PARIS - PSA/Peugeot-Citroen aims to be the first volume carmaker to use common rail, direct-injection diesel engines.
PSA expects that common rail technology will help it regain its position as Europe's leading maker of diesel cars. Volkswagen increased diesel output by a third last year to 728,000 units - 57,000 units ahead of PSA.
VW's success will be shortlived, said Christian Priser, Peugeot product director for the medium and large car segments. He said VW took a 'short cut' to direct injection, because it used 'multipoint injection, but the new common rail system gives by far the highest efficiency.'
Priser claimed Bosch's common rail diesel system will make Peugeot's diesels 'better than BMW's.'
Most big carmakers are hurrying to develop direct-injection diesels.
Renault's Megane will have a 1.9-liter, direct-injection diesel engine in June. Fiat's first direct-injection diesel will appear on the Alfa Romeo 155 replacement in the autumn. BMW, Mercedes and Ford will launch direct-injection diesels next year.
The first Peugeots with common rail will be the 406 range, probably starting with the 1998 model year. Other common-rail models will follow 'within months,' said Priser.
'This will take us ahead of everyone else. Already we see ourselves in step with BMW and Mercedes technology. The best turbodiesel at the moment is BMW's. Ours will be better than theirs.'
'This is not about technology for its own sake,' Priser added. 'The diesel buyer is definitely the most cost-conscious customer, and is becoming more so. If you try to sell engineering and technology beyond what the customer can afford, then you have lost your way.'
The common rail injects a high-pressure fuel-air mix into a tube that feeds all the valves.
It improves fuel efficiency and performance, and even improves on the traditional weaknesses of diesels, such as noise and emissions, said Priser.
'Diesel will always suffer from cold-start knock, but even here common rail will provide the best level of start-up fuel efficiency. Noise and vibration have been a drawback. Again, common rail gives us a much better situation,' he said.
Direct injection has been around for years but, according to Priser, has never provided the desired refinement.
'VW has chosen to go straight on without common rail, and this has given them a production boost,' he said.
'But with direct injection a lot of things become different. The pressures involved are critically different. Common rail takes account of these differences and gives far greater efficiency than simple conversion technology.'
Peugeot will start with large engines. The first common rail diesel is expected to be a 2.0-liter unit capable of up to 120ps with turbocharging. Peugeot has not decided how many engines will be in the new range, what size they will be, or which cars they will power.
'Our target is that by 2000 we will have had these engines for some time, and we will definitely be back in the leading market position by then,' said Priser.
'How far this technology may go is not yet decided within PSA. But we see it going up to 140ps in a large car, and downwards through every range to the smallest segment in which we sell. We will have direct injection technology in every segment.'
Forty percent of Peugeot cars are powered by diesels.
Priser said he is confident that no rival will challenge its market share in the long term.