By on May 3, 2013


There probably is no other major car market where oil-burners play less of a role than in Japan. Even diesel-averse Americans buy more. Excitement about brown diesel wagons notwithstanding, diesel-powered cars limp along at around 3 percent market share in America. In Japan, where diesel-powered cars were banned from the streets of Tokyo 14 years ago, and where they carry the onus of being smelly, their market share is below miniature one percent. In both markets, there are hopes for a big diesel turn-around.

In America, most of diesel’s featherweight is carried by Volkswagen which just doesn’t want to understand why diesels won’t sell in European quantities, where every other new car bought is a diesel. In Japan, Mazda bets big on diesel.

Mazda sells diesel versions of the CX-5 SUV in Japan, and also of the Mazda6, called the Atenza in the Nipponese market. Says The Nikkei [sub]:

“Their success encouraged Mazda to also equip its smaller cars with diesel engines. This year the company will add a diesel version of its fully remodeled Axela — sold overseas as the Mazda3 — and in 2014 will offer a diesel version of the fully remodeled Demio. The Axela will initially be equipped with a 2.2-liter diesel engine, but Mazda is developing a 1.5-liter engine that it plans to use for both the Axela and the Demio.”

The Demio is better known outside of Japan as the Mazda2.

Mitsubishi is planning to offer diesel-powered vehicles in Japan. Volvo will release a diesel car this year, and Germany’s Volkswagen plans to introduce a model in or after 2014. In addition, both Daimler and BMW plan to bring more diesel cars to the island nation.

Says the Nikkei:

“By 2014 at least 10 different models of diesel cars will be available, or double the present number. Overall annual sales, stuck below 10,000 units in fiscal 2011, are predicted to balloon to 200,000 to 300,000 units.”

Assuming the Japanese market remain what it was in 2012, this would be a take rate between 5 and 7.5 percent.

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31 Comments on “Japan Develops Oil-Burning Desire. A Bonsai Sized One...”

  • avatar

    The “diesel powered cars have 23% market share in the USA” figure seems very far off from the numbers I remember seeing everywhere else.

    What does it include/exclude?

    • 0 avatar

      Typo. Sorry. Rate is at around 3%

      • 0 avatar

        Do you think it is feasible for the market to expand because there are more options. Or do you think consumers will still be very reluctant?

        • 0 avatar

          Right now we ship some of our refined diesel to Europe and take some of their refined gasoline. This is obviously a waste, but they would need to shift towards gasoline consumption for us to use much more diesel, unless the goal is to raise total crude oil consumption and drive up costs.

        • 0 avatar
          Big Al from Oz

          They figure that at least 10% of the US vehicle market will be diesel by 2020.

          Australia used to be very much like the US with gasoline engines, we love them and still do.

          So I do believe these numbers especially when you can see the number of light diesels have improved by over 28% in the last 2 years.

  • avatar

    I think a diesel cx-5 could be one of those “right cars at the right moment” we’ve talked about. It would get me to look and I’ve never been a diesel fan.

  • avatar

    Japan’s average climate should be perfect for diesels: no worry about -20 deg F such as in Minnesota. But it may still be an upward struggle.
    In America, diesels have had several historic problems that have inhibited sales, many now largely solved or at least ameliorated:
    1) Higher cost of the engine;
    2) Higher cost of diesel fuel;
    3) Diesel engines shake, vibrate, and clatter noisily;
    4) Diesel fuel has an unpleasant odor;
    5) Diesel exhaust is sooty and smelly;
    6) Diesel engines weigh more;
    7) Diesel engines can’t rev as easily for higher-performance cars;
    8) Diesel engines are harder to start in extremely cold weather.

    So, yes, diesels had been getting about 30% better fuel milage per gallon, and do provide a lot more torque at low RPM, but when gas was cheap and V-8’s abounded, it’s not hard to understand why the “take rate” in America was only a few percent. Now, with new variable-valve and direct-injection technologies in turbo 4-cylinder engines, the fuel mileage gap between gasoline and diesel engines is closing. Also, the trend is to make vehicles lighter, and diesel engines are inherently harder to make light-weight for the same power output.


    • 0 avatar
      Big Al from Oz

      Living in the 70s? I suppose you aren’t anti-diesel.

      Do you know that they use diesels in Sweden and Norway and don’t have those problems.

      Have a look at the Porche Cayenne 4.2 V8 diesel. The vehicle weighs 2 300kg and can accelerate to 100kmph in under 6sec. On the highway it’s getting over 30mpg. Not bad I would have thought.

      Soot and all the other negatives? I would do some research on diesels, read information from the 21st century.

  • avatar

    Since a diesel engine is more efficient than gas, and since slow acceleration can be fixed by pairing with a torquey electric motor, why are hybrid cars not diesels? It seems like the more logical engine choice.


    • 0 avatar


    • 0 avatar
      Chicago Dude

      Diesel – heavy, great torque at low RPM, no power at high RPM.
      Electric – heavy, great torque at low RPM, no power at high RPM.
      Gasoline – light, no torque at low ROM, great power at high RPM.

      Why would you want to combine a diesel and an electric motor?

      An electric motor complements a gasoline engine very well – when one falls short, the other is right in its sweet spot.

      • 0 avatar

        Chicago Dude, I understand what you are saying. And I wish I could put into words to explain myself but..I cant…So I will just say that it isnt exactly that simple. Although I have read alot about D/H and G/H. I need someone with more of an engineering background to help me explain it. Any takers BandB.

  • avatar

    I’m super intrigued by the concept of the Mazda 6 diesel. As someone who doesn’t like to fly, but likes to travel, the idea of huge highway range is quite appealing to me. My wife and I briefly checked out one of the new 6’s and thought it was very good looking in person, and had a lovely interior. Lot of vehicles to me on the market right now have one or the other but not both. I’ll definitely take one out on a test drive when they arrive.

  • avatar

    “There probably is no other major car market where oil-burners play less of a role than in Japan. Even diesel-averse Americans buy more.”

    If you separated out the Duramax/Powerstroke/Cummins sales in light-duty pickups, where would that number be?

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    The take rate for diesel cars in Europe is unique. That means there must be something going on other than the intrinsic merit of the diesel engine . . . and there is. Europe subsidizes diesel fuel and diesel engines. That subsidy doesn’t exist in the U.S., Japan or other large automobile markets.

    And, when you think about it and do the math, the idea of putting diesel engines in small cars is really stupid. The fact is that a small to medium sized gasoline–powered car is easily capable of getting 20-30+ mpg. Sure, the diesel betters that, but if you calculate the savings from the incremental improvement between 30 and 40 mpg, they are not much at all.

    OTOH, putting a diesel engine in a big car or an SUV/CUV might make sense . . . but only now are we seeing that. That’s because, in a 5000 lb. SUV that gets maybe 22 mpg on the highway with a gasoline engine, it is possible to get maybe 27-29 mpg with a diesel with no sacrifice in performance. The savings from that incremental improvement are much greater than the savings from an incremental improvement from, say, 32 mpg to 40 mpg.

    And its probably worth mentioning that, even the last generation of diesels with elaborate systems to clean up their exhaust are not that clean in comparison to gasoline engine. And the long-term durability of these engines is completely unknown.

    So, I’m not buying the argument that American or Japanese consumers are stupid because they don’t buy diesels. To the contrary, I would say they are smart (except maybe for the ones who don’t buy diesel Chevy Suburbans).

    • 0 avatar

      Diesel uptake is going on in other markets, other than Europe. New generation diesels are every bit as clean burning as modern gas engines and the elaborate methods used to ensure that cleanliness is not that different to gas engines either.
      You are correct about SUV’s though. I completely agree.

    • 0 avatar
      Big Al from Oz

      @DC Bruce
      WTF? Europeans subsidise diesel? Where did you get that one from.

      Diesels in Europe sell primarily for the cost benefits. If any country has subsidised energy look at the US. How much do the corn growers get per farm? $125 000 to $250 000? How many gallon of ethanol can the average farm produce? What does that equal to per gallon?

      • 0 avatar

        He’s right. Diesel fuel is taxed less than gasoline in most European countries.

      • 0 avatar
        Chicago Dude

        In a sense, yes.

        Today in Germany, diesel is about 16% less expensive than “regular” gasoline.

        Today in America, diesel is about 9% more expensive than “regular” gasoline.

        Do you think that the cost of refining fuel is different in Germany and America? Or perhaps…

        German fuel taxes are much lower for diesel than for gasoline. What’s it like over there in Australia?

        • 0 avatar
          Big Al from Oz

          We pay more for diesel about 20c per litre. Probably a similar difference as in the US.

          DC Bruce stated that diesel is subsidised in Europe. I disagree, diesel in Europe is much more expensive than in the US and Australia, through taxation.

          Diesel might be less taxed, but that isn’t subsidised.

          • 0 avatar

            What he said ^

            In the U.S. even in the highest taxed states, we pay half the price you have in Germany for both Diesel and Gasoline.

            Usually Diesel here is taxed more too as mainly heavy trucks are the majority of diesel powered vehicles and they cause a great proportion of damage to roads.

  • avatar

    I notice that big US cities have less diesel “smell” than some of the big European cities, particularly London. Hong Kong reeks of diesel. Tokyo much less so.

    • 0 avatar
      Brian P

      With modern catalyst and DPF equipped engines, that diesel smell will go away as the older vehicle fleet gets replaced.

      • 0 avatar

        I just turned my company leased 2010 Jetta wagon diesel. It had NO diesel exhaust smell. It ran quietly with the lower compression ratio now being used. It did not get the 45 mpg people think it would get – more like 40-42 mpg. But the torque was stupendous, made mountain driving a pleasure…and city driving was great too. I loved the darn thing but it was a bit too small for my needs. A Mazda 6 diesel wagon might really get my attention in three years when my current lease is up.

  • avatar

    I did not know that Japan was so against diesels but I guess that Japan and the USA, because they both have little exposure to diesels, have not been aware of the revolution in diesel technology over the last 15 years or so. Clean, quiet, super economical, reliable and with unbelievable torque. This new generation of diesels for small to mid-sized cars are the reason why the entire world has been sitting up and paying attention. As everyone understands the “vote with your wallet” mentality, sales figures are telling.

  • avatar

    As someone who drives a JDM diesel, and spends way too much time browsing auction sites for other JDM diesels, there must have been a big change in the last 15 years, because the selection from 1998 and older is vast and varied.

  • avatar

    We’d like a CX-5 diesel to be our next family vehicle (assuming the Mazda6 diesel wagon never makes it to the USA, which is a safe bet), as we intend on keeping it for the next 10 – 15 years.

  • avatar

    The only new car my father owned was a 1955 Mercedes 180D he picked up at the factory while stationed in Berlin with the US Army. To hear my mother tell the tales, finding fuel in the States after his return was a real experience.
    I can’t afford a MB or BMW. I would love to own a small diesel econobox. I frequently go on several-hundred mile drives. The problem is that as far as I know, my options in the US are limited to Volkswagen. Their spotty reliability and the negative experiences with their service department expressed by members of this site, and of Volkswagen-centered sites doesn’t encourage me in that direction. Having a High-Pressure Fuel Pump fail off the beaten track in west-Texas or rural Oklahoma would be unpleasant.
    Apparently the other options (CX-5 above) are not much better.

  • avatar

    Diesels have alot of hidden quirky issues – its not just that they don’t do great in cold weather. But they don’t produce alot of heat – so your car doesn’t warm up fast when its cold.

    People claim the engines have alot of torque – but its an extremely narrow power band compared to a big gas engine or an even a modern turbo charged gas engine.

    Compare the power output of a 320d with a 328i (BWM) Both use 2.0l engines but the gas one is far more flexible coming on powerwise a touch earlier but producing power at a much wider range of RPM (the gasoline one). If you look at the dyno the gasoline engine is clearly better.

    Electrics will still produce power at high RPMs – its just that its way down. At about 6k they start producing so much less torque that power output falls. Even so they can function just fine driving round in the equivalent of 2nd gear all the time. Though the top speed suffers of course.

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