In Siegrist, GM put a very experienced engineer in charge. In his long GM career, Siegrist has held senior engineering positions on many high profile engines, including the EcoTech four-cylinder and the Chevrolet small- and big-block V-8s. Before taking over the Cruze diesel program, Siegrist was a design system engineer on the supercharged V-8 that powers the Corvette ZR1.
He said his biggest challenge with the Cruze diesel was limiting emissions under strict federal standards with complex control devices and onboard diagnostics.
The car's emissions system is an alphabet soup of acronyms. There's a DOC (diesel oxidation catalyst), DPF (diesel particulate filter) and an SCR (selective catalytic reduction) system to inject urea, or diesel exhaust fluid, into the exhaust system to reduce oxides of nitrogen.
Though complex, the emissions control will be familiar to Chevrolet dealers and shouldn't present any servicing problems, Siegrist says. The Cruze diesel uses a scaled-down version of the emissions system in Chevrolet's heavy-duty diesel pickups.
"We took exactly what we did on Duramax diesel, the same architecture and sensors, and applied it to the Cruze diesel," he said. "But there are some differences because of where the components are located."
The Cruze diesel's best-in-class 46 mpg highway comes at a high price. The fuel-efficient Cruze Eco, with a 1.4-liter gasoline engine, has an EPA rating of 28 city/42 highway and starts at $20,490 -- $5,205 less than the Cruze diesel.
Drivers may never recoup the extra price of the diesel through higher fuel economy.
Diesel fuel now costs up to 50 cents more per gallon than gasoline, and based on 15,000 annual miles of highway driving an owner who chose a diesel over an Eco would save less than $125 a year, based on national average prices. And that high-end estimate reflects a steady diet of highway driving -- the diesel's strong suit -- since a combined city/hwy figure for the diesel isn't yet available.
Alan Starling, a Chevrolet dealer in central Florida, is not worried. He says the Cruze diesel is crucial to Chevrolet's future.
"Chevrolet has to be a place where people buy their next car, not their last car," he says. "We have enough problems fighting off the Toyotas and the Hyundais of the world. And now Volkswagen is growing by leaps and bounds at the retail level.
"I love offering people a choice. The Cruze diesel won't be for everyone. But it gives us a chance to start picking off a few of VW's customers."
Starling also doesn't see the Cruze diesel competing with the Chevrolet Volt, which has a gasoline-electric powertrain, a higher price and buyers more interested in green technology.
As for GM's diesel past, Starling says some people will remember the bad engines from the 1980s. But he's not worried.
He said, "We are one test drive away from that being a nonissue."