General Motors Co.’s Chevrolet brand confirmed Thursday that it has started selling its first diesel car in the U.S. since 1986 with its 2014 Chevrolet Cruze Clean Turbo Diesel — a vehicle it expects will serve as a halo for the Cruze nameplate and bring new buyers to the automaker’s largest brand.
GM has sold a few Cruze diesels, which first are being sold in 13 metro markets selected for having a high diesel penetration, said Chevrolet Vice President of Marketing Chris Perry. The vehicles will be available nationally, including in Detroit, in the fall.
The Detroit automaker said there is more openness to diesel technology and it expects diesel popularity to grow in the U.S. It’s launching the diesel-powered Cruze to compete head-to-head with Volkswagen’s Jetta diesel. Chevy said the Cruze diesel, powered by a 2-liter, four-cylinder turbocharged engine, is certified at 151-horsepower and has peak torque of 264 foot-pounds — slightly better than the specs on the 2013 Jetta TDI Clean Diesel Premium automatic — and has more standard features.
“From a packaging standpoint what we offer in our vehicles, we think is a much more superior product,” said. “As mentioned earlier, people getting into this marketplace are mostly concerned about performance and fuel economy. If you look at our numbers there, the Chevrolet clean turbo diesel offers better horsepower, better torque, more miles on a tank of fuel, over 700 miles on a tank of fuel, and the best news is we have achieved 46 miles per gallon highway.”
GM officials previously had said they expected about 10 percent of Cruze sales would be diesel versions, but Thursday backed off that number. Chevy spokesman Mike Albano said the company can build diesels to demand.
Diesels account for about 3 percent of U.S. vehicle sales today, but analysts such as LMC Automotive have predicted diesels will rise to 7.5 percent of U.S. sales in five years.
The Cruze diesel starts at $25,695 — a few thousand more than the Cruze Eco which gets 42-mpg highway. GM doesn’t expect the Cruze diesel to cut into any Cruze Eco sales. Cristi Landy, a Chevrolet marketing manager, says the vehicle likely will attract a different buyer. She’s expecting many Cruze diesel buyers to be males with higher incomes and who may have purchased a diesel before.
GM said its ad campaign around the Cruze diesel will focus on education and the 46 mpg highway. Dealership staff also are being trained to dispel myths such as that diesels are smelly and dirty.
“The faster the customer gets educated, the greater the demand’s going to be,” said Gary Altman, chief engineer of the Cruze diesel.
Sales also may depend on the spread between gasoline and diesel prices. On Thursday, some Metro Detroit gas stations were selling a gallon of diesel for just 20 cents more than a gallon of unleaded gasoline; at times that difference has been a lot more lopsided.
“It’s coming at a really interesting time with high fuel prices,” said Allen R. Schaeffer, executive director of the Diesel Technology Forum.
Perry also said Chevy can hardly keep its all-new 2014 Chevrolet Impala full-size sedan on dealer lots. The vehicle is turning in just seven days, which is the fastest of any Chevy, he said.
“Right now, the sales rate is fantastic,” Perry said.