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After Nearly Killing the Diesel, GM Brings it Back

Chevrolet launches Cruze diesel, considers other options.

by on May.24, 2013

The 2014 Chevrolet Cruze Diesel will have the highest highway mileage rating of any non-hybid passenger car sold in the U.S.

The company that all but killed the diesel engine is now hoping to bring it back.

For the first time since 1986, General Motors began selling a diesel-powered passenger car this week, and company officials say that a successful launch of the 2014 Chevrolet Cruze Turbo Diesel could convince them to add additional “oil burners” to the line-up.

“We’ll be watching very closely,” said Chris Perry, vice president of marketing for the Chevrolet brand, adding that with the launch of the Cruze Diesel, Chevy hopes to give some “real competition” to the European makers that currently dominate the small but growing U.S. diesel market, especially Volkswagen.

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Diesels were a significant part of the U.S. market in the late 1970s and early 1980s as American motorists struggled to deal with rising fuel prices after two Mideast energy shocks. But the market took a tumble late in the ‘80s, in part due to some major quality problems with GM diesels, especially an Oldsmobile engine that had a tendency to fail catastrophically.

The new diesels carry a price premium, in part, to cover their substantial emissions systems.

Yet, even as the American market largely evaporated, a new generation of diesels quickly began to catch on in Europe thanks to new technologies such as high-pressure fuel injectors and turbocharging that largely eliminated the smoke, smell, noise and vibration that U.S. motorists had come to dread.

(Check out TheDetroitBureau.com’s review of the 2014 Chevrolet Cruze Turbo Diesel. Click Here.

German makers cautiously began introducing diesel packages here a few years ago, quickly finding a small but dedicated audience excited about the high mileage the new turbocharged engines offered. Better yet, modern diesels provide significant performance advantages over another fuel-efficient technology, the hybrid.

The Cruze Diesel, for example, can launch from 0 to 60 in about 8.6 seconds. The ever-popular Toyota Prius can barely make it in 10 seconds.

(VW takes service action to keep gas out of diesel fuel tanks. Click Here for the story.)

GM officials are hoping that the 46 mpg rating of the 2014 Chevrolet Cruze Turbo Diesel will find a ready audience in today’s market. That is, noted Gary Altman, the engine’s chief engineer, “The best highway fuel economy of any non-hybrid vehicle in North America.”

And that’s based on the official EPA numbers. While most gas-powered vehicles, and nearly all hybrids, tend to deliver well under the window-sticker ratings in real-world driving, diesels have traditionally out-performed their EPA numbers, something TheDetroitBureau.com experienced during a day of driving the 2014 Cruze Diesel.

(BMW’s newest diesel, the 328d, debuts at NY Auto Show. For more, Click Here.)

There are, however, some disadvantages.  Diesels carry a cost premium due to all the added hardware needed to meet U.S. emissions standards – older diesels produced a lot of sooty particulates and smog-causing oxides of nitrogen. There’s also the issue of fuel prices. Diesel fuel has been running from 5% to 25% more than regular gasoline.

Meanwhile, diesel has traditionally been harder to find, though that’s a diminishing problem as demand rises.  According to the Diesel Technology Forum, 52% of U.S. service stations now offer the fuel.

(Diesel to soon outsell gasoline worldwide, forecasts ExxonMobil. Click Here for more.)

Chevrolet is asking $25,695 for the 2014 Cruze Diesel.  That’s about $4,000 more than the 42 mpg gas-powered Cruze Eco. But it offers more content, Chevy officials are quick to point out. And it’s well under the $26,325 base for the Volkswagen Jetta TDI, the Detroit diesel’s most direct competitor.

VW has had significant success with its diesel offerings. In fact, the maker believes demand for the Tennessee-made Passat TDI sedan could reach 30% of the overall mix if it can boost production capacity.

(For its part, Chevy officials previously said they hope to hit 10% with the Cruze diesel, though they have since backed away from that figure.)

VW’s sibling brand Audi, meanwhile plans to add four new diesels for 2014. Mazda will offer its first diesel as a version of the Mazda6 sedan. In all, the number of diesels on the U.S. market will roughly double for 2014, to nearly 20, according to the Diesel Technology Forum, with more on the way.

Nonetheless, diesels currently account for just 3% of the U.S. market – compared with nearly 50% in Europe — and even proponents aren’t sure how much that will rise.

“Our research shows that when you ask the average American about diesels, the negatives come out,” cautions Cristi Landy, marketing manager for Cruze and other small Chevy models.

But research also shows that a growing number of Americans are starting to recognize the difference with new diesels that are quiet, clean, quick and smooth.  Chevrolet hopes to demonstrate that with the 2014 Cruze Diesel.

“This could be the formula,” suggests Landi. And if the new model generates enough demand, “We’ll be looking to put more (diesels) in our line-up.”

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One Response to “After Nearly Killing the Diesel, GM Brings it Back”

  1. Jorge M. says:

    It’s good to see GM join the clean Diesel party. VW, Mercedes and BMW have all been selling good Diesels in the U.S. for decades. They all have stepped up Diesel sales in the U.S. with the new “Blue” clean Diesel models. It’s about time as up to 80% of all road vehicles in Europe are Diesel powered for good reason.

    Only in the U.S. does the government endeavor to discourage the use of clean Diesels in favor of impractical EVs and complicated hybrids that will prove to be expensive to own and operate long term. Non-hybrid auto customers are subsidizing all hybrid sticker prices. All U.S.tax payers and all motorist who buy gas or Diesel fuel are subsidizing EVs who pay no road tax and receive income tax incentives. People should do their homework and see exactly what the Obama administration and the EPA are doing to this country. Their unscrupulous abuse of auto consumers and tax payers is a disgrace IMO.