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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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Dec 19, 2012 10:24AM
I drove a Ford MAX diesel in Italy a year ago.  It was one of the best cars I have ever driven.  The style, performance and fuel economy were absolutely fantastic.  FORD, how about bringing them to the good old U.S.A. !!!
Dec 19, 2012 10:23AM
i want a honda diesel. it is offered in europe w/a supercharged engine in either an accord or civic
Dec 19, 2012 10:23AM
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 10:21AM
I would like to see gas vapor technology. People who have tested this gotten 100+ mph. This technology was buried by the oil companies back in the late 50's if i remember well. You can do your own research and find videos of people testing it on their cars on youtube. 
Dec 19, 2012 10:20AM
Dec 19, 2012 10:15AM
I have always loved diesel vehicles. My first car back in 1997 was a 73 Mercedes 220d. Loved it. I currently own a diesel Ford f250 and probably couldnt afford to drive it if it wasnt diesel. The mileage is amazing. You just have to know where to buy your diesel. Gas stations can vary as much as 70 cents per gallon here in Southern California. One station will be 10 cents less than gasoline and the next may be 30 cents more than gas. Its weird but you get used to it.
Dec 19, 2012 10:11AM
Diesel is more efficient, but costs more, and isn't as readily availiable; if you want efficiency, get a hybrid, or wait for the electric cars to take over the market, as I would bet they will do in the next 10-15 years.
Dec 19, 2012 10:08AM

1980 Chevy diesel Chevette = 55mpg, 2014 Chevy Cruze diesel = 50mpg.

Don't lie to me and tell me that we're making great advances in technology!

Dec 19, 2012 10:00AM
Don't get me wrong, I'm all for more availability of deisel's in the market; but my Charger (a 2-ton full-sized car) with a 5.7 hemi (on regular gas) gets 32 mpg on the highway...kinda makes me wonder
Dec 19, 2012 9:59AM
This is great; I have been waiting for years to see the diesel car market develop in the US.  I've rented turbo diesels in Europe many times and have always been impressed with their performance (even on the Autobahn) and fuel efficiency.  The fuel efficiency is especially important with diesel at $8/gallon in Europe.

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