Will Chevrolet Cruze Diesel Offer VW Real Competition?

For years Volkswagen has had a lock hold on the U.S. diesel passenger car market but General Motors appears poised to chip away at that with its Chevrolet Cruze Diesel.

At a recent media drive even in Michigan, GM’s 2.0-liter diesel was offered without apologies or excuses to compare head-to-head against VW’s venerable Jetta TDI.

Automotive News said “without really trying” its reporter averaged 43 mpg in the Chevrolet, and the car is surprisingly quiet, more powerful, he observed, and priced competitively.

Previous GM diesels in the 1980s were not nearly so effective, but this time around, observers say the new Cruze’s 140 horsepower, 258 pounds feet of torque mated to the top-selling car riding on the Delta II platform may have what it takes.

In fact, the Cruze diesel has already begun to accrue a track record in Europe, where it was developed.

GM says it has sold more than 400,000 diesel-powered cars globally last year, including 35,000 Cruzes.

“The market for diesel cars in the U.S. is small at present, but is expected to grow due to Corporate Average Fuel Economy requirements and expected increases in gas prices,” said Mike Omotoso, powertrain analyst at LMC Automotive. “So far, the German automakers haven’t had any diesel car competition in North America. GM could do well with it, particularly with younger buyers who don’t have the old prejudices against diesel.”

Range from its 15.6-gallon is an estimated 700 miles, the Cruze diesel was recently driven an EPA-beating 900 miles on a single fill-up.

While competitive with VW’s Jetta TDI, the Cruze Diesel’s price is a $5,200 more than the gas-powered eco Cruze at $25,695, and diesel does cost more in the U.S., so in fact these cars face the same impediments to more sales that all diesel cars do.

What’s more, die-hard VW fans may be less easily won over than the dedicated GM reporter for Automotive News, he conceded, saying they are a “different breed,” but new and conquest sales ought to still be attainable for the new oil-burner from Chevrolet.

For its part, GM has been playing up the Cruze’s European pedigree. It was co-developed in Torino, Italy at its highly regarded diesel center.

GM’s Global Powertrain Engineering Development Center in Pontiac, Mich. also modified the engine to meet U.S. requirements for emissions, fuel economy, diagnostics, altitude and cold and hot starts. They also completed dynamometer development and validation in Pontiac, and conducted vehicle calibration at GM’s Milford Proving Ground.

GM notes it has extensively tested the powertrain for noise, vibrtation, and harshness.

“Climatic tests simulate temperatures ranging from -40 degrees Fahrenheit (-40 degrees Celsius) up to (158F) (70C) and altitudes as high as 10,000 feet (3,000 meters),” said GM. “Noise and vibration tests help minimize engine vibro-acoustic response. Chassis dynamometer tests measure emissions.”

In all, GM says it is ready to earn a place in the market.

“We’re able to put the diesel engines through rigorous testing to ensure they operate optimally under a wide range of conditions and also can be integrated seamlessly into the production vehicle,” said Pierpaolo Antonioli, managing director of the Torino Powertrain and Engineering Center. “We’ve pushed these engines in the labs so that the customer can depend on them in real-world driving situations.”