Diesel Cars: Demand Will Increase, Says Diesel Coalition

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2011 Volkswagen Golf TDI

2011 Volkswagen Golf TDI

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Given the recent spate of recalls for clean diesel cars, the public might be a little distrustful of the fuel right now. Both Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen have recently issued recalls for fuel leaks in their diesel models.

However, diesel may still yet have its day, according to the U.S. Coalition for Advanced Diesel Cars.

Wards Auto reports that diesel may gain in popularity over here for the same reason it did in Europe twenty years ago - rising gas prices. The Coalition believes that the only thing holding back diesel sales in the U.S. is the number of diesel models on sale.

European auto makers selling diesels in the U.S. market have seen a rise in demand already as a result of concerns over gas prices and range between fill-ups. Volkswagen is already seeing the benefits, with a third of Jetta sales belonging to the TDI diesel model.

Even Chevrolet, who is banking on extended-range electric technology with the Volt, has announced it will sell a diesel version of the Cruze in 2013, a car expected to achieve over 50 MPG. Mazda is planning to sell its clean SKYACTIV-D Mazda 6 in 2012 (previewed in the new Takeri Concept), and other manufacturers thinking of offering diesel include Ford, Toyota and Honda.

Previously, emissions regulations kept many of Europe's diesels from being suitable in U.S. markets, particularly with California's clean air rules. Recently European requirements have tightened though.

According to Jeff Breneman, executive director of the Coalition, “Emission regulations are now about the same in Europe and the U.S., even California, so it makes it economically feasible for auto makers to develop one product for all those markets.”

Upcoming 2025 regulations requiring a corporate average fuel economy of 54.5 MPG will encourage a move towards diesel fuel too, as modern technology makes diesels particularly efficient without losing any performance or refinement to the equivalent gasoline car. Many diesel vehicles in Europe already hit the 54.5 MPG figure.

It's no longer a problem finding diesel at the gas station, either - 52 percent of U.S. filling stations have diesel fuel pumps. However, many customers will still be put off by having to fill up with the semis, as only half of those stations put diesel next to gasoline pumps.

Breneman thinks diesels deserve a chance in the market. His message to the government is clear: "Tell us you want 50 mpg fuel economy and let us decide the technology."

We would add that there are more factors than availability or gas prices to U.S. diesel sales though. In fact, we can think of five key reasons they aren't popular over here and are unlikely to be for some time, not least the perception of the fuel as being dirty and only suitable for trucks and semis.

We'd like to hear what our readers think about diesels. Have they had their day? Will hybrid vehicles be the way forward instead? Or will diesels be the best way to meet the government's fuel targets? Let us know in the comments section below.

If you'd like to know more, check out our Guide To Every Clean 2012 Clean Diesel Car On Sale In The U.S.


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Comments (13)
  1. "Many diesel vehicles in Europe already hit the 54.5 MPG figure."

    OK I got to call you on this one. CAFE requires 54.5 MPG (unadjusted) combined city and highway. I don't think there is any car in the world (except the Prius) that can meet that figure.

    54.5 MPG(US) highway diesel, sure. 54.5 MPG(US) combined, no.

  2. So let's try this one. VW Polo BluTec 1.2 L diesel.

    3.5 L/100km combined http://carfueldata.direct.gov.uk/search-new-or-used-cars.aspx?vid=25449

    67 mpg combined in USA.

    But the European cycle is about 20% higher so that makes this car
    53.6 mpg or less than 54.5 MPG (maybe).

    Then there is the whole adjusted versus unadjusted MPG calculation that might make the CAFE of the Polo more than 54.5 mpg.

    Impressive, but I still don't think it is right to say MANY Euro diesels already produce 54.5 mpg.

    Also 10% more CO2 pollution with a diesel than with gasoline.

  3. I think we've discussed this before and I consider the 20% difference you often quote as pessimistic, and indeed EPA estimates in general. The realism of MPG testing is a gray area but the fact remains that there are several diesel cars on sale in Europe that can hit the U.S. 54.5 EPA rating on the mixed cycle. That figure aligns with just over 65 MPG imperial, a figure a great number of cars are capable of matching or beating, even on the combined cycle.

    As you mention yourself, CO2 figures are higher for diesels than for the equivalent MPG gasoline vehicle, but for consumers MPG is often the more important figure as it's the one that saves them money (apart from in the UK, which we've also discussed before!).

  4. The 10% figure for gasoline engines would be true if the two engines burned the same amount of fuel to go a specific distance but they don't as the diesel gets 25-30% better economy hence the diesel emits less CO2 than the gas engine.

  5. note that the Polo 1.2 L diesel is a state-of-the art 3 cylinder turbo diesel, 75hp, in a car the size of a Mini or a 500.. tiny. This is what it takes to beat a Prius?
    Still sounds like a blast of a car to drive, but the Prius is probably faster.

  6. We recently replaced two (2) Toyota Priuses with an Audi Q7 TDI, shortly followed by an Audi A3 TDI. I am a long time gear head who very much enjoys spirited driving. One of the first things I did was investigate how best to add performance by "chipping" our new diesels. However, much to my surprise and satisfaction, I have found no need to tweak either car. They both run like champs and the torque is amazing. I've seen as high as 34 mpg. on the Q7 with an average of 25ish, and as high as 42 mpg on the A3 with and average of 34ish. Try to find a new TDI Q7 on a dealers lot. Most new deliveries are pre-sold for months in advance. There is a reason, they are great automobiles.

    RH Malibu, CA.

  7. Additional checking shows the only things beating the Prius in the CO2 game (Europe standard testing) are the Smart diesel and the Kia Rio diesel 1.1.

  8. John, sounds like you are a prius driver! If you lived across the pond you'd drive a diesel unless confined to city driving. A little research will show that the Pumpe Duese technology developed by Elsbett in the 1970s fuel crisis and Low Sulphur fuel is what brought about the huge change in favour of diesel over the past 20 years in the EU and now beginning in the USA. The EU manufacturers like VW, Fiat, Audi, Peugeot etc poured resources into improving injection methods and reducing emissions whereas the japanese went for battery and gas engine technology. LA / EPA rules were set up in favour of gas powered cars as US diesel quality was not up to EU spec and the US Auto makers did not have the EU diesel technology.

  9. Now Chysler has Fiat diesel engines and previous experience with Mercedes and fuel quality is improving with low sulphur becoming available and SVO/WVO seen as greener options. With todays Particulate filters and Urea injection a diesel is far cleaner than a gas car and the fuel is less expensive to refine. Diesel acts as a lubricant whereas gas/petrol is a cutting fluid - so over 200,000+ miles the prius engine will wear more and produce more Co2 over it's life than a diesel. My own car is an 11 year old Audi A2 1.2 TDI (over 161,000 miles on the clock) which gets 103mpg (IMP) in rush hour traffic over 28 mile commute. Modern Audi A1 1.4 TFSI Petrol/gas car got 33mpg (IMP) over same route. The A2 emits 81 g/km Co2.

  10. @Luke W: Remember, though, that diesel fuel is at best on par with gasoline prices in the U.S. and in many cases up to $1/gallon more expensive. If the car and fuel is pricier, even if the efficiency is better, it's a challenging equation for buyers to work through. Or, as Barbie famously said, "Math is HARD!"

  11. I have been running disel cars since the original rabbit in 1977 and am currently driving a 2009 VW TDI wagon am an enthusiastic supporter of disel vehicles. The EPA mileage ratings on diesel cars are generally pessimistic by 15 or 20 percent. The same EPA ratings on hybrids are somewhat optimistic so a honest comparison between these vehicles is difficult using these ratings. Also just to correct the posting saying that diesel produces 10% more CO2 is completly wrong. Check the Transport Canada ratings and you will find that a 2.5 litre gas is rated at 3853 kgs of CO2 as compared to a VW 2.0 litre diesel rated at 3108 kgs of CO2.

  12. Please correct the mispelling of diesel in the last post.

  13. I have been driving VW diesels for the last 12 years. They are great cars to drive and older models have been able to hit over 56 mpg in real world driving. The newer cars, with the common rail diesel, get lower mileage primarily due to the heavier weight, higher horse power, and much tighter emmision controls on these cars. Since the current diesel sales are less than 3% of the total US fleet, having these tighter emmision controls is more of a handicap.

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