GM unveils Cruze diesel, its first diesel car since 1986
The 2014 Cruze will be GM's first car sold with a diesel engine in the United States since the 1986 Chevy Chevette, which featured a 1.8-liter engine.
Photo credit: GM
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DETROIT -- Chevrolet unveiled a clean-diesel Cruze small car today that will get an estimated 42 mpg on the highway.
The 2014 Cruze Clean Turbo Diesel will feature a 2.0-liter turbo engine and a torque rating approaching that of a Camaro. It was introduced at the Chicago Auto Show and is slated to reach showrooms by June.
The Cruze diesel will be General Motors' first diesel car sold in the United States since the 1980s and a bellwether for diesel demand in the country as more automakers consider the technology to help them comply with toughening U.S. fuel economy requirements.
"It's going to take some creative selling by dealers, because it's a technology that a lot of Americans still view negatively," said IHS Automotive analyst Rebecca Lindland. In part, that's because of a series of GM cars in the 1980s that soured consumers on diesels.
Taking on TDI
Chevrolet is taking on the only nonluxury brand now selling diesel cars in the United States: Volkswagen, which dominates the market with its TDI offerings in the Jetta, Passat, Beetle and Golf. Last year, 20 percent of U.S. Jetta sales were diesel versions, a spokesman said.
"We expect the Cruze to compete head-to-head with the German diesels, particularly the Volkswagen Jetta TDI," says Gary Altman, chief engineer for Chevy small cars.
The Cruze diesel's engine already is used in Europe in the Opel Astra, Insignia and Zafira. The U.S. car will have a sticker price of $25,695, including shipping, about $8,000 more than a base Cruze LS.
The price gap is partly because the diesel will come only in the Cruze's second-highest trim level, 2LT, which offers heated leather seats and 17-inch aluminum wheels. The diesel version is about $3,000 more than a Cruze 2LT, which has a 1.4-liter turbo gasoline engine.
Several factors could make the Cruze diesel a tough sell beyond diesel enthusiasts, analysts say:
Sticker price. Fuel-conscious Cruze buyers can also choose the Eco model, which has a 1.4-liter turbo engine and tricks such as aerodynamic shutters and a smaller fuel tank to coax an estimated 42 mpg highway, matching the diesel model. The diesel will be priced about $5,000 higher than the base Eco version.
Price at the pump. As of Monday, Feb. 4, the U.S. average for a gallon of diesel was $4.02, vs. $3.54 for a gallon of regular gasoline, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Public perception. Unlike in Europe, where diesel cars are common, Americans generally view them as noisy or dirty, Lindland says. Chevy dealers could have a tough time drawing interest from buyers beyond diesel enthusiasts or import intenders.
"They'll have to find Cruze prospects who have German stamps in their passports," Lindland says.
10 percent of sales
GM isn't counting on the Cruze diesel to be a big seller. The automaker expects the model to represent about 10 percent of Cruze sales once it's fully rolled out.
Altman said GM executives decided on a Cruze diesel for the United States because they wanted to leverage the company's global powertrain resources. GM also wants to offer another engine choice for U.S. buyers of the Cruze, which is GM's top-selling car in the United States and globally. Last year, GM sold 237,758 Cruzes in the United States, up 3 percent from 2011.
For the first few months of sales, GM will limit the rollout of the Cruze diesel to 13 key markets, said Cristi Landy, director of marketing for Chevy small and electrified cars. She cited the West Coast, Texas and the Washington, D.C., area as early markets.
GM and its dealers will emphasize the extra muscle that the diesel provides, Landy said. The Cruze will produce an estimated 148 hp and 258 pounds-feet of torque, vs. 138 hp and 125 pounds-feet for a base Cruze.
The diesel model also has an overboost feature that increases torque to about 280 pounds-feet for a 10-second burst of acceleration.
The car comes with a six-speed automatic transmission, the Chevy MyLink infotainment system and two years of scheduled maintenance.
GM will tout "the great driving performance, the torque, the quiet driving at highway speeds," Landy said. "We don't expect right off the bat to be converting a lot of gas-buying compact car owners."
Another sales pitch: Unlike drivers of gasoline-powered cars, diesel owners often exceed their EPA fuel economy estimates, Landy said. That point can help dealers differentiate the diesel and Eco models in the showroom.
"It's kind of a complement to the Eco. It's a different way of looking at things," Landy said. She said the Eco represents about 15 percent of Cruze volume.
1986 Chevette diesel
The 2014 Cruze will be GM's first car sold with a diesel engine in the United States since the 1986 Chevy Chevette, which featured a 1.8-liter, Altman said.
Back then, GM's diesel engines were sluggish, noisy and unreliable. The problems tarnished the reputation of Oldsmobile and Cadillac and are blamed for helping kill the market for U.S. diesel cars.
The engine in the U.S. Cruze diesel is "the cleanest operating diesel engine ever produced by General Motors," Altman said.
Engineers at GM's suburban Detroit powertrain center worked with counterparts in Germany and Italy to adapt the engine for the United States and Canada, which have tougher emission standards, colder climates and higher altitudes.
The engine will be built in Germany. The car will be assembled at the GM's Lordstown, Ohio, plant, where all Cruze models are made.
33,000 in 2012
Last year, GM produced more than 500,000 small diesel cars for sale across Europe, Asia and South America, including about 33,000 diesel Cruzes. In Europe, the diesel take rate on the Cruze is about 40 percent.
Don Johnson, Chevrolet's vice president of sales and service, said last week that he expects a roughly 10 percent take rate for the diesel in the United States. But he doesn't know for sure.
"It's been a while since we've been out there with a diesel passenger car," Johnson said. "So we'll see."
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