Sparked by better engines, diesels catching on among U.S. car buyers

Aug. 27, 2014
Today’s clean diesel technologies are steadily gaining purchasing horsepower among American automotive buyers in a trend that signals sales opportunities for aftermarket businesses serving this segment.

Today’s clean diesel technologies are steadily gaining purchasing horsepower among American automotive buyers in a trend that signals sales opportunities for aftermarket businesses serving this segment.

“Diesel has been widely accepted all over the world for quite some time; the U.S. is catching up,” says industry analyst Alan L. Baum of Baum and Associates.

Diesel car sales were up by 25 percent during the first six months of 2014 while the overall U.S. car market rose 4.2 percent, according to figures compiled by Baum in cooperation with the green vehicle advocacy organization.

This half-year’s diesel statistics highlight an ongoing pattern of heightened consecutive monthly sales. “June 2014 was the 43rd monthly increase in clean diesel sales in the past 47 months, with 31 of those months registering double-digit increases,” says Baum. April’s numbers were plus-60.4 percent, March came in at plus-39.5 percent and May logged plus-26.8 percent.

The Diesel Technology Forum reports that U.S. sales of diesel cars, SUVS, vans and pickup trucks experienced a 30 percent boost from 2010 through 2013.

“Sustained and mostly double-digit increases in sales each month over a four-year period prove that U.S. consumers are embracing the benefits of clean diesel technology and its proven, high fuel efficiency, great driving performance and long-term value,” says Allen Schaeffer, the Diesel Technology Forum’s executive director.

“Diesel cars and SUVs are emerging in the U.S. market,” he points out. “While diesels account for about 50 percent of all auto sales in Europe, diesels are a more modest 3 percent in the U.S. But clean diesel vehicles are poised to take off, as evidenced by the number of clean diesels being introduced in the U.S. market, and there will an estimated 60 diesel vehicles available by 2017. As a result, we could see the diesel market in the U.S. reach 10 percent by 2020,” says Schaeffer.

“Diesel power can and must be part of our current and future national energy strategy. No other internal combustion engine in the world is as energy efficient as the diesel engine. Along with advancements in efficiency, and the ability to use renewable fuels, diesel fuel is particularly well-positioned for the future,” he notes.

“The consistently positive sales trends for clean diesel are particularly noteworthy since they have occurred over a recessionary economic period when diesel fuel prices have trended upward, and consumers have many more fuel-efficient vehicle choices than ever before,” says Schaeffer.

“Clean diesel technology is likely to continue to grow in the U.S. based on consumer acceptance of diesel as a clean and proven high-fuel economy choice,” he says. “Diesels are about 30 percent more fuel-efficient than gasoline vehicles and do not require compromises in vehicle performance, driving patterns or vehicle utility.”

Pursuing diesel’s push

Setting aside big-rig tractor-trailers and other commercial-oriented larger vehicles, diesel offerings currently on the American marketplace include 27 cars and SUVs, nine vans and 10 pickup trucks. “We expect that number to nearly double in the next 18 months, and we expect that more models in more brands will only generate higher sales in the future. Already we know of 16 announced new clean diesel options that are coming to the U.S. later this year through 2017,” Schaeffer says.

“While diesel cars and pickup trucks make up only 3 percent of the overall U.S. vehicle market, most analysts predict continued growth in the U.S., with many believing the diesel market will double by 2018.”

Schaeffer reports that the new federal fuel efficiency standards that will require a 54.5 mpg average by 2025 will assist in boosting diesel auto sales as OEMs introduce more models into the U.S. to help meet the upcoming regulations.

For aftermarket enterprises interested in pursuing diesel’s push, California, Texas and Florida lead the U.S. with the most sales of diesel and hybrid passenger vehicles, according to a recent Diesel Technology Forum analysis utilizing statistics from R.L. Polk & Co.

“One of more interesting findings is the universal appeal of clean diesel cars, trucks and SUVs as we see new registrations of diesel cars, trucks and SUVs growing in all regions of the U.S. – red states, blue states, urban and rural regions alike,” Schaeffer says. “This can be explained by clean diesel cars’ proven fuel efficiency and because diesel fuel is widely available at more than half of all service stations today.”

Western states such as Wyoming (10.8 percent), Montana (8.1 percent) and Idaho (6.9 percent) have the highest percentage of diesels on the road.

“Consumers there have long valued the high fuel efficiency and driving ranges of diesel vehicles – some of which approach 800 miles on a single tank of fuel,” says Schaeffer. “But these results show an equally high interest in clean diesel in populated and more urban states.”

Among the most diesel-friendly states for cars and SUVs in 2013 were California, Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania, Washington, New York, Illinois, North Carolina, Virginia and New Jersey. North Dakota, the District of Columbia and Illinois are the diesel markets posting the fastest growth figures.

Among passenger vehicle registrations, diesels currently account for more than 7 million vehicles in the U.S. as hybrids have generated to 2.8 million in sales. Diesels represent 10.6 percent of all pickups.

“The popularity of diesel-powered pickup trucks in Western states is well-known, but five of the top 10 fastest growing states in 2013 for diesel pickup trucks are Northeastern states: Vermont, Delaware, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Rhode Island,” Schaeffer says.

“Pickup trucks continue to dominate the overall registration numbers for diesel, but we can see that changing in the coming years as new diesel engine options appear in an increasing number of cars, crossovers, SUVs and light-duty and compact pickup trucks,” he notes.

 “Clean diesels deliver a competitive or superior total cost-of-ownership compared to other fuel-efficient technologies,” says Schaeffer. “The increasing number of diesel offerings from manufacturers reflects their confidence in the technology and its importance as they select fuel- efficient strategies to meet the 2025 higher fuel economy requirements.”

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