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Diesels clean up their act, offer stellar fuel economy

More than 40 U.S.-spec diesel models may be available by 2016.

By AutoWeek Dec 18, 2012 10:42AM




Who would have thought it: After decades of resistance, Americans are starting to realize that today's smooth-running, fuel-efficient diesel cars bear little resemblance to the smelly, polluting slowpokes of old.


According to recent sales information, clean diesel sales have jumped more than 25 percent so far in 2012. In October alone, they were up 21 percent over the same month a year earlier. CNW Research of Brandon, Ore., reports the number of consumers considering diesels rose from 13 percent in 2006 to 28 percent in 2011.

 

So what happened to the diesel? It's fair to say that it cleaned up its act. Since 2007, new diesels have had to run on ultra-low-sulfur fuel (ULSD). It's a dramatic environmental change. According to the Clean Diesel Fuel Alliance, switching to ULSD will have the same effect as “removing the pollution from more than 90 percent of today's trucks and buses, when the current heavy-duty vehicle fleet has been completely replaced in 2030.”

 

Allen Schaeffer, executive director of the Diesel Technology Forum, says that today's entries “meet the same stringent standards as hybrids or other passenger cars. There's no longer a question as to whether diesel is a clean technology.”

 

Americans are still a long way from European levels of diesel preference. Diesels, which benefit from lucrative subsidies in Europe, are so popular there that they're the “green” car of choice, which explains slow sales of expensive hybrids in Europe. In France and Ireland, diesels make up 60 to 70 percent of the auto fleet.

 

Diesels are relatively affordable in the U.S., even without subsidies. It's the fuel that remains an obstacle since it's generally more expensive than gasoline. Schaeffer says diesel is currently 17 cents more than premium unleaded, but, ironically, lower gasoline demand resulting from more efficient cars and more cautious driving habits has lowered prices.

 

The Energy Information Agency predicts a 3 percent decline in diesel prices next year, to $3.83 a gallon. That sounds good, but the same agency says this about gasoline: “The projection for the average retail price in 2013 is $3.44 per gallon.” In other words, a 40-cent-per-gallon gap will remain.

 

Still, diesels are worth considering, because the fuel price is offset by stellar fuel economy. Let's look at a few diesel entries -- the 2013 Volkswagen Jetta TDI, 34 mpg combined (compared to 28 mpg for the four-cylinder gas version with manual transmission); the 2013 Audi A3 diesel, 34 mpg (24 for the gas version, with premium required); the 2013 Mercedes S350 Bluetec 4Matic, 25 mpg combined (compared to 19 mpg for the S550).

 

We have high hopes for the Chevrolet Cruze diesel, which will appear early next year as a 2014 model. GM hasn't released fuel economy figures yet, but it could offer as much as 50 mpg.


There may be as many as 41 U.S.-spec diesel models to choose from by calendar year 2016. Diesels we expect to see soon include a BMW two-liter four-cylinder and three-liter V6 within the next year, and the Jeep Grand Cherokee Ecodiesel (2014). Next year, Audi will offer six diesels -- on the A3, A6, A7, A8, Q5 and Q7. The Cadillac ATS will be available as a diesel next year, and Mazda will introduce the Skyactiv-D 2.2-liter diesel on the Mazda 6 sedan.


-- Jim Motavalli


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123Comments
Dec 18, 2012 2:21PM
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Sure wish someone would offer a small to midsized Diesel Pickup here in the "Consumer Nation" of very limited choices.
Dec 19, 2012 9:35AM
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Too bad Ford won't offer the Focus diesel in the USA....it gets 75mpg and cost less than $24k.I'd buy a wagon version tomorrow...IF it was available.

  I really don't understand why no manufacturer offers a diesel compact truck here...I believe it would sell like hotcakes!

Dec 18, 2012 1:34PM
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Your fuel economy numbers don't reflect the REAL world where diesels are grossly UNDERRATED.

 

While people are getting 26-27 with their Jetta gas burners, diesel drivers are actually seeing 38-42!

 

Diesel fuel would have to be $1.00+ more per gallon to break even.  Anything less than that you're way ahead with a diesel.

 

But when it comes to more diesels coming, I agree with mrchriss, I'll believe it when I see it.

 

Additionally, your statement that Audi is offering six diesels is misleading.  They are offering TWO.

A 2.0L for the A3 and a 3.0L for the rest on your list.

Dec 18, 2012 11:36AM
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Diesels are a technology Americans are going to have to get used to.   This is a great alternative to hybrid electrics in my opinion.  No lets see Diesel hybrid electrics.. 75MPH anyone??
Dec 18, 2012 2:12PM
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My daughters focus really gets 33mpg but it's rated at 40mpg and this is one of the top ten engines this year? I have traveled the world and I would say the best vehicle is the toyota hi-lux diesel truck  it's unstoppable, does anyone know why it's not for sale here but has been overseas for decades?
Dec 19, 2012 10:23AM
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why are they not available in this country today or should i say yesterday? my guess is red tape,oil companies, and government bs.
Dec 19, 2012 9:36AM
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When will VW offer a TDI Beetle again? Our 2000 TDI Beetle still travels approximately 600 miles on a 12 gallon tank of diesel fuel. 
Dec 18, 2012 2:12PM
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This is actually perfect timing because I am not yet in the market to replace my diesel.  By the time I am ready, most of these models should be for sale with a year or two under their belt with plenty of data to research.  That means I will actually have OPTIONS when I go to make my next purchase. 
Dec 18, 2012 7:52PM
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Will any of these offerings require Urea injection?  I noticed it wasn't calculated into the cost of diesel operation above.
Dec 18, 2012 11:21AM
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Sounds great but I will believe it when I see it.

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