While some automakers are quitting diesels in the U.S. market and generally seeking to turn a page, others are taking a cue from European manufacturers when it comes to thrifty engines. Volkswagen recently announced that it will no longer offer diesel engines in the U.S. amid a flurry of new engine announcements by GM and other brands that will give U.S. buyers the diesel option in a number of unexpected vehicles.
One such unexpected vehicle is the 2018 GMC Terrain, which debuted on the first day of the Detroit auto show. When the redesigned crossover goes on sale, it will be available with a 1.5-liter turbocharged inline-four gasoline engine, a 2.0-liter turbocharged gasoline four, and a 1.6-liter turbodiesel paired with a six-speed automatic pumping out 137 hp and 240 lb-ft of torque. That’s the same 1.6-liter turbodiesel that will be under the hood of the new 2018 Chevrolet Equinox, a unit that first surprised industry observers after being announced for the Chevrolet Cruze, where it will be paired with either a six-speed manual or a nine-speed automatic transmission when it goes on sale in 2017 as a 2018 model-year vehicle.
Why the sudden turn to diesels?
As with the Oldsmobile diesels from more than 30 years ago — an episode GM hopes we have forgotten — the goal is fuel economy. EPA figures for the three GM vehicles have not been released yet, but the automaker hopes the Cruze will achieve better than 50 mpg highway with that 1.6-liter turbodiesel borrowed from Opel.
But the motivation for GM goes beyond mpg figures. Volkswagen’s departure from the diesel game left a sizable diesel audience to be catered to because TDI models made up a large chunk of sales for some of Wolfsburg’s cars.
“I am very optimistic about the diesel market in the U.S.,” Dan Nicholson, General Motors’ vice president for global propulsion systems told Automotive News earlier this fall. “It has been abandoned by others, and we are happy to step in and be the leader. Frankly, that’s what we’d like to do.”
According to Nicholson, the audience for diesels will not dissipate following VW’s withdrawal of TDI models, even as electric cars seep into multiple segments.
“There are a lot of diesel intenders and diesel-loyal people who are looking for a brand and vehicles to go after,” Nicholson added. “They tend to be more tech savvy than the average customer. And they won’t stop wishing for a diesel. And we’ll go after those customers.”
More than simply filling an empty niche, GM believes the U.S. is a growth market for diesel cars and trucks, even as it forges ahead with pure electrics like the Bolt. The Bolt may just be rolling into dealerships, but GM is seeing strong demand for diesel versions of the GMC Canyon and Chevrolet Colorado pickups.
GM isn’t the only one betting on diesel at a time when VW is walking away from the technology in the U.S. Jaguar Land Rover announced plans to field more diesel models in the months before the VW diesel scandal broke in fall 2015, with the intention of making diesels a major offering on this side of the pond.
Something tells us we’ll see the 1.6-liter turbodiesel in even more GM models soon.