Why Your Next Car Won’t Be A Diesel

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While the debate over North American diesel inclusion rages on forums and automotive blogs, the majority of automakers marketing vehicles in North America choose to stay away from diesels. BMW’s unpopular 3-Series diesel will fall by the wayside when the new F30 sedan arrives at dealers shortly. Jaguar drove a single XF diesel across America in the fall of 2011 but has no desire to offer the same car for sale on this side of the Atlantic.

Mazda won’t be fitting its excellent new diesel in more than 50% of its model lineup. And the diesel engine Chevrolet will begin fitting to their Cruze compact sedan will be more attractive for its torque than its Cruze Eco-beating fuel economy.

US Diesel Sales Are Up

Nevertheless, U.S. diesel sales were up significantly last year, rising 38.5% in the first seven months of 2011. But the question must be asked, “Rising 38.5% from what?” Indeed, diesels made up just 0.82% of the market after rising so sharply. The lion’s share of new vehicle acquisitions center around a vehicle that’s filled up with regular 87 octane.

It’s safe to assume your next new vehicle won’t be a diesel because of how rarely diesels are fitted to vehicles sold in North America. Setting aside heavy duty trucks from Ford, Chevrolet, GMC, and Ram, diesels are mostly a German fixation. Volkswagen fits the same 2.0 turbodiesel four-cylinder to a number of vehicles. Mercedes-Benz equips a handful of vehicles with a 3.0L six-cylinder turbodiesel.

Audi and BMW also make diesel an option, but not by any means across their model ranges. In the market for a Japanese car? Or a Ford that isn’t the F-Series Super Duty? Any of the midsize sedans that fill driveways across the United States? Or how about the aforementioned BMW 3-Series, North America’s favourite luxury vehicle? Diesel is no longer in the cards.

Diesel Cars Are More Expensive

Yet the rarity with which diesels are marketed outside of Europe only partially explains why you won’t be driving away from a new car dealership with the distant thrum of an oil burner. See, most new car purchases are made with one core element dominating the conversation: price. Since diesel power plants cost more money than regular gasoline-fired engines, most buyers shy away from shelling out extra for what they see as less horsepower (ignoring the tremendous torque figures) for more money, even if the fuel economy is spectacular.

Clearly, diesel availability is greater in the luxury car market, but only 11% of new vehicle sales in January took place in that upper tier. Simply because of the pricing sphere in which most of these diesels compete, 89% of consumers in January were basically ineligible for diesel purchases. The BMW X5 xDrive35d, for example, has a base price $35,000 above the entry price for America’s best-selling SUV, the Ford Escape.

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Though it may well be worth it, the X5 diesel is clearly not in the right arena to be considered a potential purchase for America’s typical new car consumer. Likewise, at $51,690, the Mercedes-Benz E350 BlueTec, a luxurious diesel sedan hailing from an iconic diesel car builder, has a base price that’s almost exactly twice as much as the hybrid version of America’s best-selling car, the $25,900 Toyota Camry Hybrid LE.

Dragging the diesel price bracket down by tens of thousands of dollars may make financial sense, but Volkswagen doesn’t allow you to drive away in a new diesel without paying significantly more than you would for a gas-fired Jetta, Golf, or Passat. There’s no doubt that the base prices of Volkswagen’s three most popular cars fit right into the mainstream.

Moreover, the company’s TDI models are better equipped than those base cars. However, you’ll need $6130 beyond the base price of a Jetta to get into a diesel, $6000 extra for the Passat, and $6240 more for a Golf diesel. Of course, the difference is much less for equivalently-equipped models; but you can still expect to pay more than $2000 when opting for the diesel, the kind of difference you won’t make up for approximately 50,000 miles.

Why won’t you buy a diesel next time around?

Perhaps the rare diesel aficionado will. But the rest of us simply won’t open our wallets further in a time of economic duress, no matter how much we love the torque, no matter how much we might save in the long run. Automobile manufacturers have come to the same conclusion, so we what we will not pay for, they will not offer up for sale.

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