General Motors will sell a diesel version of the Chevrolet Cruze compact car in the U.S., GM CEO Dan Akerson says.
Planned for introduction in 2013, it would be the first Detroit passenger-vehicle diesel since the 2006 Jeep Liberty CRD sport-utility, and the first diesel car from Detroit since the 1980s.
A U.S. diesel Cruze has been the subject of heavy speculation, but was unconfirmed until now.
"I drove it the other day. It is great," Akerson said in an interview with USA TODAY. "These new diesels are quiet. Should make it in the low- to mid-40s, and that's with an automatic," the CEO said, referring to the likely fuel economy rating with an automatic transmission.
The only U.S.-market compact car with a diesel now is the Volkswagen Jetta. With an automatic transmission, it is rated 30 mpg in town, 42 on the highway.
Diesel engines get 20% to 40% better mileage than similar-size gasoline engines, alluring to automakers trying to meet tightening U.S. fuel-economy regulations. But diesel fuel in the U.S. lately has averaged 5% to 10% more than regular gas. Also, diesel engines are costlier than gas engines, and require complex emissions gear, boosting the price of diesel vehicles.
GM's gasoline-engine Chevy Cruze Eco with automatic is rated 39 mpg on the highway, so a diesel would have to deliver significantly better than that to justify a higher-price car burning more expensive fuel.
"Generally, I think it's a good thing, but maybe way ahead of what the market's ready for," says Jack Nerad, executive market analyst for Kelley Blue Book's kbb.com. Not only is diesel fuel more expensive, it's not sold by every service station, he notes. "And a lot of people still have the misconception that diesel is smelly, loud, sooty — what city buses were 20 years ago."
Nevertheless, Nerad says, a diesel Cruze is smart marketing: "The fuel economy number they can point to probably is a good one."
GM wouldn't hint at pricing or give other details about the diesel Cruze because it is more than a year off. A Jetta diesel with automatic is $24,865.
Diesel backers believe a diesel in a popular, mainstream car such as Cruze finally could be a breakthrough in the historically diesel-averse U.S., convincing other automakers to modify their overseas diesels to meet U.S. regulations and offer the diesels here, too.
GM is at least considering packaging the diesel in a hatchback version of Cruze sold overseas.
Akerson offered some other hints of GM's powertrain future, citing electric vehicles and those fueled by clean-burning compressed natural gas (CNG): "We're going to introduce battery-only vehicles…CNG vehicles. Stay tuned. This is not the old GM."
Nissan's Leaf is the only mainstream battery car sold in the U.S. GM's Chevy Volt is an extended-range electric that goes about 35 miles on batteries, then switches on a gasoline engine to generate more electricity for the batteries so Volt can keep running when a plug-in recharge isn't available.
Diesels are common in much of the world because many countries heavily tax fuel to encourage sales of fuel-efficient vehicles such as diesels. Gasoline prices in major European countries this month, for example, have averaged around $8 a gallon, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Diesel runs from slightly more to 15% less.
Cruze was the best-selling car in the country last month. Japanese companies normally dominate the top-seller list, but were short of cars because of interruptions in parts flow after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Japan.
For the first six months of this year, Cruze is the seventh-best-selling car.
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