Food for thought, Jay….
As happens quite often here at Trollhattan, the planets have aligned themselves in the form of a particularly intuitive comment (tho they’re all intuitive anyway)and a relevant news story appearing at the same time. Yesterday, in response to the 9-7x story, Buffalopundit commented on the fact that a natural and real progression for Saab would be to introduce to the US it’s diesel engine variants that are so popular in the UK and Europe.
The 9-3 SS comes with a few diesel variants in the UK and sells like hot cakes. Recently, they had to re-offer a lower spec engine because they ran out of particulate filters necessary to ensure Euro 4 emissions compliance.
I’ve always wondered why diesel was so popular in some places and not in others. Even here in Australia there’s very limited numbers despite the benefits on offer. Some of the limitation would be due to customer perception of limited fuel availability – you don’t see a diesel pump at every fuel station you stop at. A lot of the limited popularity would be to do with the black smoke they used to spew out and the fact that they sounded like tractors.
As Honda pointed out so effectively with their latest advertisment, diesels are no longer smelly, cloudy, noisy units. They enjoy similar power ratings and consistently higher torque. The little 1.9 Saab diesels offer an impressive 280Nm of torque for the standard engine and a 315Nm for the more grunty unit. And they’re popular: Saab’s sales numbers in the UK have been growing in double digit territory for the last few years and in raw numbers, they now outrank US sales.
With a slowly growing market for diesel in the US, a desire to depend less on foreign gasoline, huge upside potential and proven models already in the global lineup, Jay Spenchian should really be pushing for GM to test the diesel-waters in the US for the 9-3 Sport Sedan, Sport Combi and Convertible. We’re right at the beginning of a new dawn for diesel and Saab is well positioned to take advantage.
Last week there was an event in Washington DC called "Meet Clean Diesel". It was organised by a group called the Diesel Technology Forum and it showcased the benefits of diesel powered vehicles from eight different manufacturers, including Saab.
Senator Clinton drops in to check out the diesels.
If you’re in the US, would you consider diesel and if not, why not?
A full report on the "Meet Clean Diesel" event follows:
The timing for last Thursday’s Meet Clean Diesel event on Capitol Hill couldn’t have been better, according to Allen Schaeffer, executive director of the Diesel Technology Forum.
"Today’s really the perfect storm for diesel," said Schaeffer, who organized the event to showcase the benefits of diesel-powered vehicles from eight different automakers. "We’ve got the President talking about and calling for tax incentives for diesels — putting them on a par with other advanced technologies like hybrids — we’ve got the House just passed an energy bill that includes tax credits for diesel and today we’re showing the most advanced clean diesel technology that’s available here in the US and what Europeans are experiencing," Schaeffer said.
With the reality of gas prices hanging over every American’s pocketbook, and the debate over dependence on foreign oil, Schaeffer said, "Now’s the time to be talking about diesel in a big way."
A recent study shows that diesel is already starting to become more popular. R.L. Polk released data in March that showed over 468,000 diesel vehicles were sold in 2004 — a 50% increase from five years previous. While most of those were pickups, sales of diesel-powered passenger vehicles also increased 50% in the same time frame, according to the study.
"Diesel has come so far from what it was 20 years ago. Today’s diesels are nothing like those in the past — they’re clean, quiet and fun to drive," Schaeffer said.
The customers who purchased Mercedes’ E320 CDI when it was reintroduced last year didn’t have to be convinced of diesel’s merits. The car, which was part of the demonstration Thursday, met its sales goal of 3,000 units in just five months, said Dennis Fitzgibbons, DaimlerChrysler’s Director of Public Policy. "Mercedes has always had a loyal diesel customer base," Fitzgibbons said, adding that in the 1980’s, about 80% of Mercedes sold in America were diesels. "The interesting thing about the E320 is that it outperforms its internal combustion counterpart," Fitzgibbons said. "And, obviously, you’ve got fuel economy benefits in addition to that."
At first glance, the diesel E320 looks as if it has less power than the gas version — the diesel has 201 horsepower, while the gas version has 221 hp. The difference, however, lies in the torque ratings — the diesel puts out 369 lb-ft, while the gas version delivers 232 lb-ft. Torque delivers power in real-world driving conditions, such as accelerating to pass or from a standing stop, Fitzgibbons said. "It’s not a question of high-end, it’s a question of grunt."
Yet even with the greater "grunt" the diesel E320 gets over 30% better gas mileage than its gas counterpart. The diesel is rated at 27 mpg city, 37 highway, while the gas E320 sits at 20 city, 28 highway. Schaeffer said that with diesels such as the Mercedes E320 CDI, "consumers are going to have real savings at the pump. They’re going to be able to go farther on a gallon of fuel." Indeed, the range of the Mercedes diesel is nearly 800 miles on a single tank, versus 576 miles for the gas model.
The Volkswagen Passat was also available to drive at the event, and it’s one of four diesel-powered passenger car vehicles the company is marketing in the US, according to David Geanacopoulos, VW’s Director of Industry-Government Relations. "We’re committed to the diesel passenger car market in the United States, not just for the short term, but for the long term," Geanacopoulos said.
"We see it competing with other advanced technologies — it provides great performance and customer appeal and tremendous environmental benefits." Those environmental benefits can be extended even further, Geanacopoulos said. "Advanced diesels offer the best platform for the use of renewable fuels like biodiesel — and they show the way to a CO2-neutral future."
Besides the Passat, VW also has diesel versions of the Jetta, Golf and New Beetle. Customers can also purchase the Jetta Wagon and Passat Wagon with a diesel powertrain. Other diesel-powered vehicles on hand at the event were: Smart ForTwo, Saab 9-3 [European edition], Jaguar S-Type, Chrysler Voyager, Ford Focus C-Max and the Jeep Liberty CRD.