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General Motors Is First Up for the EPA's Harsh New Diesel Tests

By John Rosevear - Sep 29, 2015 at 7:05PM

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The EPA has created tough new standards for testing diesel vehicles in the wake of the Volkswagen scandal. GM's new diesel pickups will be the first to face the agency's beefed-up tests.

A diesel-powered 2016 Chevrolet Colorado. GM has said that its new diesel-powered pickups will be the first to face tougher scrutiny by the U.S. government in the wake of the VW scandal. Image source: General Motors.

What's happening: Officials at General Motors ( GM 4.06% ) say that new diesel-powered versions of the midsize Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon pickups will be the first vehicles subjected to strict new emissions tests imposed by the U.S. government, according to an Automotive News report.

GM had hoped to launch the trucks by the end of the year, but the stricter tests could force a delay.

Why it's important: Volkswagen stands accused of installing software in many of its diesel-powered cars that was intended to produce false results on emissions tests. The software detects when a test is underway and activates added pollution controls that allow the cars' emissions to pass legal muster. But in ordinary driving, the added controls are deactivated -- and the cars' exhaust is much dirtier than allowed under U.S. laws.

Volkswagen has essentially admitted the allegations and promised to fix all of the cars affected, about 11 million worldwide. It faces billions of dollars in potential fines in the U.S. and elsewhere, as well as likely criminal charges. 

But VW's cheating software escaped detection for years. In the wake of the revelations, regulators around the world are under pressure to tighten up their testing to make it harder for automakers to cheat in the future.

The Environmental Protection Agency has announced that it will subject all new diesel-powered vehicles to much stricter emissions testing than in the past. The new tests will include on-road tests as well as the standard laboratory testing of the vehicles' exhaust emissions.

It's likely that the new tests will deter future efforts to cheat -- or at least, efforts to cheat in the ways that Volkswagen apparently did. But in the near term, any automaker bringing a new diesel to market can expect very close scrutiny -- and General Motors is first up in the United States.

GM's 2.8 liter Duramax four-cylinder diesel will be offered on the Colorado and Canyon pickups for the first time in 2016. Image source: General Motors.

GM is introducing its 2.8 liter "Duramax" four-cylinder diesel engine as an option on the 2016 Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon. With 181 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque, the new diesel engine gives the twins a trailer-towing boost -- up to 7,700 pounds, GM claims.

Like big diesel trucks, the diesel-powered GM twins include an exhaust-braking system that automatically activates on steep grades, to help spare wear on the trucks' brakes. There's also an integrated trailer brake controller that's exclusive to the diesel twins, and a version of GM's six-speed automatic transmission that has been modified to reduce noise and vibration from the diesel engine.

They're not cheap: The diesels will command a $3,730 premium over comparable models equipped with the standard gasoline V6. But for buyers who prefer diesel pickups, they present an intriguing -- and apparently well-equipped -- alternative.

What happens next: General Motors' engineers say that they've done their own extensive testing, both in laboratories and under real-world driving conditions. They say that they're confident that their new trucks will pass the EPA's heightened scrutiny.

It's very likely that they're right. At this point, GM knows better than to push its luck with U.S. regulators. And it's likely that the delay caused by the EPA's expanded testing regimen will be no big deal in the grand scheme of things.

But the auto industry is on notice: The heightened scrutiny promised by regulators around the world in the wake of the VW scandal is now underway.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis – even one of our own – helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.

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