US Diesel Market To Double By Next Year

Estimates vary – and some sources may have a conflict of interest – but generally agreed is diesel sales and the number of models are predicted to be very much on the rise.

With the advent of “clean diesel” technology, Nissan, Chevrolet and Mazda are among the names to add to a growing U.S. market following a preference long-since established in Europe, which has the deck stacked even more in favor of diesel technology.

But the U.S. is playing catch-up.

“This year, the number of diesels will be doubled,” said Andreas Sambal, North American director of marketing for Bosch’s diesel systems division in an interview with The Detroit Bureau. “By the end of the 2014 model-year there will be 40 diesels on the market and this will give consumers a lot more choice.”

Sambal’s estimate includes trucks as well as passenger cars, and both segments have seen new models.

Chevrolet has already been in process of marketing its Cruze diesel, Mazda will be the first Japanese maker to put a modern clean diesel in a U.S. market passenger car – it’s Mazda6 – and on Tuesday this week, Nissan announced a 5.0-liter Cummins V8 slated for its Titan full-sized pickup.

(NOTE: Prior to Nissan’s news release, the Wall Street Journal reported the Cummins would be a four-cylinder, which we in turn reported and have since corrected.)

Issues

Diesel fuel still costs more due to higher fuel taxes and other market forces, but a study by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI) pointed out advantages including that a VW Jetta can save an owner $3,000 over a three-year period, and a Mercedes-Benz GL costs about $15,600 than a gas version.

In an Audi sponsored forum, Bruce Belzowski, assistant research chief for UMTRI noted a roughly 30-percent mileage increase afforded by diesel and he went so far as to say “almost all” diesels “have a positive total cost of ownership” even if their purchase price is higher.

To date, diesel engines still trail far behind gas-powered engines in sales, having fallen from favor with U.S. buyers in the 1980s after GM and other diesel engines proved untrustworthy to consumers.

The new breed now is far more reliable in winter, say their manufacturers, and emissions technology and other advancements have largely scrubbed the heavy diesel odor and attendant clattering noise characteristic to diesel engines.

Turbo diesel engines also tend not to be worked as hard, are robustly made to handle high combustion pressures, and longevity is a characteristic boasted of by some proponents as well.

During the first seven months of this year, U.S. car and truck diesel sales increased 24 percent, but they yet account for only 3 percent of the market – and “clean diesel” cars tracked by the HybridCars.com Dashboard only account for 1.0 percent of the U.S. market.

As for the total car and truck diesel market, Bosch offers an admittedly “bullish” projection that U.S. sales will climb to 10 percent by 2018.

Other, more conservative estimates say the U.S. market share could rise to 8 percent or higher.

What does this mean for electrified vehicles? Who knows? Policymakers and auto manufacturers and other so-called “stakeholders” have grown fond of repeating an “all-of-the-above” approach to finding transportation solutions will be needed.

European manufacturers such as Volvo have married inherent advantages offered by diesel to an electric motor assisted hybrid to create what many hybrid advocates have said could be a more elegant solution than a gas-electric hybrid. Could acceptance of diesel lead to diesel hybrids in the U.S.?

What ever the case, as an established technology offering unique pros and cons, it appears diesel has room to grow, this much is certain.

If the market does open further as predicted, this is in turn expected to help overcome a “chicken and egg” problem facing diesels in America, and, it is hoped, could create a virtuous cycle enabling even more to come.

Detroit Bureau