How long will bakkies still be diesel-powered? Nissan weighing up options

Published Nov 6, 2023


When it comes to any discussion about the vehicle manufacturing industry it’s impossible to have a conversation without the inevitable electrification of the future.

Whether it’s weeping about the demise of the internal combustion engine (ICE), hybrid options, plug-in hybrids, full battery electric vehicles or autonomous driving, things will never be the same.

One issue that always comes up is range and range anxiety.

Technology has vastly improved since Nissan introduced the first fully electric car 13 years ago in the Leaf and so has charging infrastructure.

When the first generation was introduced to South Africa it had a claimed range of 175 kilometres and you could only charge it at certain Nissan dealerships and at home. As we know with manufacturers and companies like Grid Cars continually expanding the network, this is far less of an issue now blackouts notwithstanding.

And that’s all well and fine when you’re driving around urban areas but South Africans are a lifestyle nation, shown clearly every month with the scale of bakkies sold, including Nissan’s own Navara produced locally.

We’re happy to load them up, accessorise them for holidays and overlanding, spend weekends on 4x4 trails and we’re not shy to hook up trailers, caravans and boats and head into the great unknown.

Do that with an electric car and it will decimate your range and good luck trying to charge it in the Namib Desert or Moremi Plains in Botswana, never mind getting to your destination often thousands of kilometres away.

Which means that every bakkie has an ICE engine and almost all of them are diesel.

This leaves manufacturers and the clever people behind the scenes with a dilemma and much head-scratching as they try to come up with a solution.

The reality is that for now at least, in countries like ourselves, Australia (who tow massive rigs), Asia and South America diesel is the primary go-to option.

Throw in America with their love of petrol V8 trucks and you can see the challenges.

A future possible solution going forward are solid state batteries but they are not widely used commercially in vehicles yet with Nissan’s concept Hyper Force car shown at the Japan Mobility Show boasting 1,000kW.

According to Wikipedia a solid state battery uses solid electrodes and a solid electrolyte, instead of the liquid or polymer gel found in lithium-ion or lithium polymer batteries.

Research is ongoing and according to Kazuyuki Yamaguchi Nissan’s Alliance Global VP Product Development “we’re not that far off from it becoming a reality.

“We’re continually doing research and as we announced recently the Yokohama Plant is beginning pilot production of advanced solid state EV batteries and by 2028 we’re looking at introducing it to the public,” he said at a research and design roundtable discussion at the Japan Mobility Show.

Nissan’s Rosslyn based plant manufactures the Navara for local consumption and export into Africa and the 2.5-litre diesel engine has been adapted to cope with lower quality diesel found locally and beyond our borders.

There’s no fixed timeline for the phasing out of the engine but according to Alliance global VP Research Division Kazuhiro it can not go on indefinitely.

“We have to recognise decarbonisation and that ICE can not continue that’s why we’re focussing a lot of our attention on e-Power.”

So where does that leave diesel powertrains?

“As you know diesel provides decent consumption and long range performance but we’ve decided not to do any further development of the ICE engine except in the Asian market.”

Here’s hoping that it will continue to filter through to other diesel orientated markets as well.

He wouldn’t be drawn out on an e-Power timeline especially because the technology is exclusively petrol.

“We’re looking at our options for the Navara and hybrid could be an intermediate solution.”

There’s also the question of hydrogen as a possible fix.

“We have worked on the hydrogen-based fuel cell for many years with our alliance partners (Renault and Mitsubishi) and certainly hydrogen could be a solution in certain segments of the market but our priority is battery and e-Power,” said Toshihiro Hirai, Alliance SVP Powertrain and Engineering Division.

Throw synthetic fuels into the mix and it muddies the water even further.

“It provides one of the opportunities towards decarbonisation and we’re looking very carefully at it.

“It provides carbon neutrality for e-Power, but again, our two pillars at Nissan are e-Power and electrification,” said Yamaguchi.

It seems then that, for now at least, we’ll still be able to drive a diesel Nissan Navara but as research continues, the industry keeps getting disrupted and manufacturers are increasingly being put under pressure to evolve, overlanding and offroading as we know it is set to significantly change.