Automotive analysts – including this one – have been predicting a comeback for diesel cars in the United States for several years. Demand in the United States has indeed been steadily rising in recent years. According to the HybridCars Dashboard, sales rose from just over 58,000 in 2009 to 125,522 in 2012, a compound annual growth rate of 29%. Despite these rising sales, though, diesel’s share of total passenger car sales has persistently remained well below 1%. In 2010, diesels captured 0.7% of U.S. passenger car sales, while in 2012, diesels captured 0.87%. So why the hype over clean diesels in the United States?
First, the reality is that all alternatives to conventional gasoline cars are but a tiny portion of the total U.S. car market. Hybrids are selling around 3 times the number of diesel cars – which means that, more than 15 years after the Prius was introduced, hybrids still only capture 3% of the market. Plug-in vehicles are receiving a huge amount of attention, as they represent the potential to be a disruptive technology. However, while we’ve seen a significant uptick in sales in the United States, from roughly 18,000 in 2011 to 53,000 in 2012, PEVs are an even smaller percentage of the U.S. car market than diesels.
Annual Sales of Clean Diesel and Hybrid Passenger Cars, United States: 2009-2012
(Source: HybridCars Dashboard)
Second, as has been discussed in this blog, automakers must come up with an array of fuel-efficient options to meet the stringent federal Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards for 2017 and beyond. While automakers will primarily focus on modifications to conventional gas cars, diesels may well appeal to a different demographic than small, fuel-efficient gas cars. The diesel Chevrolet Cruze, to be introduced for model year 2014, offers an example. The diesel Cruze gets 42 mpg on the highway. While this is the same highway mpg as the gasoline-powered Chevrolet Cruze Eco, the Eco is equipped with a manual transmission, and U.S. drivers are not big fans of manual transmissions.
Volkswagen (VW) just released the results of a survey that found that the likely clean diesel customer is also different from the average hybrid customer. VW’s survey indicated that, while both groups are concerned with fuel efficiency, diesel buyers tend to be more concerned about torque and acceleration, while the hybrid drivers are more motivated by the car’s eco-friendliness. These results suggest that the soon-to-be-introduced hybrid Jetta will not compete with the diesel Jetta – the best-selling diesel in the United States – but will expand VW’s appeal to a different type of efficiency-conscious consumer. This survey will be heartening to automakers as they marshal a combination of diesel, hybrid, start-stop, plug-in technology, and other options to meet the CAFE standards.
Tags: Alternative Fuel Vehicles, Clean Transportation, Diesel Vehicles, Smart Transportation Program
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