With Hybrids in Short Supply, Clean Diesel Cars Gain Traction

Hybrid cars usually outsell clean diesel vehicles by about three times. But the disruption in supply of hybrids and related components (due to Japan’s earthquake in March) has apparently pushed efficient diesels higher on the shopping list of buyers wanting more miles per gallon.

“American’s have never had so many vehicle fuel and technology choices, ranging from a growing number of hybrid gasoline vehicles to new plug-in electric hybrid vehicles, in addition to clean diesel and conventional gasoline vehicles,” said Allen Schaeffer, executive director of the Diesel Technology Forum. “In this competitive technology field, it is encouraging that more Americans are choosing clean diesel cars than ever before.”

Today’s clean diesel cars have fewer emissions, and provide a much smoother ride, than the previous generation of diesel vehicles—and yet Americans have continued to hold stereotypical views of diesels as loud and smelly. That is finally changing. In May, more than 9,000 clean diesel cars were sold in the U.S.—a 34 percent jump compared to a year ago. By contrast, the lack of hybrid availability pushed down sales by 42 percent compared to 2010, down to a little more than 16,000 vehicles.

Nonetheless, clean diesels remain less than 1 percent of new cars sales. But according to Peter Marks, president and CEO for Bosch’s North and South American operations, as many as 10 percent of new cars and trucks sold in the U.S. might have diesel engines by 2015. Last month, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said, “We know that clean diesel is one ingredient in the recipe for our long-term energy security.” LaHood made the comment at the opening of a new Volkswagen manufacturing plant in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Rising federal fuel economy standards, which go to around 60 mpg by 2025, will require greater efficiency across the board—and will encourage automakers to make and sell more diesel vehicles.

Volkswagen’s clean diesel cars—including the Jetta TDI and Golf TDI—helped VW in May post its best month of sales in the United States in more than seven years. For the month, Volkswagen’s overall U.S. sales grew by 27.9 percent on a year-over-year basis.

The 2011 Jetta is available with three different engines, including gas-powered 2.0-liter, four-cylinder and 2.5-liter, five-cylinder models that earn 23 mpg in the city and 33 mpg on the highway. The most economical choice is the 2.0-liter TDI Clean Diesel engine that gets 30 mpg in the city and 42 mpg on the highway.


  • Anonymous

    That’s because CAFE only looks at highway which is a pity. Second CO2 is lot higher for diesels at same mpg than hybrids so they are not the answer for reducing CO2 (which in Europe plays a bigger role).

    Also financially you pay about same premium as hybrids and diesel fuel is not subsidized like in Germany. So I don’t see 10% diesels in 2015 in US.
    I’m sure German carmakers do hope so because that’s cheaper for them since they already have diesels. They also probably came up with the nonsense calling diesel ‘clean’. No one says ‘clean hybrids’ either so why do they get away with it?

  • Anonymous

    There is no such thing as “clean diesel”, because it’s an oximoron. This is just a marketing term for the uneducated.
    The nanoparticle (PM2.5, non-visible) emission of the so called “clean diesel” is the deadliest of all emission types, so calling it clean is pure BS.

  • wxman

    @ Anonymous…

    Please cite even one valid study which shows that gasoline engines do not produce PM2.5, or that PM2.5 from gasoline engines is even lower than clean diesel for that matter.

  • ANONYMOUS

    my 2003 jetta tdi with 100,000 miles on it gives me a mpg reading of [combined driving] 41 mpg. however the speedometer has always been set about 3to4 mph higher than the actual speed at 65 mph, giving me a false positive mpg reading

  • andresbodoira

    Clean Diesel in replacement of standard gas cars is a good idea. Clean diesel as a competition of electric cars and hybrids doesnt make sense.

  • Yegor

    June 13 – There is still no Promotions from Toyota on Prius or other Hybrids :(

    Toyota announced early that it will reach 90% production in June.

    But it takes time (probably 2 weeks) to deliver cars from Japan.

  • Jurgen

    A European view on this: I live in a country were 80% of the vehicles are diesel engines! Strange you think? Not at all, it’s a mind set. Modern diesel engines have lots of torque, have a start-stop mechanism, and a filter that eliminates fine diesel dust. I drive an Audi A4 2liter diesel engine, doing 38miles/gallon as average over last 60.000miles (mixed 50% city and highway roads). And even this is not the endpoint. There’s a trend of downsizing, making even more miles possible for a gallon. Why do we need all the horsepower anyway, there’s traffic speed limitations all over the place, and I do not feel a lot for racing till the next traffic light.
    For a European it’s hard to understand why all the overkill horsepower is sold in US, where there’s lots of opportunity to save money on short term, and be future proof for high gas prices.
    Jurgen

  • KMCoates

    @anonymous 1&2. Afraid you guys are living in the past. Modern diesel engines put out less particulates than some gasoline engines. And CAFE is actually skewed to favor hybrid technology because it is calculated on a 55/45 city/hwy bias, which according to DOT statistics is exactly the opposite of the way people drive. And that’s the reason most diesel owners can beat the mpg on the Monroney label.

    Clean diesel can hold its own with other advanced technologies and continues to improve. Check out: http://www.dieselforum.org, Allen Schaeffer’s group. It’s not a silver bullet (hint, neither are EVs), but it’s a great CO2 reduction tool.

  • Anonymous

    As others mentioned above, clean diesels don’t exist:

    http://www.rsc.org/chemistryworld/News/2008/March/04030802.asp

    Diesel technology is a big fat dead end. They are much less efficient than hybrids,

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ySR0flj6QnQ

    and much-much more deadly to humans. Moreover there is no solution to cure its deadly nanoparticle emission and no economic solution to eliminate high NOx emission.

  • Anonymous

    KMCoates: As you can see from the previous post, your CAFE statement is simply not true/irrelevant, because in real world conditions even the “best clean diesels” have severely beaten by the best hybrids in terms of fuel economy (city AND HIGHWAY as well).

  • Chuck

    @Jurgen
    How much is it for liter of gas and diesel where you live? You can post in your currency if you don’t have time.

  • wxman

    @ Anonymous #9 – that rcs report summary specifically says the test engine was Euro 4 compliant, and it says nothing about being equipped with a DPF (diesel vehicles could meet Euro 4 without DPF). In fact, the proposed solution is to use filters on Euro 4 diesel engines.

    DPF has been shown to be very effective across the entire particle size range (Martin Mohr, Anna-Maria Forss, Urs Lehmann, Laboratory for Internal Combustion Engines, Empa (Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Testing and Research), “Particle emissions from diesel passenger cars equipped with a particle trap in comparison to other technologies.” Environ Sci Technol. 2006 Apr 1;40 (7):2375-83.) There are at least two studies which have shown that particle emissions from DPF-equipped diesel engines are lower than what’s contained in the HEPA-filtered dilution tunnel air (http://www.dieselnet.com/papers/0209czerwinski/ ; http://www1.eere.energy.gov/vehiclesandfuels/pdfs/deer_2003/session9/2003_deer_storey.pdf , slide #10). So they already are serving as air filters; how clean do you expect them to get?

    And I’m still waiting for you to provide evidence that gasoline engines don’t emit any particulate matter.

  • wxman

    @ Anonymous #9 – if hybrids don’t produce any particulate matter, how do you explain the soot that collects in their tailpipes? See, e.g., http://www.nrel.gov/vehiclesandfuels/nfti/pdfs/workshop_obj_lawson.pdf , slide #7.

  • ANONYMOUS

    when you buy a new car, and your odeometer is inaccurate,[2003 jetta tdi] it will make you think you are getting better fuel mileage than you actually are. no help from the dealer

  • Jurgen

    @chuck,

    1,3€ for diesel and 1,5€ for gas

  • Anonymous

    vxman: Who told you that gasoline engine doesn’t produce particulates at all? The statement was diesel engines are the main sources of pm emission.

  • wxman

    @ Anonymous – that MAY have been the case before regulations forced DPF on diesels (even then it wasn’t true in the U.S., diesels were a minor source of PM2.5 in the 1970s and 1980s based on monitoring studies; gasoline engines were a larger source by multiple times), it CERTAINLY isn’t true now.

    Direct quote from an article that was posted on THIS SITE (hybridcars.com), not really a pro-diesel, anti-hybrid site…

    “…and is so clean that it acts like a vacuum cleaner actually removing dangerous particles of pollution from the air as you drive down city roads. You ask, “Is the vehicle some sort of new hybrid?” The salesman replies, “No. It’s a diesel!”…” (first paragraph)

    “…And particle emissions coming out of the tailpipe are at or less than ambient….” (first paragraph under subtitle “Excitement When You Hit the Throttle”)

    http://www.hybridcars.com/news/experts-identify-obstacles-clean-diesel-future.html

    Again, diesel engines are so clean with respect to PM2.5 emissions that they’re actually serving as air filters while running, and again I ask, how clean do you expect them to be?

  • Orphancarguy

    I drive both gasoline and diesel cars, and each has their place. My favourite would be a diesel-hybrid, or at least having a BlueMotion or GreenLine diesel from the VW group, like a BlueMotion Polo 4dr. I’m sorry now I didn’t get a diesel Smart. Of cars I’ve tracked for a long time–03 Corolla, 03 Jetta TDI wagon and 04 Subaru Forester AWD, just about 55 litres (ie, 12 Imperial gallons, or 16 US gallons) will take me on the highway without hypermiling or other absurd measures as far as 807 km/501 miles in the Toyota Corolla, 1310 km/813 miles in the Jetta, and 736 km / 457 miles in the Subaru, IF its fueled with mid or premium gasoline, not the regular it supposedly takes. This is driving 80-110 kph / 50-68 mph, cars in good tune and tires topped up, driving quite sensibly.
    A Prius, for example, is just not right for me because I am always carrying too much stuff or towing something (light) and Prius are just not made to be used that way.

    A new 10 VW TDI wagon is in the fleet mix now, and it is cleaner in the tailpipe and to the nose than any gas car I’ve ever driven.

    P.S. CNG/propane cars are just another stop-gap technology because you are STILL burning a fossil fuel and creating greenhouse gases. Only hydrogen is long-range time sensible.

  • Todd Richardson

    Diesel is my choice for my next car. The new EPA standards (actually not-so-new, 2006) hold diesel and gas light duty vechicles to the same emissions standards.

    A hybrid has lower running emissions but the big difference is looking at vehicle and fuel life cycles. Diesel is less energy intensive to produce and since it is more energy dense you need to transport less of it. Diesels do not have the battery banks of a hybrid to contend with, and are mechanically simplier. In the end the net impact of diesel and hybrid about the same.

    And assuming we one day get the production of bio-fuels sorted out, bio-diesel is far easier and less toxic to produce.

    No car is “clean” and the greenest thing you can do is to use your current vehicle as long as possible (while it runs proper of course)

  • Technogeek

    Oh I will get hate mail for this, but…. I have a 10 year old TDI (hate it BTW very unreliable). I drive it 100miles highway commuting, every day it chooses to run. Over that time frame (10 years) I have consistantly attained 61 mpg. I can drive carefully and get 64/65 mpg…imperial mpg that is! I have hypemiled that up to 70 mpg but too much work. I am happy with low 60′s. NOW the bad news. A very close family member bought a 2011 Prius. I love Toyotas for the reliability but it gets now where near the mpg promised on the sticker. On a long trip using the same care I do with my TDI the very best was 59 mpg. not the 70 plus promised by a long shot. I have heard that because of the testing procedures used by the EPA that hybrids usually show higher mpg than they can achieve in the real world…but I have no idea if thats true. What I do know through first hand experience is that my 10 yr old diesel beats the best hybrid soundly. Now don’t start in about special driving techniques for hybrids. We all know most people are never going to grasp those concepts. They want to drive as they always have and get great mileage. Diesel does that for the average Joe. I really wanted to buy a hybrid and a Toyota would have been great but based on this I will buy another diesel. Diesel technology is advancing by leaps and bounds and is a good temporary alternative while we find a long term solution to our addiction to hydrocarbons. And make no mistake we have to end that addiction sooner than later. I’ll be the first in line for a EV or fuel cell or whatever when they become practical for me. They aren’t quite there yet….for me. Let the ranting begin!!

  • wxman

    There are at least two studies which provide support for the perception that the EPA test methodology has a low mpg bias for diesel vehicles.

    One is a study by EPA itself (“Final Technical Support Document
    Fuel Economy Labeling of Motor Vehicle Revisions to Improve Calculation of Fuel Economy Estimates”) in which they admit there was a slight low bias (average of ~4%) for diesel vehicles with their old (1984) test methodology, and that the 2008 revised test methodology would underestimate diesel vehicles’ mileage by about 18%. EPA also acknowledge that their 1984 test methodology overestimated hybrid fuel mileage by an average of about 8 percent, which was a major factor in its decision to revise the mileage test methodology.

    Another more recent study conducted by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and presented at this year’s SAE conference in May 2011 concluded that the current (2008) EPA test methodology underestimates hybrid vehicles’ mileage by about 10% on average, conventional gasoline vehicles by about 20% on average, and diesel vehicles by about 25% on average (Lin, Z., and Greene, D. “Predicting Individual Fuel Economy.” SAE Technical Paper #2011-01-0618, © 2011, Oak Ridge National Laboratory).

  • Dom

    Go diesel!! I really hope other automakers will take note of VW’s success with the TDI and bring their own diesels to the US.

  • Rockinon

    I was interested to note that your speedometer reads about six percent high. My Jetta speedometer, according to my GPS unit, reads from eight to nine percent high.

  • Anonymous

    hybrids are pieces of shit! diesel is the answer and they say clean for the obvious comparison to the old diesel engines being dirty. You would know this if you had any interaction with diesels.

  • tapra1

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  • Anonymous

    Satisfy both sides and come out with a diesel hybrid. Where is the promise from VW that they will come out with one? I am ready for a 70-80 mpg vehicle with enough torque to scoot around.