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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 19, 2012 11:05AM
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I actually had purchased a vw tdi  wagon in 2011 and adored it at first. Excellent mpg and felt like a luxury car at 27k. Then at 7k miles and again at 19k miles the fuel pump went out, average of 7k repair each! Vw tried to weasel out of the repairs both times but after several weeks eventually repaired it after admitting the cars weren't meant to run on u.s. quality diesel! Great car but risking 7k repair job when the warranty rainout was too much of a risk so traded it in.
Dec 19, 2012 11:03AM
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I have owned diesel cars my whole life and have spread the word to all my friends.  We took our 2005 VW Passat from St. louis to Oil City, LA on 1 tank of gas.  Diesel should be our nations main fuel source.  It can be made from numerous sources like oil, used french fry grease, natural gas, corn, soy beans, rice, the list just goes on and on.  Gas just doesn't make sense, anymore.
Dec 19, 2012 10:58AM
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This does not take into account the DEF exhaust fluid that needs to be filled up at every oil change. Here at our dealership it costs 7.80 per gallon in bulk, 20.00 per half gallon in bottles. The average  is 10 gallons at a time. So not only does diesel cost more to buy, you need this too. Also, the diesel specific motor oil costs more. To me, it's not worth it for a car. Sprinter vans are another story, most of those guys buy it at truck stops cheaper than we can buy it.
Dec 19, 2012 10:51AM
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"Actually, they are referring to the recent news that as of model year 2014 all Audis except the A5 will be getting diesel as an option."

What good will that be if the only option will be an automatic transmission? That is why I did not buy an Audi diesel, the only option it came with in the U.S.A. was with an automatic transmission.
Dec 19, 2012 10:49AM
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aussies way ahead of us with their utes. Small flat bed truck with a diesel.
Dec 19, 2012 10:43AM
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Funny that they get 70mpg in Canada and Europe. The EPA stands in the way because of the way that they look at emissions per gallon. Even though the European cars have less emissions per mile. The EPA needs to open it's eye instead or just trying to shut everything down. Look nat the mileage fro the Canadian Volkswagen online
Dec 19, 2012 10:40AM
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"Then at least you would know how we feel."

Indeed; in the world of bland econobox gasoline-electric automatics, we feel miserable.

I will drive a diesel car for as long as I live; I just hope we have the same freedom of choice Europeans enjoy.
Dec 19, 2012 10:34AM
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I lived and worked in Germany for years and always had Diesel cars (VW Passat V6 & Audi A6 V6). They ran great and even cruising at 110mph I would get the equivalent of 40MPG. If I drove at 80mph, the mileage would be around 43MPG. The acceleration of these cars, even from a standstill, was excellent and from +/-30mph on up it was far better than most gas V8's I have driven. The Passat was a twin turbo V6 and I never was able to find out its top speed. I had it up to +/-145mph (+/-240kmh) a few times and it would just keep on accelerating. However, even with a sports suspension and fat tires, it would start to feel pretty unstable and never pushed it higher up.
Dec 19, 2012 10:29AM
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"No.  I do not have to get used to it.  I like my gasoline powered sports cars, thank you very much."

You are correct. You do not have to get used to it if you do not want to. This would not be much of a free country if you did.

On a personal note, as much as I respect your freedom of choice, I regret that you are not in the diesel club together with me.
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