2015 Chevrolet Cruze Diesel

Although small displacement diesel vehicles have long been commonplace in Europe and Asia, North America is still a little slow on the uptake when it comes to these efficient, cost-effective alternate fueled automobiles.

Whether it’s because domestic automakers have never really cottoned to them, or because the technology is too expensive, or because the quality of diesel fuel in North America is inferior to that found elsewhere in the world, is hard to say, but companies like Peugeot, Ford, Citroen, Volkswagen, Vauxhall, Fiat, Mitsubishi, Mazda, and so on churn out a wide range of fun-to-drive, affordable city cars and trucks that are remarkably thrifty to operate and produce lower emissions than their gasoline counterparts.

Sure, Volkswagen has been selling diesel cars in North America since the 1980s and manufacturers such as Nissan, Volvo, and even BMW have taken a stab at the diesel passenger car market over the years, but at this point, North America is still a gas-centric automotive culture.

That may be changing, however. General Motors is enjoying success with its compact diesel Cruze sedan, and BMW, Audi, Mercedes, and, of course, Volkswagen, all have models on the market.

But is diesel worthwhile? A recent study conducted by the automotive data-collection group, Vincentric, says yes… and no. The study, conducted during the first half of 2015, and involving some 34 vehicles, showed that, most of the time, a diesel-powered automobile is more cost-effective than its gasoline-fuelled counterpart and delivers fewer emissions.

But not always. The problem is that the vast majority of these vehicles are luxury cars. “Of the 12 diesel vehicles with lower ownership costs than their gasoline counterparts,” says Vincentric, “11 were luxury models, including four vehicles each from Audi and Mercedes-Benz and 3 vehicles from BMW.”

“In most cases studied,” adds the report, “the diesel vehicle had a higher market price than its gas alternative, which causes several cost factors to increase, including finance, opportunity costs, and fees & taxes. The (Canadian Diesel) analysis also shows that diesels typically have slightly higher insurance, repair, and maintenance costs. However, in most cases diesels offer lower fuel expenses compared to their all-gas counterpart due to their improved MPG. In addition, on a percentage basis, diesels have lower depreciation, but due to a higher purchase price, their total depreciation costs are higher.” Vincentric based its study on vehicles being driven for at least 25,000 kilometres and owned for five years…..the Canadian national average.

The only non-luxury model to have lower ownership costs than its gasoline counterpart was, interestingly, the Chevrolet Cruze, and even more interesting is the fact that the diesel engine in this car is actually manufactured by either Fiat or Daewoo.

Some other things revealed by the study:

– The average price premium for a diesel vehicle over its gas equivalent was $5,650

– Average maintenance costs were $476 higher for diesel models

– Diesel fuel cost savings averaged $4,005

– With costs to own and operate all 34 vehicles taken into account, the average cost-of-ownership was $2,030 more for a diesel vehicle compared to its gasoline counterpart. Those costs include depreciation, fees & taxes, financing, fuel, insurance, maintenance, opportunity cost, and repairs.

“Over the past several months we've seen the price advantage that gasoline has had over diesel fuel diminish, enhancing the fuel economy advantages of diesel vehicles,” added Vincentric President David Wurster. “However, fuel economy is only part of the story. With total cost-of-ownership savings from only one third of the diesel models analyzed, consumers need to be informed when shopping for diesels to find the models that offer savings.”

According to Vincentric, those vehicles that have the lowest overall fuel costs compared to gasoline models are, with one exception, all Volkswagens: Beetle, Golf, and Passat TDI. That exception is the BMW 328d Xdrive. For more info, go to:  www.vincentric.com

Audi, meanwhile, recently discovered a way to manufacture diesel fuel synthetically. Known as e-diesel, or blue crude, the man-made juice is produced by heating water to form steam, which is then broken down into hydrogen and oxygen….what’s known as high temperature electrolysis. The hydrogen is then exposed to carbon dioxide under high pressure and temperature, which is then refined through the usual refining process to yield e-diesel. Apparently, the resulting fuel is free from sulfur and nasty hydrocarbons, and is soot-free and odorless.

At this point, Audi says production of e-diesel will be limited, with perhaps 3000 litres in total being refined over the next few months, but clearly, diesel fuel in one form or another, is here for the long run.

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