US diesels

Regular visitors here would know that if there’s a forced choice between introducing either Biopower or diesel in the US market, I’d opt for diesel. I’ve been on the diesel bandwagon for over a year now and for all that time I’ve been saying that if Saab don’t prepare for the new US regulations on diesel and get these highly successful and well regarded cars to the US market – then they’ve got rocks in their heads.

It’s nothing against the Biopower setup, but diesel just seems way more marketable at the moment and the distribution system is already established. E85 has some work to do in both areas: marketability and distribution. If you’re looking to ramp up sales with something new, diesel’s got a lot to offer.

GM and Saab USA have previously stated that whilst they’re keeping their options open and watching developments, their plans for Saab are leaning more towards the Biopower revolution. That’s one bit of bad news for those who want access to the oilburners that have been doing so well in Europe. Maybe this is some more bad news, but maybe not….

One of the developments that Saab’s been watching is the decision by Volkswagen to drop most of its diesel range for the 2007 model year. VW will remove the diesel option for the Golf, Beetle and Jetta, but will retain a diesel for the Touareg.

Whilst new fuel regulations will bring low-sulfur fuel into play and make many more Euro-diesels a potentially viable proposition in the US, tightening emissions standards mean that many of these Euro-deisels may not make it to market as they don’t meet the new regulations for 2007 onwards.

VW will bring a new diesel engine to market in 2008 that meets the emissions regs, but they will lose close to 20% of their current sales due to the loss of the diesel. They’re trying to compansate by producing more 2006-plated stock that they can sell into 2007.

Reading between the lines here, I’d venture a guess and say that maybe Saab’s 1.9TiD diesel that sells so well in the UK and other markets doesn’t meet these new emissions standards either, hence the lack of a push in the diesel direction.

If the 1.9 TiD does meet the new emissions standards however, then this news is just another reason why Saab should get the diesels into the marketplace – their main competitor just pulled out. That’s one BIG barrier to entry removed.

Bottom line: If it’s possible, I’d still love them to develop and exploit the diesel market in the US. Hopefully there’s a bunch of people in lab coats right now figuring out whether the Saab diesel can be made to comply and if so, perhaps there’s some hope in this area.

If not then I’d love to see some concrete action on bringing the Biopower engine to the US. If you’re gonna do it, then do it!! And about that hybrid concept – as mentioned in comments, wouldn’t they sell a squillion hybrid convertibles in California alone??

Saab USA seems to be on the verge of so much possibility for change, yet they’re actually implementing very little of it at the moment (pls forgive my impatience, Jay). I’m quite confident that that will change though. Here’s hoping it’s sooner rather than later.

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25 Comments

  1. Seems like diesel-powered cars are the in thing right now. Although I’m not quite sure why Volkswagen is stopping production for its diesel cars. Maybe its time they thought this one over first. It could mean loss of sales for them.

  2. You know, even VW is pulling out of the US for 2007 because of the new diesel restrictions. VW dealers are stockpiling 2006 models because of this.

  3. Wow. With the new low sulfur fuel coming along soon I thought I’d actually see some new diesels out here in California. Guess not.

    As VW pulls out of the diesel market here that leaves Mercedes as the only other make with an oil burner. (Ignoring American trucks and what-not)

    While that would certainly put a diesel Saab as a nearly unique offering I wonder if it’s something the market would even take a second glance at. I mean, when you can afford a luxury brand then the rewards of a fuel efficient engine are increasingly diminished.

    People don’t usually buy expensive luxury brands for the sake of being frugal in their fuel costs. Fuel just isn’t that expensive yet here in the States.

    People do though sometimes buy expensive luxury brands that are frugal for the sake of being trendy/cool. (think: hybrids) Diesels are NOT trendy and cool. The image of dirty, slow, noisy 1970’s junkers is just too strongly ingrained into our memories.

    If diesels are ever going to be trendy/cool then the American public will need to be totally resold on the idea. Leave that to a brand known as practical and utilitarian [aka: boring Japanese] in which fuel economy is of primary emphasis. I’d venture it would be either Honda or Subaru.

    http://www.autoblog.com/2006/05/23/honda-to-make-clean-diesels/

  4. (OT) Swade, I Like the new favicon.ico you’re using–makes your site stand out in my bookmarks. I’m curious what the symbol is though.

  5. I’m using Firefox which shows the icon (sort of a red solar burst). I just tried Internet Explorer and don’t see ANY icons there (except the I.E. icon).
    I’m assuming it’s favicon as that’s the only way I know to get icons there.

  6. In the US, diesel fuel costs the same (if not more) than gasoline. Other than the increased fuel mileage, there is little incentive for US car buyers to opt for (or switch to) diesel powered cars. Even at gas prices at their current levels, US cars buyers are reluctant to give up their better performing gas powered cars for diesel powered versions. In addition, the current tax structure is not set up to promote diesel fuel as an alternative. Until gas prices substantially outpace diesel prices, or diesel performance becomes comparable to gas powered performance within a (particular model)-diesel will not become a widely accepted fuel for car buying US consumers.

    “Biopower” seems to be a more viable alternative fuel in the US. The increased performance when running E85 versus gas (despite the gas mileage penalty) appeals to the US car buying consumer.

    We are reluctant to spend more money for less performance. But, we will gladly spend more for more performance.

  7. “We are reluctant to spend more money for less performance. But, we will gladly spend more for more performance”

    This appears to be the fundamental problem with resource usage in the USA. All the advances in automotive efficiency over the last 20 years have been offset by the demand for increased power. My base model 1999 9-3 has a more powerful engine than a 1990 SPG. Is it fun, sure, but absolutely not necessary.

    I’ve read that we would use 20% less fuel as a country if we would be willing to accept engine performance levels of 1987. I don’t think that an ’87 900 turbo was that painfully slow.

  8. I think US problem is 4 litre engine and SUV – fancy cars . not increased power , modern engine meens less fuel for more power , compare with 1990 fuel consumption was about 12 liter and now 9 liter.

  9. “I’ve read that we would use 20% less fuel as a country if we would be willing to accept engine performance levels of 1987. I don’t think that an ’87 900 turbo was that painfully slow.”

    An ’87 900 turbo wasn’t. But an 8v 900 base model was pretty damn slow.

  10. Slow compared to what? I remeber my first car… A Saab 99 GL 5speed. 100 bhp and 1-100 km/h in something like 12 sec, I think. It could still do 100 km/h on the open road whitout problems, the trip between my parents house and the university took 2 hours and 15 min. It take the same today, although my Saab now has 150 bhp and do 0-100 in 8 sec. I hardly use the 150 bhp even when overtaking occasionally.

  11. 1. Diesel cost less than premium gas near me.

    2. Every diesel car I’ve seen gets better milage than the equivalent gasoline vehicle.

    3. I’ve heard that the ethanol vehicles guzzle fuel compared to gasoline.

  12. When it comes to Diesels the Hp number means nothing, its all about the torque. My guess is that a 150hp TDi will easily outrun a 150hp gasoline car up to a 100mph…

  13. A 150bhp diesel will easily outrun the 150bhp petrol. The mid range acceleration of the new diesels is on par with the 210bhp Aero engines.

  14. Yes , and diesel engine after 50.000 km sound beautifull too . For me diesel car stay Tractor ,no matter how good acceleration they hawe !

  15. Answer to Bram , this is true but here in EU ,Diesel cars are much expensive. This price diference beatwin premium gas and diesel making sense after 7 years normal use of diesel.

  16. I think that diesel Saabs would sell better than E85 Saabs in the US, for the basic reason that diesel is more widely available. Having said that, I would personally rather own an E85 Saab than a diesel Saab.

    My opinion is that diesel autos appeal to two kinds of Americans: the greenies (where diesels compete with hybrids like the Pious), and big truck/SUV guys pretending they are driving a big rig.

    I doubt that most Saab buyers would go for diesel – because it costs more (about 30 cents a gallon more than premium in Salt Lake) and because Saabs already get much better mileage than the typical SUV or pickup. The mileage on my 2004 Linear is about 24/35 city/highway, and my monthly gasoline purchases cost less than my cable tv bill. I think gasoline would have to get much much more expensive to make diesels attractive to most people.

  17. Oh where to start…1) plz chk the website 2)Ive been driving the US Saab diesel “bandwagon” for 62K and 3 years now…and recently got a 03 93 2t to compare…and theyre both great cars…however theres something quite wrong with not having the option to drive or buy a D (with so much Krap out there big auto must bribe us to buy)in many brands and lines. The spread between VWs and big-ass 3/4 ton PUs is incredible. 3) Saab needs to sell more cars in all the markets theyre in as well as get into the huge number of markets theyre not…Saabusa(among others) dealer/customer retention and development sux, the 92 was a debacle, the 97, while being the best version of Trailblazer still needs a turbo and a diesel wouldnt be the worst idea if any sales outside US are planned(no Bob I didnt mean Dmax)and the 95 needs life support. 4) Performance differences are negligible, but 40mpg is a nice trump card in an ever more uncertain future.
    Finally, our new Treasury Sec wants to slow imports and improve exports…with the $ being what it is, diesel could help in all endeavors.

  18. Ted, I think the favicon thing is a result of my change of server. Might be related to Plesk, an admin and management package that sits with the site.

    Glad you pointed it out as I’ve always wondered where those little icons came from. I’m a dumbass, really.

    Now that I know, I might look into changing it to something suitable.

  19. I think the icon is a gear, which is actually kind of fitting.

    I like the old SAAB airplane logo if I get a vote on a replacement.

  20. Guys: Yes, diesel is more efficient. Yes, diesel engines have higher torque numbers for equivalent horsepower.

    However…

    1. A comparison of 150 hp diesel vs. a 150 hp gasoline engine would feature two completely different engine sizes — the diesel would have a much larger displacement.

    2. Diesel fuel takes about 20% more crude oil to make a liter of diesel than gasoline.

    3. Diesel pollutes more than gasoline. Particulate emissions are much, much higher with diesel than with gasoline.

    The reason that diesel is so popular in Europe is that the taxation of the two fuels puts gasoline at prices around 20% higher than diesel.

    Purely on technical merit, I would:

    1. Buy a diesel for trucks and tractors.
    2. Buy s gasoline engine with a performance vehicle.

  21. I use 100% biodiesel in my Ford Excursion and now want to get a smaller commuter car for daily driving. VW has several, but I love SAAB, will they have difficulty running on biodiesel? Any chance of breaking into US market with that hot convertible diesel? How about picking up a diesel with the European delivery option?

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