Following the Volkswagen emissions scandal, there’s been speculation that diesel cars might be facing a tough future across the pond
23 May 2016

This won’t be a great year for US diesel sales.

Last year Volkswagen, Audi and Porsche together had a 75% share of the diesel car and SUV market in the US, but many models have been taken off sale in the wake of the emissions test rigging revelations. In addition, the low price of oil continues to make fuel efficiency a harder sell, with hybrids’ market share also falling. As a result, the Diesel Technology Forum (DTF), which promotes diesel’s interests in the US on behalf of vehicle manufacturers, component suppliers and fuel producers, expects diesel’s US market share this year to drop below the 3% seen in recent years.

In the longer term, however, a different picture is expected to emerge. In fact, according to estimates from both the DTF and Honeywell, a major supplier of turbos to diesel engines, diesel’s US market share could double in the next five years, to around 6%. A rise in fuel prices, especially for the premium petrol that increasing numbers of cars require, could be one factor, but there are other reasons why this might happen.

Light-duty trucks – a category that in the US includes pick-ups, SUVs, crossovers and MPVs – account for more than 55% of the US light vehicle market. More important, ‘truck’ sales are rising as car sales are falling, with the crossover segment in particular exhibiting strong growth. As in Europe, where crossovers and SUVs have eaten into the sales of conventional saloons and hatches, no one expects this trend to reverse any time soon.

Audi developed 'dieselgate' software in 1999

Meanwhile, US fuel economy and emissions standards are tightening. New corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) regulations will see the fleet average economy figure increase to 54.5mpg (US) by 2025, representing roughly a 40% improvement on today’s level. Over the same period, the new Tier 3 emissions standards demand a roughly two-thirds cut in particulate matter and the combination of non-methane organic gases and nitrogen oxides (NMOG+NOx).

“Crossovers and SUVs are where the action is and will be in the future,” says Allen Schaeffer, executive director of the DTF. “If that’s the case, some vehicles are going to be of a size and shape that makes compliance with future CAFE standards difficult without a lot of compromises. Diesel is attractive because it enables you to maintain the balance of vehicle size, performance and fuel economy better than you might be able to by continuing to tweak gasoline.”

Diesel, then, is shaping up to be part of the solution for car makers with tough regulatory targets to meet and for consumers who want upsized vehicles without downsized performance. Industry analyst IHS Automotive expects diesel’s share of the truck market to hit 7% by 2022, driven primarily by sales of diesel SUVs.

The market is already changing. The Jeep Grand Cherokee EcoDiesel and Ram 1500 HFE (High Fuel Efficiency) come with a version of the VM Motori 3.0-litre V6 that’s also used by Maserati. The Ram alone accounted for an astonishing 63% of all diesel vehicles sold in the US last year. Its maker says buyers like the torque-to-economy ratio; depending on the specification, 15-18% of all 1500s sold are now diesel-powered.

US buyers of heavy-duty pick-ups have long recognised the advantages that diesel can bring. Until recently, theRam EcoDiesel was unique in its segment, but its success is hard to ignore and other car makers are getting in on the act. In the smaller pick-up market, diesel versions of GM’s Chevrolet Colorado/GMC Canyon, which were launched late last year, are selling fast. A recent increase in production means that 10% of Colorados built are now powered by a 2.8-litre Duramax.

GM sees Volkswagen’s troubles as an opportunity to increase sales of diesel cars (a 1.6-litre Chevrolet Cruze diesel will join the line-up early next year) and is keen to ensure that not all diesels are tarred with the same brush.

“‘Diesels are bad’ is the wrong conclusion to take away,” says Dan Nicholson, GM’s head of global propulsion systems. “North America is never going to be like Europe, with a 50% share for diesels, but there is room to grow.”

Encouragingly for GM and other manufacturers looking to lure disenchanted Volkswagen diesel buyers, research conducted by the DTF suggests that US consumers have identified the emissions scandal as a Volkswagen company problem, not a problem with diesel technology itself. Car makers having to restate their US fuel economy labels is nothing new, either; Hyundai-Kia was fined $300 million in 2014 for overstating its fuel economy claims, for example.

The DTF believes that up to 24 new diesel vehicles could be introduced in the US in the next year, including five new diesel cars, 12 SUVs and seven pick-ups. History suggests that greater consumer choice alone will lead to rising diesel sales, particularly if one of the new models is the Ford F-150 pick-up. Ford won’t confirm reports that a 3.0-litre V6 diesel version of the US and Canada’s best-selling vehicle could be on sale before the year is out, but if it comes, talk of a doubling of diesel’s US market share in five years looks much more realistic.

Graham Heeps

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Comments
9

23 May 2016
This reads as though it's straight from the DTFs latest promotional material. A shameless plug for diseasel.

23 May 2016
It seems a crime to ignore the diesel engine's inherent efficiency and torque superiority just because it's difficult to control certain toxic emissions. And few are complaining about the universal use of diesel in road transport, shipping and agriculture. The challenge surely is to make diesel acceptably clean so that we can enjoy its benefits. Remember it's only a few decades ago that petrol was the great polluter with dangerous levels of lead and carbon monoxide emissions. We didn't ban the fuel then, just got on and solved the problems.

23 May 2016
LP in Brighton wrote:

It seems a crime to ignore the diesel engine's inherent efficiency and torque superiority just because it's difficult to control certain toxic emissions.

As opposed to the more commonly held belief that killing people with lethal gases and particulates such as NOx, arsenic and formaldehyde is a crime?

While we're at it, lets put lead back in petrol as that makes it cheaper to produce, and it also costs money to remove the sulfur that destroyed the Scandinavian forests so maybe we should put that back too?

Given your fervour for utilising the benefits of power sources regardless of the associated issues, perhaps we should bury the waste from Dungeness B in your back garden as that would make it much cheaper to run. After all, it would be a crime to ignore the cost and efficiency of fusion power just because of a slight issue with the waste products.

And no - I'm not an obsessed diesel hater as I had one for several years - steered in that direction by the tax disc and congestion charges being linked to C02 emissions - until the broader picture of the harm that they do became clear.

27 May 2016
Asaka wrote:
LP in Brighton wrote:

It seems a crime to ignore the diesel engine's inherent efficiency and torque superiority just because it's difficult to control certain toxic emissions.

As opposed to the more commonly held belief that killing people with lethal gases and particulates such as NOx, arsenic and formaldehyde is a crime?

While we're at it, lets put lead back in petrol as that makes it cheaper to produce, and it also costs money to remove the sulfur that destroyed the Scandinavian forests so maybe we should put that back too?

Given your fervour for utilising the benefits of power sources regardless of the associated issues, perhaps we should bury the waste from Dungeness B in your back garden as that would make it much cheaper to run. After all, it would be a crime to ignore the cost and efficiency of fusion power just because of a slight issue with the waste products.

And no - I'm not an obsessed diesel hater as I had one for several years - steered in that direction by the tax disc and congestion charges being linked to C02 emissions - until the broader picture of the harm that they do became clear.

Wouldn't you argue that you're just being steered by 'reports' on health issues in the same way that you were steered by the government towards diesel? I agree with LP - the benefits can't be ignored, but neither can the health issues. The challenge IS to improve on the negatives; not just get rid of it completely.


"Work hard and be nice to people"

23 May 2016
LP in Brighton wrote:

just because it's difficult to control certain toxic emissions.

Those emissions you refer to are lethal, you ignoramus. Furthermore, the people who receive the biggest dose of carcinogenic particulate matter and noxious gases are the vehicle occupants; I don't care about you but I care about all the other sane people who you are killing. The levels of lung cancer in those who have never smoked is increasing at a truly staggering rate - the growth curve matches diesel car sales.

The Americans are much too sensible to drive diesels. They sound like tractors, are slow, have engine sizes near double that of the petrol for comparable horse-power, and they kill you.

There's a real reason why countries like USA, Japan don't do diesel.

23 May 2016
The major difference in the US is that diesel engines are not popular in family sedans and conventional passenger cars -they see a turbocharged 4-cylinder gas engine as the 'economy' choice. In the pickup/truck market (although 'truck' can include SUVs) it is very different, as alluded to here. Expect to see the ubiquitous F-150 with Jaguar-Landrover's V6 diesel very soon, as trucks do not have such strict emission requirements.

23 May 2016
Always thought that diesels made sense for large, heavy US trucks and SUVs which cover long distances – unlike the majority of diesel vehicles in use in Europe.

Interestingly, the head of VW UK mentioned a couple of weeks ago at a Future of the Car summit in London that UK diesel sales in the VW Group were already starting to slide before the emissions saga kicked off, and was quite negative about diesel's future in the UK and Europe.

23 May 2016
Diesel really is only going to be popular for trucks in the States with some diehard fans of Mercedes being the exception. The tree-huggers who buy a car for fuel consumption already had the "diesel is bad" diatribe drilled in on the regular even before the VW scandal broke and have clung to their Prius or, if they have money, a Tesla with power coming from a coal-fired electric plant near them as they have successfully prevented a nuclear power plant being built near them. The monster torque properties of diesel pick ups finds friends in those that haul heavy things or those who like to brag about large numbers. That the Ram's engine comes from a company (now owned by Nissan) that also makes engines for lorries adds to the appeal.

27 May 2016
Diesel will get slaughtered by electrification.

Complying with stricter emissions and retaining performance is crazily hard and expensive (and add to maintenance hassle).

It would still be not enough. So car makers will turn to electrifying their engines.

First things this improve is instantaneous torque. Diesel's have torque? Ha. Electric motors have torque. Complying with various emissions standards and immensely improving fuel economy in city and highway (if its plug-in 'cause electricity is at least three times cheaper!).

Diesel's will get slaughtered. Don't see how companies will invest in new designs when too strict standards loom over horizon.

We will of course see designs that are already paid for and in pipeline.

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