Diesel Cars Gaining Momentum in U.S.

Diesel cars, once largely avoided by American buyers, are getting a second look from automakers and consumers alike. I say FINALLY!

While their sales account for only a sliver of the U.S. market — less than 3 percent — industry experts say that could soon change: Gas prices remain in flux. Government regulators are pushing for higher fuel economy standards, and today’s diesel cars are not the loud, smog-coughing vehicles of 30 years ago.

Volkswagen AG’s U.S. diesel sales are climbing. General Motors Co. will bring a diesel version of the Cruze to the States in 2013, its first diesel car sold here in decades. Japanese carmaker Mazda Motor Corp. will debut a new diesel engine in the U.S. in 2013, although it has yet to specify on which model.

“It’s a really good hedge on the unknown,” Mark Reuss, GM’s North American president, said in August in a reference to gas price instability.

“If you look at how many diesels our competition sells, it’s not small in some cases.”

Auto supplier Robert Bosch LLC says it expects diesel sales to grow to 10 percent of the U.S. market in the next decade. Diesels have enjoyed popularity in Europe and other parts of the world where gas is expensive.

Analysts say the percentage of buyers opting for diesel cars could grow if gas prices rise sharply and surpass the price of diesel fuel, but for now, their forecasts are not as optimistic.

“We’ve seen a little bit of movement, but it’s still limited to the German carmakers,” said Mike Omotoso, a powertrain expert at J.D. Power & Associates.

Mercedes-Benz, BMW AG and VW sell diesel versions of their cars at U.S. dealers. Unlike their Japanese and American rivals, German carmakers sell so many diesel cars in Europe that it’s easy for them to produce them for the United States.

Chevy does sell diesel cars abroad. Its decision to bring a diesel Cruze to the U.S. market is a relatively low-risk move, analysts say. The engines will be imported from Europe, and then dropped into Cruzes built in Lordstown, Ohio, said Jessica Caldwell, an analyst for Edmunds.com. “It’s not a huge capital investment,” she added.

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