Hybrid Technology Kills Diesel Demand in U.S.

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Ram and Chevy have introduced new diesel-powered cars and trucks, yet improved gasoline and hybrid engines are hitting the market too. With improved hybrid engines, is the 2013 diesel revolution dead before it began?

Hybrid Technology Kills Diesel Demand in U.S.

The diesels are coming, the diesels are coming! Is the hybrid engine going to kill their demand?

A news story in the Detroit News says that while it seems like diesel engines are seeing a rebirth (see: Ram 1500, Chevy Cruze, etc.) that hybrid engine technology will slow that demand and smother interest before it can really grow. This is due to diesel engines losing their edge over gasoline in the last several years.

Historically, diesel engines have been known for having more torque, better fuel economy and greater resale value. There was also a time in the U.S. when diesel fuel was significantly cheaper than gasoline. Now times have changed with diesel fuel prices above gas and gasoline engines making vast improvement in terms of torque and fuel economy. Throw in the new hybrid technology that has the same MPG numbers and at a significantly less upfront cost – diesel technology has lost quite a bit of ground.

For example, one of the comparisons that the article makes is in the new Chevy Cruze. You can buy this compact car in a hybrid or diesel variety soon. The numbers from GM show that both the hybrid and the diesel get the same MPGs while the cost difference, hybrid is $4,000 less than the diesel, creates a stark difference for the consumer.

For the truck customer this argument is a bit different, yet there are similarities. For example, at this point it is anybody’s guess what will happen when the Ram 1500 diesel comes out.  Most diesel fans expect it to run quietly, have more torque and better fuel ratings that the gasoline engine. However, even Allen Schaeffer executive director of the nonprofit Diesel Technology Forum admits to the Detroit News:

“There is quite a competitive landscape today, compared to what it was five or 10 years ago,” he said.

When you talk about the increased upfront cost and the closing of the gaps between gas and diesel technology, it even gets tougher to buy a diesel.  “The math is not a great payback,” Schaeffer said. “But when you take into account the residual, there is some added value there.”

Schaeffer is right that diesel holds its value longer than gas engine vehicles. Is that a product of the diesel engine or the lack of diesel vehicles in the market? Probably a little of both with the lack of inventory most likely playing a larger role.

“In spite of the resale value and fuel economy advantages, consumers in the U.S. have been slow to accept this different form of powertrain and as a result, there are not a lot of diesel vehicles to choose from,” said Eric Ibarra, KBB’s director of residual values.

The Detroit News found that:

Last year alone, U.S. sales of diesel vehicles rose 25 percent. But as a percentage of total industry sales, diesels made up only 2.7 percent of new-car purchases, said Edmunds.com. Hybrid vehicles — at about 3 percent of industry sales — outsold diesels in 2012.

With the emissions standards in Europe coming close to the U.S. in 2018, the excitement to finally get the forbidden fruit is growing. Yet, European sales of diesel cars is “waning.” Is Europe done with the diesel engine as well?

Still there are proponents of diesel engines who would like to see a diesel, electric hybrid. Now that is more likely the future of the diesel engine.

It is going to be interesting to see which technology emerges, hybrid gasoline or straight diesel. It seems all automakers are taking different approaches and who knows at this point which one is the best one. Consumers though will finally have a chance to have their say when the Ram 1500 and the Cruze go on sale.

What do you think? Have automakers used their power to deny U.S. consumers diesel technology for so long that once it comes, it will be outdated? Or will new diesel vehicles like the Ram 1500 or Chevy Cruze re-new interest to such a degree that a diesel re-birth will occur?

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Filed Under: Auto News


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  1. AD says:

    A hybrid is only better in a car. In a pickup it would appear to be the other way around.

    • AD,

      VIA Motors would vehemently disagree. 🙂

      The truth is that there is so much I could write about this topic that I had to curtail myself. It is a large debate around the automotive world and one that surely won’t be solved anytime soon!


  2. Larry says:

    I just don’t see diesel making it here.

    Diesel is a slow burning fuel. When they are run in their most efficient mode they just won’t rev up and pass the way people expect. Change the bore and stroke to give them a wider RPM range and it just doesn’t work out well. They need to run slow with lots of shifting and that just doesn’t work for most people.

    At clean burning high temps they produce NO2 which is not good and the Feds now require the DEF Urea injection systems to break down the Nitrogen compounds.

    At low engine temperatures they put out soot which is no longer allowed requiring a filer to catch the particulates and an incineration system to burn the stuff off.

    Diesel really seems to be confined to the big 15L freight hauling world as well as railroads.

    Hybrids in a 5000 pound truck? I don’t think so.

    As for fuel cost that is another Fed issue. High Diesel tax is just a way to tax everyone by hiding the cost in freight charges where people don’t see it.

    Another fuel tax issue is that if MPG numbers went way up fuel tax revenue will fall and we all know what that means. So we will still be paying out the same.

    I will be surprised if the 3.0L Ram diesel has enough sales volume to cover it’s production costs.

  3. Mickey says:

    I agree with Larry but still want to see what a hybrid can do in a truck

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