Despite uproar created by the diesel emissions cheating scandal at Volkswagen, Ford and General Motors are poised to offer new or revamped diesel vehicles to their American customers.
It is a bold move, since only 255 diesel cars were sold in the US market in January, compared to the 5,000 to 10,000 a month rate for most of 2015 — before the VW scandal broke.
GM sold just 1,400 Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon compact pickup trucks with small diesel engines in 2016. That represented less than one percent of the trucks GM sold in this segment.
But even as automakers turn increasingly to electric and hybrid engines to meet demand for cleaner cars, and more importantly to meet government efficiency standards, diesel remains an option.
Diesel still produces better mileage than gasoline engines, so it can bolster the fleet-wide fuel economy average, which is critical to meeting US regulatory requirements.
Ford is planning to launch a diesel version of its popular F-150 pickup truck, while GM has two diesel SUV models in the works, and even Mazda is adding a diesel SUV.
GM and Ford sell large diesel engines in heavy-duty pick-up trucks widely used in construction, oil drilling and on farms and ranches in the United States, but American consumers have been skittish about buying diesel models for daily use because they cost more and the fuel is more expensive.
Stephanie Brinley, an analyst with IHS Automotive said selling diesel to American consumers was difficult even before the Volkswagen scandal made headlines.
“There just isn’t a lot of demand,” she said.
VW has had to pay more than $20 billion in fines and buybacks since it admitted in 2015 to outfitting 11 million diesel cars worldwide with software designed to cheat emissions testing, a scandal that has shook the company to its core.
Fiat Chrysler also now faces potentially heavy fines because of similar concerns over the diesel Jeep utility vehicles and Ram pickup trucks.
But Joseph Phillippi, owner of AutoTrends Consulting, said the new diesel-powered vehicles will find buyers looking for power and better miles per gallon.
“I don’t see any reason why diesel can’t mount a comeback of sorts,” he told AFP. “Diesel fans looking for torque and mpg, not overly concerned about prior sins, will still want what diesel can offer.”
– Old favorites in diesel –
Ford is preparing to offer a 3.0-liter diesel engine as an option in the popular F-150 pickup truck when the 2018 version rolls out next fall.
Todd Eckert, marketing manager for the F-150, said the automaker has a long-history of innovation with this vehicle.
“It’s all about continuous improvement,” Eckert said.
The pickup’s diesel engine will be built at the Ford factory in Dagenham, England and will make the truck more efficient, said Jerry Farrell, the chief engineer for the F-150.
Exact fuel economy numbers for the new model are not available yet.
General Motors plans to begin offering a diesel engine in the new versions of the Chevrolet Equinox and GMC Terrain, both compact sport utility vehicles due out this summer.
Customers will be able to choose from three engine options, including a 1.5- and 2.0-liter turbo — matched with GM’s first nine-speed automatic transmission — and the European-built 1.6-liter turbo-diesel, which is expected to achieve 40 mpg when the numbers are finished, said Dan Nicholson, vice president of GM’s Global Propulsion Systems.
“With three choices, customers can select an engine that offers more of the attributes that are important to them: efficiency, performance and capability,” Nicholson said.
And Mazda will become the first Asian automaker to offer a diesel to US customers, when it introduces the CX-5 SUV with the SkyActive 2.2-liter clean diesel, beginning in the second half of 2017.
“We’re confident this engine offers a smart new option for North American drivers who want both performance and fuel economy,” Akira Marumoto, Mazda’s executive vice president, said recently.
It provides a torque-rich driving experience, and will make the CX-5 one of the most fuel-efficient vehicles in its class, Marumoto said.
The engine also will use proprietary technologies that reduce diesel knock sound for a quieter ride, he said.
Mazda was preparing to bring a diesel engine to North America more than three years ago but has delayed the introduction several times because the company’s engineers were not satisfied with the engine’s performance, Mazda’s director of communications Jeremy Barnes said.