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Carmakers Ford, General Motors to offer more diesel options

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DETROIT: Despite the uproar created by the diesel emissions cheating scandal at Volkswagen, Ford and General Motors (GM) are poised to offer new or revamped diesel vehicles to their American customers.

It is a bold move, as only a few diesel cars are sold in the US.

GM sold just 1,400 Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon compact pickup trucks with small diesel engines last year.

That represented less than 1 per cent of the trucks GM sold in this segment.

But even as automakers turn increasingly to electric and hybrid engines to meet demand for cleaner cars, and more importantly to meet government efficiency standards, diesel remains an option.

Diesel still produces better mileage than gasoline engines, so it can bolster the fleet-wide fuel economy average, which is critical to meeting US regulatory requirements.

Ford is planning to launch a diesel version of its popular F-150 pickup truck, while GM has two diesel SUV models in the works. Mazda is also adding a diesel SUV.

GM and Ford sell large diesel engines in heavy-duty pickup trucks widely used in construction, oil drilling and on farms and ranches in the US, but American consumers have been skittish about buying diesel models for daily use because they cost more.

Ms Stephanie Brinley, an analyst with IHS Automotive said selling diesel to American consumers was difficult even before the Volkswagen scandal made headlines. "There just isn't a lot of demand," she said.

VW has had to pay more than US$20 billion (S$28 billion) in fines and buybacks since it admitted in 2015 to outfitting 11 million diesel cars worldwide with software designed to cheat emissions testing, a scandal that shook the company to its core.

Fiat Chrysler also now faces potentially heavy fines because of similar concerns over the diesel Jeep utility vehicles and Ram pickup trucks.

But Mr Joseph Phillippi, owner of AutoTrends Consulting, said the new diesel-powered vehicles will find buyers looking for power and better mileage.

He said: "Diesel fans looking for torque and mpg, not overly concerned about prior sins, will still want what diesel can offer."

Ford is preparing to offer a 3-litre diesel engine as an option in the popular F-150 pickup truck when the 2018 version rolls out later this year.

Mr Todd Eckert, marketing manager for the F-150, said the automaker has a long-history of innovation with this vehicle.

"It's all about continuous improvement," Mr Eckert said.

The pickup's diesel engine will be built at the Ford factory in Dagenham, England and will make the truck more efficient, said Mr Jerry Farrell, the chief engineer for the F-150. Exact fuel economy numbers for the new model are not available yet.

Mazda meanwhile, will become the first Asian automaker to offer a diesel vehicle to US customers, when it introduces the CX-5 SUV with the SkyActive 2.2-liter clean diesel, beginning in the second half of this year.- AFP