Volkswagen’s Cheating Illustrates Elusiveness of Building An Affordable Diesel Car

Following the realization that Volkswagen was achieving emission requirements only by using a defeat device, some in the automotive industry are wondering how promising it is for carmakers to produce affordable diesel-powered cars.

Part of the reason it’s difficult to make a profit on diesel cars in the U.S., said Mark Wakefield, automotive managing director for consulting firm AlixPartners, are the stringent federal regulations.

“The EPA goes after soot and smog more aggressively than regulators in Europe,” he said.

According to Wakefield, the U.S. rules for diesel emissions are 40 percent stricter than in Europe. For carmakers, meeting these high emission requirements means expensive systems that lower profits.

Looking at the models of diesel cars currently in the U.S. market, few are priced under $30,000, a price range formerly dominated by Volkswagen’s diesel fleet. The base price of a 2015 Chevrolet Cruze with a 1.8-liter gasoline engine, for example, starts at $16,995. Upgrading this compact to a 2.0 liter turbocharged diesel engine adds $9,490 to the price (pictured above).

SEE ALSO: Volkswagen 3.0L V6 Diesel Also Has Defeat Device

Beyond the Cruze Diesel, pricier diesel models are also available from BMW, Audi and Mercedes. But this may change soon, with Mazda working on developing its SKYACTIV-D diesel engine. As a 2.2-liter twin turbo, Mazda says the engine “sips fuel like a hybrid, runs as clean as a gasoline engine and performs like a beast.”

“We are trying to make the combustion cleaner so that there is less work cleaning it up,” said Mazda engineer Dave Coleman.

But challenges in balancing the performance with clean emissions have led Mazda to postpone the diesel’s launch from its initial 2013 date. Mazda is still working on the engine, but doesn’t know when it may be ready for market.

“Given the program is a number of years of delayed already, we are not speculating,” said Jeremy Barnes, a representative for Mazda. “It is most important to get it right.”


Los Angeles Times