History

The last time Chevy offered a diesel engine in a car was with the outgoing Chevy Chevette in the mid-eighties. Fast forward a few decades, Chevy is the back in the game. This time they have returned with a diesel engine in its popular compact, the 2014 Cruze.  In fact, the Cruze becomes the first car outside of the German makes: Audi, BMW, Mercedes, and VW, offering a diesel in America. As a side note, Jeep is currently offering its first diesel in the non-car segment with the Grand Cherokee, while Dodge, Chevy and Ford have been players in the diesel light duty truck segment for years.

And for those who may have some hesitation about Chevy taking on the diesel car segment, Chevy engineers are quick to say that the diesel engine that will be available in the Cruze has been tried and tested in Europe for close to two decades in their Opel cars, the automaker’s non-American brand. So, with this being the case, GM is ready to take on the American car segment again, this time with a fuel-efficient, odorless turbo diesel that will go head-to-head with the widely-popular VW Jetta TDI.

Diesel Sales

Ironically, over the past two years, diesel passenger cars have outsold diesel passenger trucks in the U.S, with only the Germans playing in this segment. This is supported by the fact that U. S. consumers purchased 101,624 and 125,222 clean diesel cars respectively in 2011 and 2102, according to hybridcars.com. From 2011 to 2012, diesel car sales rose by approximately 23,898 units. The Jetta TDI, which led the pack, accounted for 48,099 of the diesel cars that were sold last year, which equates to about 28 percent of the diesel car segment. With this type of growth, Chevy sees an opportunity to capture a percentage of those sales with the new Cruze diesel. Unfortunately, we were unable to get GM’s executives to reveal their actual sales goal for the compact Chevy.

Initial Launch/Target Market

Chevy’s Cruze diesel will be available initially in about 12-key states.  By the third quarter, the fuel-efficient Cruze will be available in all 50 states. Ironically, we found a Cruze diesel on the lot of a Chevy diesel this past weekend outside of metro Atlanta.

In order to tackle the diesel segment again, Chevy’s vice president of marketing, Chris Perry, says the brand has put together a three-prong marketing approach.  First, Chevy plans on targeting military personnel, seeing that many of them that have spent time outside of the U. S. have a comfort zone with diesels. In fact, in Europe diesel cars dominate gasoline models, which is just the opposite here in the states. Next, Perry says Chevy plans on going after those consumers that own a diesel truck. In many cases, diesel truck owners are primed to own a diesel car. They are familiar with the durability, maintenance and the great gas mileage.

Lastly, Chevy plans on doing what many will call the obvious, using some of their marketing dollars to go directly after VW Jetta TDI buyers.

2014 Chevy Cruze Diesel Vs. 2013 Jetta TDI

Including destination charges, the 2014 Cruze starts out the gate at $25,695, while the 2103 Jetta TDI starts out the gate slightly lower, with a starting price of $24,885, when equipped with an automatic (and $23,785 when equipped with the manual transmission).  Both vehicles offer a 2.0-liter clean diesel engine.  And, both vehicles have the same light clatter ticking from the  engine buyers have become accustomed to with diesels.  Unlike the Cruze, which produces 148-horsepower, with 258 lb.-ft. torque, the Jetta only pushes out 140-hosepower, with 236 lb. –ft. torque.  In comparing the two, there is a little lag in the VW at start, but once the Jetta warms up, there is no turning back.

According to fueleconomy.gov, the Cruze and the Jetta has a fuel tank range of 463 and 444 miles per gallon, respectively.  The Cruze has a combined fuel economy of 33 miles per gallons, garnering 27 miles  per gallon in the city and 46 miles per gallon on the highway. Conversely, the Jetta achieves a combined fuel economy of 34 miles per gallon. In the city, the Jetta achieves 30 miles per gallon in the city and 42 miles per gallon on the highway.

Inside of the Cruze, consumers will find a more aesthetically appealing interior, which gives the illusion of the vehicle being a premium priced vehicle.  Although as noted, the Cruze is priced slightly higher than the VW, there are a number of features that separate the two compacts. For example, the Cruze is equipped with such standard features as 17-inch wheels, an automatic transmission, 10-standard air bags, leather seats, a power driver seat, the brand’s smartphone-like MyLink system,  a  5-year/100,000 mile powertrain warranty, a 2-year/24,000-mile free maintenance warranty and GM’s OnStar system, which provide directions and concierge-type services. Moreover, for an additional price, Cruze buyers can opt for a review back-up camera, a rear-traffic cross alert system, and radar-activated blind-spot side mirrors. None of the noted features are available in the VW.

On the other hand, at the price noted above, the VW is outfitted with standard 16-inch wheels, 5 airbags, leather-like seats, the option of a manual transmission engine and a 3-year/36,000-mile free maintenance plan.

Pricing And Mileage

Outside of the diesel segment, Chevy offers a Cruze Eco model in either a manual or an automatic configuration that costs about $4,000 to $5,000 less, which achieves 26 miles per gallon in the city and 39 miles per gallon on the highway. VW offers a gasoline model, too, with comparable mileage to combat the pricing issue.  Furthermore, VW offers a Jetta hybrid, which costs about the same as the Cruze diesel. The Jetta hybrid garners 48 miles per gallon on the highway, which is only 2 miles per gallon more than the well-contented Cruze diesel.  Nevertheless, serious diesel buyers are willing to pay the premium, just as hybrid buyers. On the flip side, Chevy could offer a de-contented diesel, lowering the price to capture price-sensitive buyers.

Chevy’s Battle

While the Cruze diesel is overall a better value as it relates to content, when compared to the segment leader, the Jetta TDI.  Until now, American diesel car buyers haven’t had an option. While the Jetta TDI has had success both here and abroad, the Chevy diesel has only in Europe. GM is counting on consumers to look to the success they have had with diesels in their non-American brand, Opel. Moreover, consumers can’t forget the fact that GM has also been successful in building reliable diesels in their light duty and medium duty segments, too.  And, at 46 miles per gallon, the executives at GM are counting on well-informed consumers to drive sales. Added to that, Chevy executives are also hoping to drive home the point that the Cruze diesel offers better highway mileage than any other non-hybrid passenger car in America.

About the Writer

Jeff Fortson is an auto analyst and editor of a car-buying website for women and minorities. To learn more about his popular car-buying workshop and/or to price a new-vehicle, drive on over to JeffCars.com. Follow him http://twitter.com/#!/JeffCars/.

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