What is your projection for diesel engines in the U.S. by 2020 or 2025?
(Submitted at the WardsAuto Outlook Conference, March 11, 2014.)
Based on forecast production in North America, we expect diesel penetration for cars and light trucks to rise from 4.2% last year to 5.3%. Including imports, I would say by 2020, roughly 5.5% of new-vehicles sales will be with diesel. The growth is nearly all in trucks. My guess is that after 2020, diesel will be flat at best. I think gasoline engines will continue to become more efficient, and if fuel prices rise, that will enhance gas-electric hybrid and electric-only sales (at least for cars and cross/utility vehicles).
It's also useful to chart the recent growth of diesels in the U.S., from 2.7% of U.S. light vehicles in '10. That pace suggests there is demand for diesels here. Drive one, and it becomes clear why. Energy density of diesel fuel is higher than gasoline at the pump, and the unique combustion process results in more low-end torque. Stepping on the accelerator is like getting a kick in the pants. Point is, driving enthusiasts take to diesels, especially if they have long commutes and pay attention to fuel economy. For the foreseeable future, I think diesels will be more enjoyable to drive than hybrids, while being competitive in fuel economy. Sure, diesels are more expensive, but so are hybrids. Seems the biggest hurdle facing diesels could be regulatory.
Right now I'm optimistic about diesels because new products such as the 3.0L V-6 in the RAM and the 2.0L in the Chevy Cruze are so good. I think a key metric to watch is residual values on diesel-powered vehicles. If the used-vehicle market sees extra value in diesels, they may do better than expected in the the long haul, so to speak.
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