NAIAS: U.S. Diesel Vehicle Sales Continue Upward Despite Headwinds

As more Americans choose to drive bigger SUVs and pickups, the demand for diesel engines strengthens, due to the technology’s reliability, fuel efficiency and lower cost of ownership, according to The Diesel Technology Forum. In 2018, even as overall automobile sales in the United States were up by only 0.5 percent according to Wards, 50,000 more diesel vehicles were sold, led largely by pickup and SUV sales.

“Available diesel options continue to grow in America’s top selling vehicles: full-size pickup trucks. Recent announcements from General Motors, Ram and Ford signal this is a trend that will continue through 2020 and beyond,” said Allen Schaeffer, executive director of the Diesel Technology Forum. “Diesel’s popularity continues because it offers consumers a unique combination of power and performance. Its towing capabilities and outstanding driving range are beyond compare in the current market. On top of that, diesel gives consumers remarkably flexible fueling options, including ready fuel availability and the option to use advanced renewable low-carbon biodiesel fuels.”

Looking at U.S. automotive sales in 2018, as provided by Baum & Assoc.:

  • For light duty vehicles (Class 1-3), sales of diesel vehicles reached their highest annual level, coming in at more than 500,000 units, or just over 3 percent of total vehicle sales in the U.S. This share exceeded that of hybrid vehicles, which came in at almost 2 percent of total sales, as well as the sales of plug-in electric vehicles (plug-in hybrids and full-battery-electric vehicles combined), which came in at around 2 percent of total sales
  • Class 2 and 3 pickups have and continue to be the largest users of these engines, with an overall growth rate of 12.5 percent over 2017. Over a three-year period (not annualized), this category has seen a very strong growth rate of 35 percent, with the strongest growth in 2017 and 2018
  • Diesel sales in smaller vehicles showed modest growth in 2018, after a drop in both 2016 and 2017. Sales from these vehicles in 2018 increased by 9 percent as compared to 2017.

“More American truck buyers are choosing bigger vehicles, and that is where diesel shines,” said Alan Baum, a Michigan-based automotive industry analyst. “2019 will prove an important year for the use of diesel engines. More products are expected to hit showroom floors along with revamped products that have proven popular with car buyers this year.”

Today, more than 40 diesel models are available in the U.S. from 10 manufacturers and brands. Offerings range from light-duty and heavy-duty pickup trucks to crossovers and sedans. New diesel options continue to be announced or introduced in the most popular vehicle models, including:

  • Jeep Gladiator midsize pickup
  • Ram (Cummins) 2500 and 3500 heavy-duty pickups
  • Chevrolet Silverado heavy-duty pickup
  • Mazda 3 with a SKYACTIV-D engine

“Clean, fuel-efficient diesel engines continue to be in demand, even alongside a growing number of alternative fuel options,” Schaeffer said. “There are a lot of positives in the diesel column that help explain its continued popularity: superior fuel economy, nearly ubiquitous fuel infrastructure, power, performance and typically higher resale value.”

A typical full-size diesel pickup truck owner will save about 200 gallons of fuel each year while achieving an additional driving range of 125 miles and boosting power and performance, compared to a comparable gasoline model, according to an analysis commissioned by the Diesel Technology Forum.

“It’s no surprise that car buyers looking for bigger vehicles are choosing diesel,” Schaeffer added. “With a diesel pickup, it’s possible to drive the family to the lake without stopping, towing the family boat, and still achieve better fuel economy than a comparable gasoline model. Similar benefits are seen with the diesel option in SUVs and lighter trucks.”

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