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Page Overview: The diesel engine

The diesel engine.

We will still need, and continue to build, highly-efficient combustion engines over the long term.

Christoph Schröder

Managing Director of BMW Group Plant Steyr


More than 100 years ago, when Rudolf Diesel invented the auto-ignition combustion engine on the basis of theoretical considerations, the size and sluggishness of the diesel engine seemed to suggest that its usage would be restricted to stationary applications. However, with technical refinement, the efficiency of diesel engines has been greatly improved and, today, the diesel engine is one of the main power units used in Europe.

In the utility vehicle sector, in fact, it has been virtually the only form of propulsion for decades. At the same time, the importance of the diesel engine in the passenger car segment has also grown, as performance characteristics have continued to improve. Major steps in development, especially since the 1980s, have cultivated these basic characteristics to the extent that diesel has become an attractive alternative to the combustion engine in passenger cars.

Taking advantage of improvements in dynamic performance and acoustics, the decision was made during this time to use diesel engines in series-produced BMW cars. The history of the BMW diesel engine began in 1979 with the foundation of the BMW engine plant in Steyr.

In 1983, the Steyr plant made history by building its first diesel engines. These units were characterised by their high level of performance, dynamic power delivery and agility, exceptional refinement, exemplary emissions behaviour and fuel economy. At the 24-Hours Nürburgring in June 1998, the BMW diesel engine in a BMW 320d celebrated a historic victory. At the end of the 24 hours, Hans Joachim Stuck drove the BMW 3 Series diesel Super Touring car over the finish line well ahead of the others. This was the first time a diesel engine had won such a marathon, securing a place in racing history and impressively demonstrating the performance capabilities of modern diesel technology.


Six out of ten cars on Austrian roads are diesels – which adds up to a total of more than 2.7 million registered diesel cars.

Alternative drive technologies cannot yet measure up to conventional drive technologies in terms of purchase price, availability of infrastructure and time spent renewing range. The tremendous economic significance of the diesel drive train will therefore remain unchallenged for quite some time.

Diesel accounts for 17.2 billion euros in gross value added in Austria. This represents a contribution of six per cent to gross domestic product. A total of 230,000 jobs across the country, i.e. one in 19, are attributable to diesel.

However, aside from the enormous economic importance, clean diesel’s contribution towards climate goals is often underestimated. Currently, 94 per cent of vehicles sold worldwide are already subject to CO2 emissions regulations. These regulations will become even stricter over the coming years, especially in the European Union. Modern diesel vehicles play an important part in CO2 reduction, because they consume up to 25 percent less fuel than comparable petrol engines and emit up to 15 percent less CO2. The only way to meet European fleet targets will be through modern auto-ignition engines and further electrification.

As a result, we will still need, and continue to build, highly-efficient combustion engines over the next 10, 20 years.