Since the September Volkswagen emissions cheating scandal, mass-market diesel car sales are about nil, and what was a quiet din of selling activity at best of times is now nearly silent.
Last month excluding diesel pickups and trucks, the 2,798 total sales of 28 U.S. market diesel passenger vehicles did not outnumber an estimated 3,100 sales singlehandedly accrued by the Tesla Model S.
With VW mass-market TDIs including the Jetta, Golf, Beetle, Passat pulled from U.S. dealer sales as well as all Audi TDIs, the only remaining diesels being sold are a small number of the VW Touareg, one Porsche, and a couple other luxury nameplates plus the Jeep Grand Cherokee diesel and Chevy Cruze diesel.
Never at risk of boiling over, the U.S. diesel passenger vehicle scene has seriously simmered down. It started immediately after VW’s failure when it conceded four-cylinder TDIs had “defeat devices” installed to pass emission tests. This was followed first by denials then admission 3.0-liter TDIs were also implicated.
October saw just 3,686 passenger diesels sold in a “clean diesel” market which normally might do 10-11,000 non-truck diesel sales, and November is down by 888 fewer sales.
Diesel car market share in the U.S. market on track for 17 million passenger car and truck sales this year was down from its 0.75 to 1-plus percent highs to just 0.21 percent for November.
This is hovering around the bottom level of plug-in hybrids which have had market share as low as one quarter on one percent. As a whole, plug-in hybrid and all-electric cars were at 0.78 percent last month.
VW The Mass Marketer
Volkswagen had carried the diesel market with 57.59-percent market share in August this year but with only 178 Porsche Cayenne TDI sales and 25 VW Tourareg sales in November, its share was 3.01 percent.
It was the only major automaker making any kind of dent in the mass-market price range, observed Michigan-based green car analyst Alan Baum.
Other than the aforementioned Jeep with 341 sales and Cruze Diesel with 218 sales last month, only BMW and Mercedes and Porsche documented sales in the low-mid hundreds or less per model – the usual small piece of the pie for luxury brands (except Tesla).
What will happen next is not known, but eyes are on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the California Air Resources Board which demanded a fix just before Thanksgiving from VW for affected 2009-2015 model years TDIs.
Volkswagen also proposed a solution to fix the same high-NOx emissions problem for millions of diesel cars in Europe under less-strict Euro 5 rules. But what the U.S. regulators will require will be tougher to do, as the rules are tougher, Baum observed.
And actually, Euro 6 rules being implemented are about as hard to meet as U.S. rules, so how VW will deal with that is not known, said Baum.
Also unknown is what this will mean to affected diesel owners.
Somehow the high NOx tailpipe emissions must be mitigated from affected diesel cars.
Volkswagen’s U.S. fix may sacrifice mpg to meet emissions, but this is not known yet. It may also reduce horsepower and torque. If it also saps power is in question, but VW has suggested that it might to some degree.
The costs of the fix are also unknown, but potentially high. Baum offered that VW may choose to meet emissions at the expense of some mpg, but try to save the acceleration and speed capabilities.
The rip-off consumers have widely decried is they were sold “clean diesels” VW actively marketed as meeting three hot-button criteria: 1) low emissions, 2) high mpg, 3) good road performance and power.
Of the three, Baum said, something has to give, but what it will be remains ultimately a mystery until regulators or Volkswagen make the answer known.
If VW chooses to reduce mpg and keep power to appease mainstream buyers who bought cars to save fuel costs, VW may then compensate them with payouts for the lost fuel economy with TDIs fixed under recall.
This may not assuage the disappointment, dismay, or anger some may feel, but that’s why they call these situations damage control.
Meanwhile the already fragile U.S. diesel market has sustained a severe setback, when it may be restored is unclear, and for now all is very quiet.