Anytime Soon

by Benjamin Jones on June 4, 2009

Kumamoto Bus

It seems like a different European automaker is coming out with a new diesel engine or vehicle option every day. Over here in Japan however, there was quite a lot of hype over one or two diesel cars that might be sold by Honda or Toyota in the United States.

Everyone was excited to see the new generation of cleaner diesels from the Japanese companies. Meanwhile, those companies are already selling diesels in Europe and cutting back on their plans to sell them in the U.S.

Is this a mistake?

I think most of us would admit that diesel has serious image flaws in the United States, but that hasn’t prevented VW’s new TDI models from flying off the showroom floors and generating quite a bit of buzz. However, if we are going to understand the reluctance of Japanese companies to bring diesel anywhere, we need to understand the reality of diesel in Japan.

In Japan, diesel is still relatively restricted to off-road construction equipment, big transport trucks, and soot-spewing public buses. The first time I saw one of these buses I thought “wow, how odd.”

Now I know better. At least 50% of buses in my area will leave a huge cloud of poisonous fumes behind it when leaving from a stop. Because I am riding my bicycle behind these buses many times, I am quite aware of how nasty the situation is, and I assure you I am not exaggerating. It is all I can do sometimes to hold my breath until I get through the worst of it and navigate away from the bus in question.

Why are public buses polluting so badly? I can honestly say that I don’t know what the issue is. Perhaps the same emissions requirements don’t apply to public vehicles or my area just has sub-standard diesel emissions requirements.

Either way, I doubt the Japanese who live with it daily have a more favorable view of the situation. If this were my only experience with diesel, I would hate it too.

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