No More Affordable Diesels

VW was the only major automaker selling affordable diesel powered passenger vehicles in the United States. You could, for instance, buy a diesel-powered Jetta sedan, Golf or Beetle for about $22k.
Not anymore.

At least, not for awhile.

VW announced yesterday (Wednesday; see here) that it will withdraw emissions certification applications tendered to the EPA for all 2016 model year diesel-powered VW passenger car models. This means they will not be legal for sale in the U.S.

Which means they will not be sold. Against the State: An ... Rockwell Jr., Llewelly... Best Price: $5.02 Buy New $5.52 (as of 11:35 EST - Details)

Which means, if you want an affordable diesel-powered car, you had better hurry to your local (or not-so-local) VW dealer and buy a 2015 Jetta, Golf or Beetle TDI before the remaining inventory runs out.

After that, you’ll be out of luck.

With the diesel VWs out of the game, there is only one diesel-powered car remaining that costs less than $30,000. That would be the diesel-powered version of Chevy’s Cruze sedan, a kinda-sorta rival of the Jetta TDI’s. Kinda-sorta, because it’s about the same size. But it’s much more expensive. Base price: $25,660 vs. $21,640 for the VW.

Real Dissent: A Libert... Thomas E. Woods Jr. Best Price: $8.48 Buy New $7.93 (as of 03:10 EST - Details) A difference – a price jump – of about $4,000.

Now, the Chevy’s a nice car. But its price tag – the price difference – does a number on the economic argument for the diesel engine under its hood. You will have to drive many miles before the savings at the pump make up for what you paid up front. And that, as they say, is the rub.

VW’s “sin” was to sell affordable diesels.

When people ponder purchasing a diesel-powered car, they weigh the diesel’s mileage vs. that of an otherwise similar gas-engined car and base their decision about which to buy on whether the diesel’s higher price “up front” would be amortized over time by the diesel engine’s superior fuel efficiency. If it is, then the diesel makes economic sense.

If it’s not, then not. The Little Green Book ... James Delingpole Best Price: $5.70 Buy New $19.99 (as of 06:30 EST - Details)

The Cruze doesn’t make economic sense – even though it gets very good mileage (27 city/46 highway). Buy it because it’s well-equipped (it is; Chevy only sells the Cruze diesel in one “loaded” trim) or because you enjoy the right-now torque output of the turbo-diesel engine.

But if you’re buying it to save money, you’re math skills are lacking.

And it is the only remaining diesel-powered car on the market that’s priced under $30,000.

The Great Deformation:... David A. Stockman Best Price: $2.00 Buy New $9.95 (as of 09:55 EST - Details) Next up after the Cruze is the Audi A3 diesel. It’s an Audi, so an entry-luxury model. Base price, $32,600. It makes even less economic sense than the Cruze diesel. After that, you’re definitely swimming in the deep end of the pool with models like the diesel-powered version of the BMW 3 Series sedan (the $39,000 to start 328d) and the Mercedes-Benz E250 BlueTec ($54,300).

Some inside baseball:

Mazda had planned to bring an affordable diesel to market. The 2014 Mazda3 sedan (and the 2015 CX5) were supposed to have been available with Mazda’s new “Sky-D” diesel engine. And they are.

Just not here.

Mazda was unable to figure out a way to make them compliant with federal rigmarole and both efficient enough and priced low enough to make them plausibly competitive in the U.S. market. To meet the federal requirements, efficiency would suffer – and the cost would go up. While people might pay $32k for an Audi diesel (or $54k for a Benz diesel) a $26k (or more) Mazda diesel is a much harder sell.

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