Study: Diesel's Appeal Damaged, Not Dead

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CARS.COM — Volkswagen’s rise and fall as a seller of mainstream diesel vehicles severely damaged the image and future of diesel in the U.S., but the Diesel Technology Forum trade group wants you to know that the technology is not dead. In fact, the U.S. added 280,000 new light-duty diesel passenger vehicles in 2016 for a total of 8 million, according to its new report.

Related: BMW Confirms Return of 5 Series Diesel for 2018

The group found that Texas, California and Florida have the most diesel vehicles, including light pickups, while sales of diesel cars and SUVs is growing fastest in the Northeast, led by Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire, according to data of vehicles in operation in 2016 from IHS Automotive.

The data shows the resilience of diesel’s high-mileage appeal, particularly for folks who do a lot of long-distance driving and for pickup buyers. That is backed up by the fact that VW, which is officially out of the diesel business, had 3,196 buyers line up in April, the first month of sales, for the new 2015 TDI models that it finally was allowed to fix and sell. And the growth comes even as stricter EPA oversight of diesels has held up Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ 2017 Jeep SUV and Ram pickup truck light diesels, and Mercedes-Benz has dropped efforts to get 2017 diesel models EPA-certified for sale. 

“The 2016 increase in diesel registrations was due to the expanding popularity and increasing number of choices in the light-duty pickup market. This more than offset the slight decrease in diesel car registrations due to the drop-in number of choices available. Solid performances from both new and existing SUV and luxury sedans continue to demonstrate the utility of diesel engines in these segments,” said Allen Schaeffer, forum executive director, in a statement.

The forum also is bullish on the prospect of new diesels on the market for a comeback in the coming year, though that assumes they can clear the tighter EPA hurdles. But automakers such as Mazda have not been deterred; the Japanese maker expects approval soon and that 10 percent of its redesigned CX-5 sales could be diesels when the new model is available starting this summer. It says it is not looking for gasoline converts so much as to satisfy shoppers who know they want a diesel. There is a list of all diesel vehicles on the market in the U.S. here, with the expected near-future models listed optimistically as “coming soon.”

“We’re extremely optimistic about the U.S. diesel market this year and 2018 because of the introduction of new diesels like the 52 mpg (highway) Chevy Cruze Diesel, the Ford F-150 diesel pickup, along with the Mazda CX-5 SkyActiv-D diesel and the Chevy Equinox diesel. All of these new diesels will complement existing strongholds or fill voids in the marketplace for affordable, proven and fuel-efficient technologies,” Schaeffer said.

Here are the top 10 states with the most mainstream diesel vehicles in 2016 (cars, SUVs, light-duty pickups and vans). You can find where other states rank here.

  1. Texas
  2. California
  3. Florida
  4. Washington
  5. Pennsylvania
  6. North Carolina
  7. Colorado
  8. Oregon
  9. Georgia
  10. Illinois

Other state-by-state highlights:

  • Eight of the top 10 states for fastest growth in diesel light pickup registrations were in the East, led by (go figure) the District of Columbia (up 20 percent), New Jersey (up 17 percent) and New York (up 15 percent).
  • While the leaders in growth of cars and SUVs was fastest in 2016 in the Vermont (up 35 percent), Maine (up 29 percent) and New Hampshire (up 12 percent), California had the most diesel cars and SUVs, followed by Texas and Florida.
  • Texas (no surprise) once again held the No. 1 spot in total diesel pickups, including light and heavy-duty models, followed by California and Florida.
  • Smaller Western states had the overall highest percentage of diesel passenger vehicles on their roads, led by Wyoming (11 percent), Montana (8 percent) and Idaho (7.5 percent). 




Photo of Fred Meier
Former D.C. Bureau Chief Fred Meier, who lives every day with Washington gridlock, has an un-American love of small wagons and hatchbacks. Email Fred Meier

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