It’s a phenomenon with some precedent: import manufacturers will get nowhere with a certain bodystyle or drivetrain until one of the US domestic brands jumps on the bandwagon and popularizes it. And Jeff Breneman, executive director of the U.S. Coalition for Advanced Diesel Cars, is hoping the same dynamic plays out in the world of diesel power when Chevy brings its Cruze Diesel to the US. He tells WardsAuto
The fact that Chevy will offer a diesel Cruze in 2013 is huge. The gas-powered Cruze will get 40 mpg (5.9 L/100 km), so the diesel is expected to get 50 mpg-plus (4.7 L/100 km), and that will make it a game-changer.
Ford, Toyota or Honda haven’t got a diesel for the U.S. yet, but get ready for 2013-2014. That’s when we’re going to see a lot more diesels.
And, as the diesel booster-in-chief, it’s not surprising that Breneman would come to that conclusion. But what are folks inside GM saying about the Cruze diesel? In a recent interview with TTAC, senior advisor Bob Lutz suggested that we shouldn’t expect the Cruze diesel to conquer America or “change the game” all that much.
Our conversation had turned to emissions regulation, and Lutz had just mentioned that Europeans “cheerfully” pay the equivalent of nearly $40k for a Cruze LTZ with a diesel engine. Since he brought up the Cruze diesel, I asked if he had any insight into the decision to bring it to the US. He answered.
Yeah, it’s almost impossible. We’ll do some because we’ve got them in Europe anyway, and we’ll make them compliant and GM will sell a few just to show that we’re part of the game. But I don’t think anyone sees much of a future for diesels in the states because our emissions regulations are six times tougher than Euro 5, and multiple times tougher than Euro 6, which nobody even knows how to do yet. The companies that are selling diesels in the United States, last time I checked which was over a year ago, are all operating on EPA deviations. So nobody meets even current diesel emissions standards. The EPA renews the deviations on an annual basis, but they’re not supposed to renew for more than three years.
It’s just so tough. You need the urea tank and everything, and in order to do the post-combustion NoX reduction in the catalyst, you have to deviate fuel to the catalyst because every two minutes a burn takes place to fry all the oxides of nitrogen and particulates. Well, that reduces the diesel advantage. So now you’re talking $2,500 of hardware and a big urea tank, and instead of a 30% gain in fuel economy, you’re looking more like 18% or 20% and you’re using a fuel that costs 18-20% more per gallon than gasoline. You tell me how this makes sense.
I mean, it’s cool. Owners of Volkswagon diesels love to go around saying [affects a voice dripping with self-satisfaction] “I have a turbodiesel,” and everyone says “wow.” But Ford canceled their passenger car diesel program, they canceled their midsized SUV diesel program, we canceled ours, we canceled passenger car diesels for the US. We were at one point talking to Honda to see if we could collaborate jointly on, say, a two-liter diesel for passenger cars, and we both came to the conclusion that it wasn’t worth the trip. They were hopeful (and frankly so were we) that with all they know about engine and emissions that they would be able to somehow conquer this emissions conundrum… they gave up. So all the major producers gave up on diesels for the US.
Now, I don’t understand US and EU emissions regulations well enough to fact-check some of Lutz’s technical claims, but his deep pessimism can best be captured by his modest ambitions for the Cruze diesel. Lutz rarely misses an opportunity to praise a GM product, so his “we’ll sell a few just to show that we’re part of the game” line seems quite revealing. Unless things change fundamentally between now and its launch, I wouldn’t expect the Cruze diesel to blow the lid off the diesel market in the US.