Lindsay Chappell
Lindsay Chappell
Infiniti, Nissan Reporter

GM's diesel Chevy could make waves

The 2014 Cruze diesel is introduced at the 2013 Chicago Auto Show.

Photo credit: GM
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Keep your ears open for auto show chatter about diesel engines in Detroit.

Why? Because mighty Chevrolet has thrown down the gauntlet with the 2014 Cruze turbodiesel.

I won't presume to predict GM's product plans. But I will say this: Driving the Chevrolet Cruze as a turbodiesel was for me one of the most pleasant surprises of 2013.

I'm not kidding.

A compact sedan from GM, built in Lordstown, Ohio, and no fooling -- it was fun to drive.

The thing races up hills, and pulls away from traffic snarls, with easy acceleration. It is nimble to handle, lightweight to maneuver. And none of that clattering, trucklike engine noise bellows from under the hood, as it did in diesels of old. It is a mellow-to-quiet rumble, barely different from any other engine on the road.

This is not a consumer review. I'm not trying to shill Chevys. I just want to point something out: GM has hit on something and it needs to stay on it.

The 2.0-liter turbodiesel, created in Italy and Germany through Opel, with a six-speed automatic from Aisin, underneath a body and comfortable interior created with the help of Daewoo and Opel, is a powerful combination.

If GM could manage to replicate it, improve on it, kaizen on it, as GM's Japanese competitors have been saying for decades -- Chevy could be difficult to catch.

Critics have been clamoring for a play like this from GM for 20 years.

"Why can't the biggest car company in America build a fun-to-drive little family car that gets great mileage?" they often ask.

They've done it.

"How come GM produces small, stylish, fuel-efficient cars in Europe that they don't sell in America? ... Why won't GM give American consumers those diesel engines that European consumers like? ... Why can't GM offer cars that get more than 40 miles per gallon?"

Did it, did it, did it.

With a diesel, the Cruze comes in at 46 mpg highway, 27 city.

There's still room for improvement. There is ample opportunity for weight reduction -- although you wouldn't know it to drive the car.

And the price is simply wrong. The version I drove racked up to $28,120, including destination charge and add-ons for a touch screen display and luxury sun visors.

That's out of line for a compact. You can buy a new Acura for that. And until the sticker price is corrected, analyzing its market potential will be skewed.

GM planners have the power to realign the price if they decide to get serious. And that's the reality of the new GM. Old GM would have said, "Let's put a diesel in the car and sell a few for a quick mark-up."

New GM says, "We've created a potential hot product with the ability to excite customers. Let's make this our new direction."

That will be the question to listen for at the Detroit show, or next month at the Chicago show, or in New York and L.A. later this year -- not just whether GM's competitors are paying attention to an attractive new GM product. But also whether the competitors believe the new GM has the will to lead.

You can reach Lindsay Chappell at lchappell@crain.com.

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