The Car and Truck Fleet and Leasing Management Magazine

Automakers Ready ‘Clean Diesel’ Push in U.S.

September 19, 2008

DETROIT – Heading to the United States is a new breed of clean and quiet engines that can meet even strict emissions standards in California and New York, according In Europe, diesel vehicles hold some 50 percent of the market, but Mike Omotoso, senior manager at J.D. Power & Associates, said diesel models account for only two percent of new light-vehicle sales a year in the United States. That, however, is about to change, he said, estimating that the figure will rise to 10 percent by 2015.

German automakers are leading the charge, as Volkswagen of America launched its Jetta TDI earlier this year, and Audi soon will offer a diesel Q7 SUV. Mercedes-Benz USA will launch its newest BlueTec diesel vehicle, an E-Class sedan, next month, and BMW’s first clean-diesel product launch in the United States, the X5 SUV, is coming later this year, followed by a version of its best-selling model, the 3 Series sedan, in January.

But those carmakers will have to change this country’s views on diesels to succeed. Americans see diesel vehicles as slow, smelly, and loud, according to Jack Pitney, VP-marketing for BMW of North America. “We have huge perceptual barriers with diesel launches. There’s a tremendous opportunity for us but also a real education challenge,” he said.

And while diesel provides about 30 percent better fuel economy than gasoline, it costs more. Gasoline averaged $3.64 a gallon on Sept. 8, and diesel was $4.05 in the United States, according to the Energy Information Administration.

In 2010, Ford Motor Co. will start offering a clean-diesel version of its light-duty F-150 pickup but not of small cars, a spokesman said. Ford would have to charge too much for small diesel cars in the United States because the engines are made in Europe, and the exchange rate boosts the cost here.

Mercedes-Benz USA is rolling out print ads in October titles for the G-Class, R-Class, and M-Class with its second-generation BlueTec diesel, carrying the theme “Blue is the new green.”

The first-generation BlueTec, which was first marketed in 2006 as part of the E-Class line, could be sold in only 43 states due to stricter emissions rules elsewhere. Mercedes-Benz also introduced an earlier-generation diesel, the CDI, in its three trucks in late 2007.

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