SEMA eNews Vol. 12, No. 21, May 28, 2009

Domestic Diesel Cars—Here Now, More on the Way

  Diesel Vehicle Registrations by State
 More than 4.5 million diesel vehicles are currently registered, with the highest concentrations in Texas and California.

Despite efforts from manufacturers to make diesel vehicles more understood, uncertainties remain about their availability, even about what vehicles are produced. Volkswagen Jettas are popular and certainly well known, but other manufacturers have dabbled in the diesel market over the past three decades as well.

Some of the vehicles are surprising and many are still registered today. Experian Automotive has provided SEMA with registration data for these vehicles.

Some noteworthy oddities include the Chevrolet El Camino (2,209), Oldsmobile Cutlass (1,185), Cadillac DeVille (746), Chrysler LeBaron (967) and even a few Toyota Camrys (213).

New emissions standards and cash-flow constraints for manufacturers have made the future of diesel vehicles fall victim to doubt. As manufacturers face strict fuel-economy mandates, however, they may have an integral part to play in future lineups since their ability to increase miles per gallon could be the deciding factor in a balanced vehicle portfolio.

  Top 10 Diesel Vehicle Registrations
 Pickups, by far, lead the diesel vehicle pool. The only passenger car in the top 10 is the Volkswagen Jetta.

Without much debate, the two largest markets for diesel vehicles are Texas and California, interesting when considering the legislation for each state. When contrasted to the entire vehicle population, Texas has a comparatively higher amount of diesels, while California has a comparatively lower amount. In other words, roughly 8.1% of vehicles are registered in Texas, yet they have 12.77% of the diesels.

California claims 13.12% of all vehicles, yet only has 9.46% of diesels. Part of the discrepancy has been additional costs and stunted availability as a result of regulated standards.

If either demand or availability were to change, it is plausible to believe that markets such as California would adopt diesel engines quickly.

Currently, the best-selling diesel vehicles are pickups, mostly large and heavy duty, with the majority coming from Chrysler (Dodge), Ford and General Motors. The only passenger car on the top 10 list is the Volkswagen Jetta.

Not only does it have the most consistent history of sales, but it is one of only a handful of vehicles having been offered in the past few years. It is also a different breed targeted toward a different audience with few competitors.

That may quickly change, however. With the Obama administration's new fuel-economy policy, vehicle manufacturers will be pressed into developing more fuel-efficient vehicles.

"GM is fully committed to this new approach," GM CEO Fritz Henderson told reporters.

"GM and the auto industry benefit by having more consistency and certainty to guide our product plans,” he added.

  Top 20 Registered Diesel Vhicles, Non-Pickup
 The Volkswagen Jetta is the most common diesel sedan registered, more than twice as common as the Mercedes-Benz 300.

Volkswagen has benefited from an aggressive campaign for diesels. Domestic companies may bridge the gap between their foreign market products and those they offer in the United States, however. This single standard may help bring clarity into their designs. Bill Ford, chairman of Ford Motor Company, told the press last month of the company's intention to introduce variations of its European models here.

Many of the domestic manufacturers have toyed with the idea of smaller, efficient diesel cars, but so far they have not resulted in anything more than exhibitions and "market tests." This new urgency and uniformity could change the market. — SEMA Research & Information Center

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