Chevy aims Cruze diesel at VW Jetta TDI buyers
With the Volkswagen Jetta TDI in its sights, Chevrolet unveiled the Cruze Clean Turbo Diesel at the Chicago Auto Show last week.
Chevrolet executives have modest expectations for General Motors' first diesel car sold in the United States since the 1980s. But they believe that a small but growing group of enthusiastic American buyers is willing to forget the loud, smelly, poky diesels of three decades ago.
The 2014 Cruze Clean Turbo Diesel will have a 2.0-liter turbocharged engine and a torque rating approaching that of a Camaro.
Production will start in April with the first cars on sale in June. The Cruze diesel initially will be sold in 13 markets and later nationwide.
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.
"We're going to start cautious and small with one version, a very well-equipped car," said Gary Altman, Cruze diesel chief engineer. "We expect the Cruze to compete head-to-head with the German diesels, particularly the Volkswagen Jetta TDI."
The 2.0-liter, four-cylinder common-rail diesel is combined with a six-speed Aisin automatic transmission. GM uses a version of the engine to power several European market vehicles.
The U.S. version cranks out 148 hp and 258 pounds-feet of torque. The same engine in Europe produces about 163 hp, but GM engineers retuned it because of stricter U.S. emissions regulations, according to Michael Siegrist, assistant chief engineer for the engine.
Siegrist said engineers also had to make adjustments because of other factors unique to North America, including higher altitudes and greater temperature extremes.
"We hope to exceed 42 mpg highway, but the testing is not complete yet," he said. A 42 mpg rating would match the Jetta TDI.
"This is a premium engine with great fuel efficiency and it's fun to drive," Siegrist said.
The Cruze diesel carries a 17-liter tank of urea that's good for about 10,000 miles. Urea is injected into the exhaust to reduce oxides of nitrogen emissions.
Landy: Might top EPA stats
Chevrolet marketers hope that hefty torque figure will lure enthusiasts.
GM will tout "the great driving performance, the torque, the quiet driving at highway speeds," said Cristi Landy, Chevrolet marketing director for small cars. "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 the high-mileage Cruze Eco models.
"It's kind of a complement to the Eco. It's a different way of looking at things," Landy said. She said the Eco accounts for about 15 percent of Cruze volume.
Landy said Chevrolet may find customers among those who already have a Chevy light truck in their garage.
GM analysts discovered that some customers who own diesel-powered Chevrolet pickups also own diesel-powered compact cars. Right now, those cars are not GM cars, she said.
The Cruze diesel's engine is used in Europe in the Opel Astra, Insignia and Zafira.
Landy said Chevrolet dealers are excited about the Cruze diesel and asked that the advertising emphasize the fun-to-drive performance and fuel economy. "They see a great opportunity."
But Chevrolet faces obstacles. Unlike in Europe, where diesels account for more than 50 percent of sales in some markets, U.S. customers remain leery for several reasons, including those smoky, smelly diesels from three decades ago, such as the 1986 Chevrolet Chevette diesel.
Other factors include:
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 achieve an EPA-rated 42 mpg on the highway. 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.
You can reach Mike Colias at firstname.lastname@example.org.