Diesel Isn't Sexy; Will it Sell?

Jeepdieselengine

Consumers aren't enamored with diesel-powered vehicles. Who can blame them, considering you can count the number of diesels now in showrooms on the proverbial one hand.

But even more important, salesmen aren't busting their tails trying to sell the oil-burners, a survey has found.

Volkswagen sells a diesel-powered Touareg sport ute now, and next spring it will again offer a diesel Jetta sedan and wagon; Jeep offers a diesel Grand Cherokee SUV; Mercedes-Benz has the E-320 turbo-diesel sedan and M-, R-, and GL-Class turbo-diesel sport utes; Honda plans to offer a diesel sedan in 2009, expected to be the Accord; Audi hints at a diesel Q7 crossover for 2009; and GM is talking light-duty diesel trucks and perhaps cars in the near future.

Emissions laws, especially stricter regs coming for 2010, and the absence of low-sulfur diesel fuel to meet those laws had held the number of offerings down. Diesels sold currently are only offered in 42 states because they don't meet stricter standards in some West and East coast states— namely New York and California. The 2009 Jetta TDI will be 50-state compatible.

But low-sulfur fuel is now available and automakers will increase offerings, yet diesels still face a formidable task unless salesmen get with the program. CNW Marketing Research surveyed dealerships nationwide and found that while salesmen rated 9 on a 10-point scale when it came to knowledge of gas/electric hybrids and a positive attitude in selling them, they rated a meager 2 in their knowledge of diesels and enthusiasm to sell them as an alternative to high-priced battery cars.

"They treat diesels as old-school technology," said Art Spinella, general manager of CNW. "Salesmen like to sell flash, and there's not a lot of flash in diesels so they don't act like they do in promoting a Pontiac Solstice. They're more eager to talk about electrics and plug-ins, though diesels are here now and more are coming, while pure electrics and plug-ins are further away. If salesmen aren't enthused, they aren't going to try selling them."

Spinella says the way to excite salesmen — so they in turn excite consumers — is to teach them that diesels are no longer the smelly, noisy, underpowered vehicles of the past.

"Customers aren't very eager to buy a diesel because they sense when the salesman isn't very eager to sell one,” he said. “Maybe they should rename it something like nuclear laser drive to generate a wow factor."

Or raise the commission on each sale.

Related
VW Goes Diesel Happy: Jetta TDI Coming in '08 (KickingTires)
What are the current diesel cars available? (Ask.cars.com)

By Jim Mateja | October 4, 2007 | Comments (37)
Tags: Car Buying

Comments 

panic

Hmmm, better mileage, tourque up the wazoo, and a drivetrain that outlives the body. What is cooler?

L.S.

I think it's a conceptual issue as diesels definitely have their share of advantages just as panic said. In Europe, I would say almost 50% of the cars on the roads are diesels and, with modern engines, they sound almost like any other gasoline fueled ones.

And talk about mileage, the European diesel Yaris gets 62mpg in mixed driving.

Scott J.

If salesperson training is rough, just wait for technician training. Many of these guys have no experience with these engines, and will need to be trained from the ground up. Also, more importantly, the Service Advisors (they guys who greet you with a clipboard and take down the issues and pass the work ticket to the Tech) will also need to be retrained on how to deal with customers who are unused to the diesel engine's unique character. That vibrating and shaking at shutoff? Oh, that's normal. Unless these guys can explain these little issues, you're going to have people returning again and again to have things they perceive to be problems fixed. Not good for customer satisfaction. Finally, OEMs will need to communicate the more intense maintenance requirements.

Bart

I was seriously considering buying a JGC diesel, however when I factored in Chrysler poor reputation for customer service (I've owned two JGC's) I decided to pass. I'm confident the service techs will not be able to properly service them as four different dealerships struggled to diagnose a simple drive train vibration in my 06 JGC. It was all caused by a missing rubber gromet that a Goodyear tech discovered (and fixed) when my wife was having a flat repaired. I grew up in Europe driving diesels so I'm eager to get back into one, but I'm also willing to wait until Honda has their's production ready. We love my wife's Pilot so we feel confident Honda will get their first American bound diesel right.

M3

Passed a gas station yesterday. Unleaded was $2.69 and diesel was $3.15! Considering the much-higher purchase price of a diesel vehicle and the higher cost of the fuel, even with the higher mpg it would take YEARS to realize any savings. Why does diesel cost so much here? Doesn't it take less refining to produce than gasoline? If diesel cost less than gas to buy, then I would consider it. But as it stands now I just don't see any economic advantage; I'll stick with a gas-powered vehicle.

ilija

I came from Europe and naturaly love diesel engines. I use to fix them in my father's shop and they are so simple much less electricity involved less things to go wrong and last forever. Torque is aboundant even in 1.6L VW Golf II. Back in Europe my family drives only diesels. They are so easy on your pocket.
With proper marketing there should not be any problem selling it here in USA. Toyota has a very good D-4D diesel engine in Europe and MB diesels are excellent. Jeep Grand Cheeroke should be a good platform for MB diesel engine. If Chrysler improves reliability of that car combining it with MB diesel should be a real hit. Americans love SUVs, engines with lot of torque, fuel consumption will be good, and price reasonable. What elese do you need to sell it here in USA. Smart marketing can make this car excellent seller.

Zerf

In MA they have not allowed diesels cars to be sold as long as since the 80's. The only diesels sold were those on pickup trucks, not even things like the Liberty were allowed to be sold as diesel. At the pumps the price of diesel is usually about the cost of premium gas. Talk to those I know who have brought in diesels Beetles and Jetta's from other states have gotten really great gas mileage averaging around 40 mpg. So in our state sexy or not, pushed by sales guys or not it just has not been an option. I would definitely have looked into them if they were available. I remember being excited about the Liberty diesel getting great SUV gas mileage and having an impressive tow rating with their CRD and being sad to see not available in MA. From what I heard you could only register a used diesel car in MA after a year and 12K miles of use. Hopefully these newer cleaner diesels will be allowed here.

Max Reid

Before someone is going to pay $3K more for Diesel, they are going to calc the Return.

Well, in Summer, gas prices were $3.2 / gallon while Diesel had $2.8 and many rushed into Diesel, but now gas is cheaper.

May be if Bio-Diesel is available at cheaper than gas, many people will rush in, considering the fact they are much cleaner also.

US Bio-diesel production has increased 10 fold from 25 million tons in 2004 to 250 million tons in 2006. Many larger plants are under construction and they may bring cheaper Diesel.

AAA has price list on many fuels,
http://www.aaafuelgaugereport.com/
unfortunately they dont have for Bio-Diesel.
http://www.aaafuelgaugereport.com/

Andrew

I have a 2001 Jetta TDI with 203,000 miles. It's a wonderful car and still averages 48 miles per gallon.

If the VW were serious about marketing diesels to the US, they need only look at www.tdiclub.com to realize they have a wide base of enthusiasts whose love of this technology is fervent and infectious.

After knowing the joys of driving 750 miles on a tank of fuel there is no way you could convince me to drive anything else.

Andrew

I have a 2001 Jetta TDI with 203,000 miles. It's a wonderful car and still averages 48 miles per gallon.

If the VW were serious about marketing diesels to the US, they need only look at www.tdiclub.com to realize they have a wide base of enthusiasts whose love of this technology is fervent and infectious.

After knowing the joys of driving 750 miles on a tank of fuel there is no way you could convince me to drive anything else.

JM

hybrids are sexy? yea, because having a prius really means that youre a tough guy...

this will come just as hybrids did before they were popular (how many honda insights do you see cruising around? the last one i saw was about 3 years ago. havent seen one since). people are going to think that they are overpriced, etc. then, more of them are going to show up, and more people are going to try them out and say, "hey, this car has better performance AND twice as good fuel economy of those other ones. it runs on diesel...mybe i should try something noone else has." diesels also dont look much different than regular cars (save the Q7 V12 diesel, but that one looks even cooler than the regular Q7).

the VW, Adui and other Euro automakers diesels' will probably outsell the Honda ones; everyone knows that the Europeans have been making them longer (in the US), and therefore have the technology down.

VW will probably put a diesel in their new compact SUV. Probably the same one that will be going into the Jetta, and then it will get awesome gas milage (like in the 30's, mixed driving). They should also consider turbocharging the 2.5L engine and having it run on diesel, so it puts out about 200-250 hp but over 300 lb-ft of tourque...perhaps they could even put that one in the Touareg. There are also rumors of a V6 diesel going into the Touareg, which should perform really well and may be what makes the Touareg sell pretty well.


BTW, diesel is much cheaper in my area (near chicago) than gasoline. all throughout the summer ad now, gas continues to rise above $3 a gallon, and almost reached $4. diesel remained at $2.75

I would have to think with the proliferation of the internet more and more buyers are not necessarily going on what a salesperson says when picking out a vehicle. After doing much research and reading reviews such as those here on cars.com and other sites they should be educated enough to make a smart decision and not get sold into something they may not need or want. They should already have an idea of what they want to buy and the power train they want.

Bring the diesels on and they will sell!! I would love to have a diesel because its like 20 cents cheaper in some parts of southern cali! hmm i wish my xterra had a diesel!! But i really dont want a jetta with a diesel.. not cool at all. Maybe some midsize trucks or suvs with a diesel would be best!

MA Cummins Owner

We won't replace my wifes car until there's something she likes that has a diesel. I'd love a Dodge Charger with the CRD engine the European 300 has, but right now, VW has the lead for our next auto purchase. Maybe a Tourage or their new smaller TDI (?) powered ute.

J

Only problem I can think of as a disadvantage of diesel here is: Not every gas station carries it.

AV

the passat diesel should come over here also. its supposed to get over 45 mpg or so. even if it was over 30K, the dealers wouldnt be able to keep them on the lots. smae goes with the new small SUV as a diesel if it gets over 30 mpg in the city.

I bought one of the first VW Golf TDi's sold here in Oz and I have had no problems with service - VW got it right first time. 750 miles from one tank in a Jetta? How big is the tank? I only get 750km (470 miles) from 13 gallons. Still better than a gas car.

Here is a question for you gas guzzler guys in the US. Any of you thinking about Peak Oil? If you haven't heard of it type it into Google.

Bob Wilson

Let's see, I'm getting 600 miles on 11 gallons with my 2,700 lb., 5 seat Prius. A significant amount of my driving has the gas engine off, like at lights or when speed can be maintained on just electric power. After warm-up, I only pay a fuel cost to keep the crankshaft spinning when I'm also getting the energy needed to move and charge the battery. When I can move on battery alone, the engine is off.

Marry a diesel with a serious hybrid drive, 40-50% of the diesel power rating, and you'll have an excellent vehicle. No longer will the diesel run just to keep the crankshaft spinning. When power is produced it will be at a high enough rate that the engine overhead becomes a fraction of the energy burned. This is where we need to go.

Until then, I'll go with what is available and proven via EPA test results to work. A solution that is not specific to just long distance, cross-country, only, manual transmission vehicles.

Dan

To those wondering about diesel prices:
The process to refine diesel fuel is very similar to that used to refine home heating oil. The end product is very similar. (As I understand that's what first inspired Rudolph Diesel to develop a motor that ran off of the stuff) As a result diesel fuel prices tend to track home heating oil prices, higher in winter, lower in summer. In recent years, however, refiners have been switching over more and more to gasoline production because of higher demand from the US, China, and elsewhere. Also since hurricane Katrina caused the spike in gas prices and didn't destroy the economy, gasoline is more attractive to produce. Therefore diesel prices have overall become higher, but do still fluctuate over regions and time.

John

I'm sitting here at my desk (at an oil company) and can say, with confidence, that gasoline is cheaper *today* than diesel.

Someone above made the argument that with the extra cost of fuel and the optional engine it would take years to pay off the expense. Not true. If you take into account that during "driving season" diesel prices will be far below gasoline (the economics of which I'd be happy to explain if you're interested), you would find that you would recoop your extra expense very, very quickly.

I drive a Golf TDI, and having spent the extra $900 for that engine, I have more than made back the money I spent. In city driving, the torque is phenomenal and makes the car feel much more powerful than it's small horsepower figure would lead you to believe.

Having convinced friends to drive my car, I've since converted three to diesel believers.

And many years from now, those with diesel-powered cars can easily convert to biodiesel, running on jatropha oil, peanut oil, vegetable oil -- you name it. Meanwhile, the gasoline-powered cars will simply run out of gas on the side of the road.

Most people don't even think of diesel as an option -- until they drive or at least ride in a friend's. Modern diesels are not to be overlooked.

Amuro Ray

The biggest drawback on diesel vs gasoline, IMHO, other than price & convenience, is that diesel is a very dirty fuel. Unless we've seen a lot of advances in technology on diesel engine/emission, exhaust from diesel engine contains a lot of sulfur - which contributes to acid rain. That's also the reason why no diesel has successfully passed the CA test at this point. Of 'coz, whether this offset the mileage gain in diesel VS gasoline is another matter. Gasoline engine, however, can be tuned so that the exhaust can achieve PZEV (the cleanest standard in US). The argument on fuel mileage VS cleaniness is a great debate, but I do prefer hybrid technology (and later on, pure battery) because you can achieve great mileage and produce much less toxic exhaust on hybrids.

P.S. Biodiesel is another issue...it's a great idea, but research on this is limited on what kind of long term effects does biodiesel have, and the maintenance cost of a biodiesel vehicle (engine, exhaust, etc.) The datapool is too small and too short (time period) right now to give an accurate sample.

Tor

One difference betweeen the US and EUropean markets (besides the obvious gap in pump prices) is that many Europeans order their cars. They don't drop in at a dealer and get what is available (wrong options, color etc).

As a consequence European cars have many more options and can much more easily be tailored to your tastes. In the US Accords come 5 different ways. Don't want the sunroof? Tough. Want a color that is not brown-white-blackish? Tough. IN Europe you can typically select from 10-15 colors. In the US a car like the Accord comes in 6-8.

Same with engines. A European Passat comes with 6-7 different engines, small and big, diesel and gas. In the US cars are lucky to get two engines.

So it is much harder for US based sales organizations to offer diesels. It is not like adding the 8th engine, they have to add a 3rd or replace the 2nd and that requires high sales.

...otherwise on diesel cars, they awesome and the best bet (in the short term) or reducing oil consumption. It is odd politicians don't push diesels more and here the US car companies should not do awfully. Both Ford and GM have excellent diesels in Europe. Diesels would work very well on SUV and trucks.

...but if you want to see diesels for real in the US (20-30% of the market), the gas tax has to increase.

Rick

I believe the diesel will be more popular than first thought when the engine is placed in a vehicle wanted by the general public. Diesel wreaks of power and torgue and for the fist time speed is also possible. With fuel economy, and a quiet engine; whats not to like?

Kurt

"The biggest drawback on diesel vs gasoline, IMHO, other than price & convenience, is that diesel is a very dirty fuel. Unless we've seen a lot of advances in technology on diesel engine/emission, exhaust from diesel engine contains a lot of sulfur - which contributes to acid rain."

Incorrect. U.S. Diesel (in most locations) has gone from 500 ppm sulfur down to 15 ppm. The new generation of diesels will meet the tight emission regulations in all 50 fifty states. That's plenty clean.

Kurt

"750 miles from one tank in a Jetta? How big is the tank? I only get 750km (470 miles) from 13 gallons. Still better than a gas car."

My '03 Jetta wagon has a 14.5 gallon tank that actually holds 16.5 gallons if I vent it when filling up. It routinely gets 49 mpg in mixed driving. 49 X 14.5 = 710.5 miles, which is right about when the low fuel light comes on, indicating roughly 2 gallons remaining.

Amuro Ray

Kurt,

I don't know if Diesel has gotten "cleaner," but on most of the articles I've read - it's NOT that there's much advance in the diesel itself, but the "catalytic converter" has now used a new chemical molecules that allow the exhaust to be cleaner than before. To show you that this is in fact the case - NONE of the current US diesel engine powered vehicle has passed CA emission test, and that's because the best out there (I think Bluetec from Mercedes Benz) has failed. I'm NOT saying that this will still be the case in the future; in fact, the 2009 TDI from VW will pass - granted that the legislation on diesel vehicle emission still remains as it is today in 2009.

There are also 2 additional factors that ALL diesel engine owners should really concerned about:
(1) The chemical molecules that are being used in diesel's catalytic converter were, and I believe still "are," very expensive, and have a relatively short lifespan. In fact, it'll have to be replaced every few years. This adds cost to either the vehicle price itself (if auto manufacturers will pick up the cost of replacing these molecules for lifetime) or the owner to shelve out heavy maintenance cost (a major drawback - or even setback - on offering low price diesel vehicle in US is due to reason);
(2) Tough emission law in various states mean that, unless you do (1) regularly, you won't be able to renew your vehicle's license when the emission tests come.

Jason

One of the biggest hurdles diesel fuel faces here in the U.S. is perception. Most people who are not up to date on the technology still think of black smelly clouds from sluggish moving vehicles.

And with so many ads on the internet and TV that get ignored (or skipped with TIVO), many people won't learn the advantages of new diesel.

We need (Cars.com, are you listening?) more articles with head-to-head comparisons among regular gasoline, hybrids, and diesel. AND the articles need to be short and easily read/printed.

Kurt

"I don't know if Diesel has gotten "cleaner," but on most of the articles I've read - it's NOT that there's much advance in the diesel itself..."

Sorry, I worded my post poorly. I meant the next generation of diesel *vehicles* are clean enough to meet the tough new emissions standards.

boatdude

The answer is not salespeople. It is availability. I would buy a diesel in heartbeat if one were available in California. Make diesels so they are as clean as gasoline engines, and thus available to purchase in California, and sales will increase dramatically. duh.

mark

Not sales pitches as much as availability is the problem even in states like SC where vw diesels are sold. They are very popular and sell themselves. Go to cars.com and look for one in SC. You will pay 12k+ for a 2001-2002 jetta tdi with over 100,000 miles.

Stu Beebala

Ohhhh, I'm from Europe..... I drive a diesel,,,
Go back then you peasant. Your JGC mechanic was probably a stupid immigrant like yourself and couldn't read the English Mechanic's Handbook. I have owned Jeeps my whole life and never had 1 problem that wasn't simply fixed. Take your import and stuff it up your rectum. Greeeked...

manuel gonzalez

If they made diesel trucks like the InternationalDmaxx they would not have a problem selling enough to make great profits.The diesel mileage would be easier on the pocket as well.

manuel gonzalez

If they made diesel trucks like the InternationalDmaxx they would not have a problem selling enough to make great profits.The diesel mileage would be easier on the pocket as well.

manuel gonzalez

If they made diesel trucks like the InternationalDmaxx they would not have a problem selling enough to make great profits.The diesel mileage would be easier on the pocket as well.

Gordo

One big problem with GM is they have trash canitis Instead of working on and correcting a proble they junk it. In the 80s they had a V6 diesel that ran great but had problems granted. What I don't understand is they went to all that trouble to design and build it why not correct it?

Gordo

One big problem with GM is they have trash canitis Instead of working on and correcting a proble they junk it. In the 80s they had a V6 diesel that ran great but had problems granted. What I don't understand is they went to all that trouble to design and build it why not correct it?

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