Posted By RichC on December 9, 2008
Will automakers rethink importing diesel cars to North America?
Those of us who enjoy driving and owning ‘higher’ performance and efficient diesel cars have had this nagging suspicion that diesel cars may not arrive as planned, considering the auto slowdown and noting the price spread between gasoline and diesel fuel. According to a USA Today article, Honda Motor spokeman David Iida commented that Honda is reconsidering the timing to bring diesel cars to America. He states, “we are re-evaluating, due to trends in gasoline and diesel prices, and the price of raw materials we use in the exhaust clean-up system.” Hopefully they’ll continue as planned and that they realized their competitor Volkswagen still has little problem selling their ‘clean diesel’ TDIs.
It wasn’t entirely doom and gloom for diesel advocates as Iida says Honda will decide “sooner rather than later” on going ahead with U.S. diesels, but wouldn’t pin down a date. The excellent Honda diesel engine that is (was?) to first show up in a 4 cylinder in the luxury Acura brand sedan and be followed by a V-6 diesel in SUVs and perhaps the van. But problems still exist — most Americans have a less than positive view of diesel stemming from past experience and what they see with trucks and with the economy are not really in the car buying mood. They have also notice that the average price of diesel fuel is running 40% to 50% more than average gasoline prices and its difficult even with the improved fuel mileage provided by a diesel engine to pay a buck a gallon more for fuel. It certainly wipes out cost savings buyers expected to recoup by buying a diesel. When gasoline was hitting $4/gallon, a diesel SUV or small car getting 20% to 40% better fuel economy was starting to make sense, even if the original cost was $1500 more than the similar gasoline model, but now with gasoline averaging $1.75 across the nation its not quite as logical. Obviously automakers are rethinking “when” to bring over their diesel cars. (BTW, often overlooked by the buyer is the strong residual values and longevity seen in diesel vehicles)
Besides Honda, there are a few other “car” makers planning to bring diesels to America. I’ve heard Subaru is still planning theirs and know Nissan has a few test vehicles floating around. According to the article, Nissan says it still plans to sell a V-6 diesel in the premium Maxima sedan in the U.S. in 2010. But spokesman Scott Vazin says the price premium for diesel fuel is worrisome. “It’s why we’re putting it on our flagship. We don’t know where (fuel prices) will be when we launch, but we expect some pent-up demand. And our perception of the diesel buyer is someone who keeps the car longer,” minimizing the drawback of its higher price.
Current manufacturers offering diesel cars in the U.S. are: Volkswagen, Jeep, Mercedes-Benz and BMW with Audi offering a TDI in their large SUV next fall.