Diesel Just Can’t Be Knocked Out

By Ezra Finkin, Director-Policy and External Relations of Diesel Technology Forum | September 2016

In the wake of the VW emissions cheating scandal, many were quick to write the obituary for diesel in the passenger vehicle market in the U.S. Now, one year after the announcement the diesel passenger market is …. still alive and kicking. The diesel passenger vehicle market is almost where it was before the scandal broke and more automakers have introduced diesel options in models consumers are choosing in record numbers. More diesels on the road will help us achieve energy security and greenhouse gas reduction goals and help meet climate commitments.

In the immediate wake of the scandal, auto industry analysts, environmental advocates, opinion page columnists and even political pundits, all pronounced the end of the diesel passenger vehicle market in the U.S. Fast forward almost one year, and the diesel market is showing very few signs of any adversity from the VW scandal. Let’s consider the timeline. At the end of August 2015, diesel sales made up 0.96 percent of the all vehicle sales for that month and VW models comprised 58 percent of all diesel sales that month. On September 18, 2015, the scandal broke and immediately sales of VW, Porsche and Audi diesel models were suspended, contracting the number of consumer choices almost in half. Fast forward to July 31, 2016, and diesel passenger vehicles make up just under 0.80 percent of the passenger vehicle market that month even as VW diesel models are still off the market.

What’s behind the resilience of the diesel passenger vehicle market? Common sense consumers who have isolated the VW emissions cheating scandal as a problem associated with a single automaker and not anything endemic to diesel technology. A similar analogy can be made with the Takata airbag affair. Despite the unfortunate choices pursued by a single manufacturer, consumers and safety regulators still view airbags as a necessary safety feature.

Driving the life of the diesel market in the post-VW scandal era is the light truck segment. With more consumers choosing light trucks, and more diesel options available, it’s a recipe for success. A case in point is the enormous success of the Ram 1500 EcoDiesel since its introduction in 2015. Rumors were floating that FCA completely sold out of the diesel option within months of its introduction. And General Motors’ new diesel option in the popular GMC Canyon/ Chevy Colorado earned them one of 10 GreenCar 2016 awards from ACEEE for the diesel option achieving 30 mpg highway EPA rating. Even the Nissan Titan comes with a V8 Cummins diesel option for the current model year and rumors are floating about other diesel options in other models.

While diesel is having a great year in the light truck segment, the sedan market is showing “green shoots”. Executives from General Motors recently announced plans to ramp up production of the Chevy Cruze diesel option as an opportunity to fill the gaping hole in the demand for smaller diesel sedans left by VW’s hiatus.

Diesel is still in the game because for decades’ diesels have provided consumers with superior fuel economy along with power and performance. Add in reliability and durability and higher resale value traditionally commanded by diesel models relative to their gasoline counterparts, and it gets consumers thinking. According to a recent University of Michigan study, greater fuel economy and lower depreciation means the diesel option yields a lower total cost of ownership.

While diesel owners experience benefits, we all benefit from the energy and environmental performance of the diesel options on the road. According to recent research commissioned by the Diesel Technology Forum, the 4.5 million diesel passenger vehicles introduced between 2005 and 2015, saved 70 million tons of C02 emissions and over 260 million barrels of oil. From energy security to climate change, diesel provides real benefits we all can enjoy.

As diesel continues along its upward trajectory, we can expect additional benefits to accrue. According to Diesel Technology Forum’s recent research, more diesel vehicles on the road will eliminate 116 million tons of C02 and save 454 million barrels of crude oil between 2013 and 2025. These benefits are attributable to expanding the diesel fleet on the road modestly from about 2 percent today to about 4 percent by 2025.

And the future is bright for diesel. Beginning next year, automakers will begin working toward achieving the new stricter “Tier 3” tailpipe emissions standard while complying with the fuel economy rules that are expected to see fleet wide average reach 54 mpg by 2025. According to the Technical Assessment Report just released by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, diesel will be a technology among many to help automakers reach these near zero emissions and fuel economy goals. In case there are any lingering concerns about diesel’s capability to meet the stricter “Tier 3” tailpipe standards, the analysis concluded that not only will diesel technology meet the standard, but diesel will have a much lower compliance cost than hybrid electric technology.

By 2025, then it’s easy to see why there will be many more diesel options for consumers to choose that will contribute to clean air, fuel savings and greenhouse gas reduction. It has been said before, but is worth emphasizing again, don’t count out the diesel!

Read more from the September Issue of our Fuel for Thought newsletter.