It may come as a shock, but diesel cars are doing well outside of their traditional European home. The just-released Mazda CX-5 shows that diesels are selling beyond expectations in Japan, but the real story is that we might be seeing the start of a golden era for diesel-powered cars in the U.S. In fact, clean diesel sales were up 35 percent in the first quarter of 2012 over Q1 2011, a trend – and it is a trend, since diesel sales were up 27 percent in 2011 – that the Diesel Technology Forum (DTF) says is due to higher fuel prices pushing people into the efficient oil-burners.
Allen Schaeffer, DTF's executive director, said in a statement that, "I expect clean diesel auto sales to increase further as several new diesel cars are introduced in the U.S. market in the next year."
Once those other vehicles arrive, we'll see how the market shakes out. Right now, it's pretty much all Jetta TDI, all the time. A while back, we spoke with Lars Ullrich, the director of marketing and business excellence, diesel systems North America, for Robert Bosch LLC. He told us that diesel Jettas made up 44 percent of all diesels sold in the U.S. last year, which makes the Jetta sort of the Prius of diesels in America. Last year, Volkswagen had 58 percent of all diesel sales in the U.S.
Right now, it's pretty much all Jetta TDI, all the time.
Does this mean the Jetta TDI is "the" diesel in the U.S.? Ullrich said it depends on how you look at the numbers. About 60 percent of all Audi A3s sold in the U.S. in 2011, for example, were diesel, but the A3 sells in smaller numbers overall than the Jetta. When you have diesels available in high-volume models, he said, you end up selling a lot of diesels.
What does the big picture look like? Overall, diesel-powered passenger cars and medium-duty pick-ups had around three percent market share in the U.S. in 2011. That may not sound like a lot, but compare it to the hybrid market share, which has gone from 2.7 to 2.4 to 2.1 percent over the last three years, Ullrich said. Today, there are 25 clean diesel models available in the U.S. By 2014, that number will double, he said, which gives us an indication of where the market is moving. Echoing Schaeffer, Bosch's prediction is that the U.S. will see diesels grab 10 percent of the market by 2015.
Diesel-powered passenger cars and medium-duty pick-ups had around three percent market share in the U.S. in 2011.
While increasingly popular, diesels are not perfect. There are issues like the $32-a-gallon urea liquid, for example, and a fossil fuel is a fossil fuel. But it's clear that Americans are considering diesel more than they used to. The question is what happens when the diesel Chevrolet Cruze and Jeep Grand Cherokee arrive? Or more of Mazda's Skyactiv-D models? And, further down the line, when we see more merging of electric and diesel powertrains, where the diesel – perhaps renewable diesel – is burned in an efficient generator to generate electricity. That's when things get even more exciting.
High gas prices are helping plug-in vehicles and hybrids do quite well in the U.S., too. The Diesel Technology Forum says hybrid sales increased 37.2 percent while plug-in electrics jumped 323 percent. Overall, vehicle sales were up 13.4 percent. For more number-crunching details, see our monthly green car sales charts for January, February and March of 2012. The DTF has compiled a list of all the diesel-powered vehicles available in the U.S. here.
Related GalleryLong-Term 2011 Volkswagen Jetta TDI
Hybrid and Electric Car Sales Also Jump Dramatically
Washington, D.C. – Clean diesel automobile sales in the United States increased an impressive 35 percent during the first quarter of 2012 continuing the strong gains in diesel car purchases in 2011, according to new sales information compiled by HybridCars.Com and Baum and Associates.
The U.S. sales of clean diesel autos increased 39.6 percent in March 2012 over March 2011, 42.9 percent in February, and 21.2 percent in January.
During the first quarter, U.S. hybrid car sales increased 37.2 percent and the emerging plug-in electric car market saw a sales increase of 323 percent. The overall automobile market increased 13.4 percent in 2012, according to the new sales information.
Month (2012 v. 2011) Clean Diesel +/- Hybrids +/- Overall Market +/-
March 2012 +39.6% +39.6% +12.7%
February 2012 +42.9% +55.4% +13.8%
January 2012 +21.2% +11.4% +11.5%
(Source: HybridCars.Com and Baum and Associates)
Higher Fuel Prices Have Americans Seeking More Fuel Efficient Cars
"This 35 percent increase in clean diesel auto sales during the first quarter of 2012 is a continuation of the 27 percent sales jump in 2011," said Allen Schaeffer, the Executive Director of the Diesel Technology Forum.
"With higher fuel prices, Americans are seeking more fuel efficient cars so it's understandable that diesel and hybrid cars are showing such impressive sales increases. In addition, the new federal fuel efficiency standards that will required a 54.5 mpg average by 2025 will also boost clean diesel auto sales, as diesel cars are 20 to 40 more fuel efficient than gasoline versions.
Clean Diesel Autos Are Among the Most Environmentally Friendly Available
"American drivers are also recognizing the environmental benefits of the new clean diesel technology," Schaeffer said. "Earlier this month, the Mercedes-Benz S 250 CDI BlueEFFICIENCY clean diesel received the prestigious '2012 World Green Car' award during the New York International Auto Show. This followed the January announcement that the Volkswagen Passat TDI clean diesel had been selected the '2012 Earth, Wind & Power Car of the Year for Most Earth Friendly' automobile.
"I expect clean diesel auto sales to increase further as several new diesel cars are introduced in the U.S. market in the next year," Schaeffer said.
Numerous New Clean Diesel Autos to Soon Be Available In U.S.
The 2012 Porsche Cayenne clean diesel has just been introduced into the U.S. market and the following auto makers have announced plans to sell additional new clean diesel autos in the U.S.:
Audi announced that it would be selling an Audi A6, A8 and Q5 TDI diesel in the U.S. in 2013. The A4 may still see a diesel version in 2014 or even as early as 2013.
Chrysler announced that it will be introducing a Jeep Grand Cherokee diesel in 2013 or 2014, and possibly other Jeep diesels later. They also plan a new version of the discontinued Dakota pickup that will include a diesel, but timing is uncertain.
Ford will offer diesel and gasoline engines in the new Transit full-size commercial van that goes on sale in the U.S. next year.
General Motors announced that a diesel version of the Cadillac ATS would available in the U.S. in the near future. A diesel version of the hot-selling Chevrolet Cruze will begin sales in the U.S. in 2013.
Mazda will become the first Asian car manufacturer to sell diesel cars in the U.S. when it introduces its SKYACTIV-D 2.2-liter clean diesel engine here.
The Mercedes S350 BlueTEC marks the return of the diesel-powered Mercedes-Benz S-Class to the United States in 2012 after a 17-year absence. Mercedes also still plans to bring a diesel in the GLK and C-class for a total of eight diesel models by 2014.
The newly redesigned 2012 VW Beetle will once again feature a TDI diesel version with the possible introduction of a Tiguan diesel later.
See a list of all the Clean Diesel Vehicles Currently Available in the U.S.
ABOUT THE DIESEL TECHNOLOGY FORUM
The Diesel Technology Forum is a non-profit national organization dedicated to raising awareness about the importance of diesel engines, fuel and technology. Forum members are leaders in clean diesel technology and represent the three key elements of the modern clean-diesel system: advanced engines, vehicles and equipment, cleaner diesel fuel and emissions-control systems. For more information visit www.dieselforum.org.