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Diesel Backers Gambling With Pump Shock

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Auto makers are banking on diesel's qualities to trump consumer reaction to seeing diesel fuel priced at $4-something a gallon while gasoline costs 50 cents a gallon less.

Got diesel?

 Another question: How much deeper into your pocket do you want to dig to fill up the oil-burner you replaced your gasoline-drinker with? 

According to the U.S. Energy Information Admin.'s "Gasoline and Diesel Fuel Update," the nationwide average price of a gallon of regular gas on Feb. 4 was $3.54. The nationwide diesel average: $4.02. The difference of 48 cents a gallon means a 16-gallon diesel fill-up would set you back an extra $7.68.  

Is that difference worth skipping a splurge at Starbucks or lunch at Wendy's? Your call. 

The Environmental Protection Agency rates the '13 Volkswagen Passat and its 2.0L, 4-cyl. diesel yoked to a 6-speed manual at 31 mpg (7.6 L/100 km) city, 43 mpg (5.5 L/100 km) highway, 35 mpg (6.7 L/100 km) combined. More than 20 other '12 and '13 models, most of them VWs with two Audi A3 variants thrown in, are rated at 32 mpg (7.3 L/100 km) combined or better.

Good, but not as good as electric vehicles and most hybrids and on par with increasing numbers of gasoline models.

It's much the same case with emissions. For all their advances in cleanliness, diesels easily are outclassed by EVs and hybrids, and conventional gasoline engines are pumping out less carbon dioxide these days, as well.

As far as initial outlay, available diesels are competitive with their gasoline and hybrid rivals and generally less expensive than EVs. A base '13 Volkswagen Jetta with a 2.0L, 4-cyl. diesel can be had for $23,000 or thereabouts, while a loaded VW Beetle or Golf with substantially the same mill goes for a bit less than $30,000.

It’s range, torque and the fun-to-drive factor that gives diesels a clear advantage.

The VW Jetta can travel more 600 miles (966 km) on a single tank of diesel, while the Passat can cover nearly 800 miles (1,290 km) with its larger tank. By delivering far more torque at much lower rpm than comparable gasoline engines, diesels provide the low-end pep of a much-larger gasoline mill. That makes diesels more fun and confidence-inspiring when passing or accelerating onto the expressway than most hybrids with similar fuel economy.  

Auto makers are banking on these qualities to trump consumer reaction to passing a filling station selling diesel fuel for upwards of $4 a gallon while gasoline costs 50 cents a gallon less _ 70 cents in the Rocky Mountain region, according to the federal price-trackers.

And while easier to find than a plug for an EV, diesel fuel currently is available only at about half of the 180,000 U.S. filling stations.

Undaunted, General Motors joined the diesel parade at last week's Chicago auto show, unveiling a turbocharged 4-cyl. Chevrolet Cruze with some attractive numbers: a base price of $26,595, EPA-estimated peak highway fuel economy of 42 mpg (5.6L /100 km) and a segment-leading 148 hp and 258 lb.-ft. (350 Nm) of torque at 2,000 rpm. 

Nice price, impressive specs, fun to drive. But ... it's still a Cruze. An image makeover may be called for.

Audi, meanwhile, is rolling out diesel versions of the A6, A7, A8 and Q5 joining the A3 TDI 5-door compact and Q7 TDI cross/utility vehicle this fall. The A3 is priced roughly in the middle of the pack at $30,000 but the Q7 fetches $52,000, making the cost of diesel fuel less of a deal-breaker for many buyers.  

In fact, diesels are very popular on pricey German luxury cross/utility vehicles such as the BMW X5, Mercedes ML and Audi Q7, showing diesels no longer are just for contractors with pickup trucks.  

Auto makers are more than doubling the number of diesel-powered light vehicles in the U.S. market this year, jumping from 20 to 42. Chrysler is planning an oil-burning Jeep Grand Cherokee, and Mazda will introduce a diesel Mazda6 model this fall for ’14.

Andreas Sambel, director-diesel marketing for Bosch Automotive, tells WardsAuto 54 oil-burners will be available in the U.S. by 2017, adding, “And by 2018, diesels will account for 10% of the market.” 

Competitive in pricing, fuel efficiency and cleanliness, it's not hard to understand the diesel trend.

But as Adam Smith put it, “Man is an animal that makes bargains.” Unless auto makers can lure consumers to the diesel pump when current prices make it counterintuitive to do so, they may have some tough bargaining ahead.     

Discuss this Blog Entry 4

on Feb 12, 2013

"Nice price, impressive specs, fun to drive. But ... it's still a Cruze. An image makeover may be called for."

That's pointless snobbery. The car actually looks pretty good. The opinions of automotive writers are suspect at best sometimes. At least half the time it's like talking to a sixteen year old boy. The best thing they could do for that car, is to make the interior more like a 2001 Subaru Forester. That would mean it has descent feeling material, a less obstructive dash and center console and a look that doesn't try to make the car into something that it is not.

on Feb 12, 2013

When both gas and diesel are over $4 or $5 per gallon, the payback period on the diesel powertrain will be very quick and the better fuel economy will pay for itself compared to it's gasoline powertrain equivalents.

on Feb 13, 2013

Jef von Q, as an auto writer I resent you saying I'm like a 16-year-old boy when I talk about cars. I believe I'm at least at the 18- or 19-year old level.

on Feb 20, 2013

RUL & Diesel were the same price this morning in the west 'burbs of Chicago after a few weeks of D2 being more expensive. It doesn't matter to those of us who appreciate and enjoy driving an oil burner for the reasons given in the article, its all about torque. I look forward to the new Cruze Diesel and will test drive one ASAP. If you cant get excited like a 16 year old boy about cars its time to take up a new hobby.

PS - I also drive a Cosworth Twin Cam Vega! So who is acting like a 16, 17 or 18 year old now?

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