On the train
Ram, Chevy and Mazda are the obvious examples. German luxury brands Mercedes-Benz and Audi are on the train, too.
And more are on the way. Automakers guard their future product plans closely, so it's hard to get a complete count, but numbers from analysts and industry watchers suggest more than a dozen additional mainstream diesel vehicles in the next two years.
VW, a longtime (and mostly lonely) purveyor of affordable diesel vehicles in the U.S., continues to emphasize diesels, which make up nearly one-fourth of its U.S. sales and would be more, it says, if it could get more diesel-power cars from Germany.
For some VW models, the diesel share of sales is much higher: About 80% of Jetta SportWagens sold in the U.S. have diesels.
What makes diesels extraordinary, good and bad:
The fuel contains more energy than gasoline or alcohol fuels, making it inherently able to deliver better mileage and allow an engine to produce more torque.
Diesels ignite their fuel without spark plugs. The engine squeezes the fuel so tightly that the heat generated ignites the fuel. That's a very efficient process, but it can cause clattering or rattling sounds, especially when the engine is cold.
They do their best work on the highway. In-town mileage might not be breathtaking compared with gasoline or hybrid vehicles, but highway cruising can stretch a gallon quite far.
Notably: Even when the official mileage ratings are less impressive, they seem more likely to be accurate and achievable in normal driving than ratings for gas and hybrid vehicles -- sometimes, even, the ratings on diesels are lower than real-world results.
Chevy, for instance, has said the Cruze diesel will get about 42 mpg on the highway. That's no better than the gasoline-power Cruze Eco, a fuel-economy special model.
But Bluhm says that diesel rating will turn out to be an understatement. "We're still testing, and it has us getting more than 42. We just wanted to say we (at least match) the Jetta diesel, which is 42."
Diesel vehicles have higher resale values than gasoline or hybrid vehicles, ALG says. For example, a 3-year-old VW Golf gas model today has a trade-in value of $14,144, or 61% of its new price. The same car with a diesel is valued at $16,093, or 65% of its original price.
The difference in their new prices, $1,769, is more than balanced by the $1,949 difference in favor of the diesel at trade-in time.
Diesel fuel is more expensive, but the better mileage almost always makes up for that.
Diesel is about 14% more expensive than regular gas right now, according to travel organization AAA. But a diesel will use roughly 25% to 40% less, depending on circumstances.
Less than a decade ago, diesel was the cheap, alternative fuel. The U.S. Energy Information Administration explains what happened: "Since September 2004, the price of diesel fuel has been generally higher than the price of regular gasoline all year round for several reasons. Worldwide demand for diesel fuel and other distillate fuel oils has been increasing steadily. In the United States, the transition to ultra-low-sulfur diesel (ULSD) fuel has affected diesel fuel production and distribution costs. Also, the federal excise tax on diesel fuel is 6 cents higher per gallon (24.4 cents per gallon) than the tax on gasoline."
The fuel is harder to find but hardly rare. About 52% of service stations sell diesel for passenger vehicles, according to data from the Diesel Technology Forum.
And the number of diesel sellers could rise fast.
Allen Schaeffer, executive director at the forum, says many convenience store chains have begun offering diesel, expanding the fuel from being mainly a product sold by major brand-name petroleum companies.
In many cases, the stations have switched to gasoline-blending pumps, so they can mix regular and premium to get midgrade.
"That created an opportunity to use the tank that was dedicated to midgrade" for diesel. "We see the convenience store sector really taking off, reading the tea leaves," he says.
"We're going to sell what the market demands," says Rob Underwood, spokesman at the Petroleum Marketers Association of America. "E15 hasn't taken hold, but diesel -- if there are more diesel cars out there, we'll sell diesel."
(c) Copyright 2013 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.
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