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March 23, 2012

News & Features

Diesel boom: Wave of new releases could cause spike in sales

USA Today

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The 2013 Beetle TDI goes on sale this summer. (Volkswagen)

After hyping hybrids and electrics as fuel savers, automakers are about to kick off a wave of new fuel-saving diesel models.

The latest is the Volkswagen Beetle TDI, a diesel version of the iconic car, introduced last month at the Chicago Auto Show.

New models
  • Expect new diesels from these automakers:
  • Audi: A diesel version of the A8 flagship sedan is coming, and Audi also has confirmed diesels in the next Q5 crossover and A6 sedan.
  • Cadillac: The ATS, the brand's new, small rival to the BMW 3-series, will get a diesel during the car's first generation, GM President of the Americas Mark Reuss says. The ATS, at least the gas version, is coming this summer as a 2013 model. Reuss didn't say when a diesel would join.
  • Chevrolet: The Cruze compact will offer a diesel option next year.
  • Jeep: Grand Cherokee is adding a diesel version next year, prompting parent Chrysler to add 1,100 jobs at the Jefferson North factory in Detroit to build them.
  • Mazda: A diesel is coming next year as part of its Skyactiv suite of fuel-saving technology. Mazda is being cagey about which vehicle will offer it.
  • Porsche: The Cayenne SUV diesel will get a showing in April.
  • Ram: A small or midsize pickup reviving the Dakota name is to get a diesel, Bosch's Ullrich says, but he doesn't know when.

VW, which already has diesel options for its Golf, Jetta, Passat and Touareg models, will be joined by new entrants in the U.S. market for diesel, such as General Motors, Mazda and Chrysler. Other makers, including Honda, are still withholding their best advanced diesels from the U.S., unsure whether buyers here will embrace them.

Diesels achieve about 30 percent better fuel economy than similar gasoline models. The latest generation — unfailingly called by automakers "clean diesels" — aren't smoky or noisy like those of the past. But sales are held down by diesel fuel prices, which typically top those of gasoline because of higher diesel taxes and greater global demand, and by worries about finding diesel filling stations.

Still, interest is rising. Auto-parts maker Bosch says its own survey found that 32 percent of U.S. consumers last year said they're willing to consider a diesel, up from 12 percent in 2006.

Automakers are answering the call.

"An avalanche of clean diesels coming into the market" should boost diesel-vehicle sales, says Lars Ullrich, marketing director for Bosch Diesel Systems North America. "That makes us very optimistic."

When diesel versions of models are offered, consumers snap them up. About 85 percent of Volkswagen's Jetta SportWagen are sold in the diesel version, despite it adding $1,250 to the car's $26,030 price tag.

Other VW diesels show similar popularity. More than half of Golfs are ordered with diesels, half of Touareg SUVs and about a quarter of all Jetta sedans. The Beetle will be on sale in August, VW says.

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Jeep Grand Cherokee

Overall, sales of diesel-powered cars and trucks for consumers rose 27 percent to 111,000 in 2011, compared with 2010, says Allen Schaeffer, executive director of the Diesel Technology Forum. While he thinks passenger diesel sales will be relatively flat this year — "the calm before the storm" — he forecasts a significant rise in 2013, when the new models arrive.

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