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News   September 10, 2019   by Allen Schaeffer

COMMENTARY: Are we at the end of the I.C.E. Age?

What industry experts are saying about future of the internal combustion engine.

Speculation about the end of internal combustion engine (ICE) technologies is all over the news, as politicians and activists call for radical, almost overnight shifts in technology. But when you take the time to look at the practicalities of such proposals, a vastly different picture emerges.

In reality, ICE-based technologies will still be around for years to come. So, how can we work to ensure the cleanest, most efficient engine technologies and fuels are ready, available and in use around the world?

Allen Schaeffer, executive director of the Diesel Technology Forum offers some thought leadership on the subject.

Are We Near the End of the ICE (Internal Combustion Engine) Age?

By Allen Schaeffer

If you dare, flash back to October 1990 when rapper “Vanilla Ice” hit the Billboard charts.

His big hit “ICE, ICE, Baby” dominated the airways for a week… and then it was gone, a one-hit wonder.

But unlike the “ICE” of the 1990s, we can boldly predict that today’s ICE – the internal combustion engine powered by gasoline and diesel – isn’t vanishing anytime real soon. Reports of its pending demise in the popular media are greatly exaggerated.

Until the time when electrified mobility approaches significant scale, gas and diesel engines will continue to improve. Customers will demand it; manufacturers are invested in it; and society needs it to ensure continued incremental progress on cleaner air and lower CO2 emissions.

Need proof?

Here’s what thought leaders and leading manufacturers have to say on the topic:


“While Cummins has a vigorous electrification program under way, our other key message at IAA is that the diesel engine is not standing still. With our technical developments, we see diesel remaining as the primary source of power in the commercial vehicle sector for the foreseeable future.”

— Cummins, Tom Linebarger, Chairman and CEO


“We expect to see a mix of combustion engines and electric vehicles on the road for a long time to come, despite the current debate about diesel-powered passenger cars in particular, and the decline in new diesel vehicle registrations in Europe. This is because existing powertrain concepts can also play an important role in improving air quality and reducing CO2, especially since the wide-scale adoption of electromobility requires further substantial upfront investments in engineering and infrastructure. Viable diesel and spark-ignition engines that have hardly any effect on air quality even at inner-city air-pollution hotspots are now within reach.”

— Bosch, 2018 Annual Report


“We look forward to harnessing the power of both Caterpillar’s and Argonne’s industry-leading research expertise and world-class facilities to develop ground-breaking solutions for diesel engine design.” The organizations plan to build and test heavy-duty diesel engines that reduce emissions and improve fuel economy.

— Caterpillar, Jon Anders, Principal Investigator and Senior Engineering Specialist, Innovation & Technology Development Division, March 2019


“Volvo Group acknowledges that there is no single fuel that can meet all needs. Conventional diesel fuel, with increasing renewable or synthetic content, will likely remain the dominant fuel for most types of commercial transport for many years to come.”

— Volvo Group, 2018 Annual Report


“We will continue to build diesel engines. But they will be even cleaner and feature more smart technologies. And we will devote more of our energy to meeting ever-growing demands for hybrid solutions, the electrification of drive systems, and the use of alternative fuels and gas power. With our Green and High-Tech program, we have shown that we have a progressive vision on how to meet the huge challenges of the energy turnaround and new trends in mobility.”

— Rolls Royce Power Systems-MTU, Andreas Schell, Chairman of the Board


“Isuzu and Cummins recognize the advanced diesel engine is, and will continue to be, an important power choice for global customers in commercial vehicle and industrial applications. This is especially true in developed countries where power sources are used for high-intensity operations, as well as in emerging countries where social infrastructure conditions are severe.”

— Isuzu, Masanori Katayama, President and Representative Director, announcing power-source partnership agreement with Cummins, May 2019


“Actually for the diesel engines, we are also continuously working on that in order to achieve the ideal diesel engine. Especially these days, SUVs are quite popular – that means vehicles are bigger and heavier, for those types of vehicles, in terms of reducing CO2, diesel engines still have the advantage… [we have] no plans to phase out diesel.”

— Mazda, Ichiro Hirose, Managing Executive Director of Powertrain Development


“Various projections for the U.S. suggest that by 2030, some 10 to 25 percent of vehicles might be electrified. The question then remains, what about the other 90 to 75 percent? And what about the large trucks and ships that run on diesel fuel? There are, as yet, no convincing electric options for those vehicles. That is why it is still so important to continue working on internal combustion engines and make them as clean and efficient as we can.”

— Massachusetts Institute of Technology, John Heywood, Professor of Mechanical Engineering


“Perkins is focusing on the third incarnation of diesel engines. Power 3.0 will see research and development focus on how to create an engine that is focused on sustainability, as well as capable of delivering more productivity while consuming less fuel. Power 3.0 is the next stage. The hybrids and electrics will be part of that story.”

— Perkins, Oliver Lythgoe, Product Concept Marketing


“I wouldn’t see the termination of internal combustion engines on the horizon. We are still working on the next generation of gasoline engines. They will become more fuel efficient. We will have 48-volt start-stop systems and mild-hybrid systems. There is still a lot of improvement going in there. But, on the other hand, the improvement — engine generation after engine generation — will be reduced because there’s just not much more [efficiency] in this. The low-hanging fruits are gone. In many countries, you don’t have renewable energy available. And then, if you make the counts, diesel is probably still the best option for a low CO2-emission mobility. We are just working on the next generation of diesel engines, becoming even cleaner now, with additional catalytic converters in the car, with additional effort on cleaning, and they become really clean now. We will have a market for these in Europe and many other places. Probably not here, because diesel here always was a niche on the passenger-car side. But also here, the bigger cars, the higher driving distances, diesel becomes more of a rational [choice]. When it comes to big SUVs, diesel still makes sense.”

— Volkswagen, Herbert Diess, CEO


“We expect diesels to survive for at least 20 more years and gasoline for at least 30 more years.”

— BMW, Klaus Froelich, BMW group Board Member


So what will keep ICE at the top of the transport charts for the foreseeable future? Continued gains in efficiency and lower emissions. Increased pairing with hybrid powertrains. Increasing use of advanced renewable fuels. All are factors that will contribute to diesel and gasoline engines playing a key role well into the future.


The Diesel Technology Forum is an educational non-profit, based out of metropolitan Washington, D.C.

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2 Comments » for COMMENTARY: Are we at the end of the I.C.E. Age?
  1. Floram says:

    Finally an article that does not say the ICE is dead.

    We are being bombarded by the doomsday Sayers.
    I guess that is a way to drum it into the public’s minds. Repeat ad nauseam. Perhaps the people will believe it.

    However, reality is different. I would not buy an
    EV at this time. I want to go places and fill up when needed in 5 minutes. There is no way electric mobility can outdo the ICE and fossil fuels.

  2. Kurt Hillebrand says:

    As an independent premium brands specialty shop owner, I am trying to closely follow future tech and trends. I have made a decent living in the ICE vehicle industry and hope to continue to do so for the foreseeable future. However, I believe costs and economics will be the deciding factors influencing the timeline for the decline of ICE vehicles and rise of EVs (or some other alternative).

    Analysts from the French bank, BNP Paribas Asset Management stated that major oil companies soon need to produce gasoline & diesel from oil at $10 and $19 respectively per barrel to compete with electricity on price. The current price per barrel is $59. Keep in mind that every 2 to 3 years, the cost of renewable technologies is being cut in half while output is doubling from the renewable energy technologies. When other jurisdictions in the World (China, certain European countries) are mandating greater EV use, the price of the technologies further drop for the rest of us. With the lower cost of the required energy for EVs, lower anticipated cost of normal repairs/maintenance for EVs and dropping purchase prices of EVs (compared to similar ICE models), the average person can not over look EVs when it’s time for their next new vehicle purchase.

    I have clients with Teslas who do not find any concerns with their current driving range. In fact, Mercedes-Benz has announced that their EQC is supposed to have a driving range of approx 700km per charge with ability to charge up to 80% within 20 minutes. This can hardly be considered a hardship. This when perhaps 95% of Canadians would only drive no more than 40km per day (95% of the time). Additionally, Volkswagen has announced that they will add 70 new EV models over the next 10 years.

    Finally, it should be taken with a grain of salt when industry insiders (stakeholders in the ICE industry) have certain opinions published… What consequences are there by stating that technology and trends may change faster than what is being preached? Perhaps without discounting prices, how will vehicle manufacturers effectively sell off ICE vehicles currently on the sales lot if these insiders openly state that they are being replaced by EV? The decline of the ICE may happen faster than what some say. Just a thought…

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