Light-duty diesel sales surge 28 percent

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Light-duty diesel sales up 28% during 2019-2020

Sales of pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles (SUVs) with diesel engines grew 28 percent during 2020, even as overall auto sales declined by over 14 percent for the year according to a report this week from the Diesel Technology Forum.

Among alternative fueled vehicle offerings, vehicles with diesel engines held 5 of the top 10 rankings for fastest growing sales (2019-2020) based on data and analysis provided by Alan Baum and Associates.

“For several decades, full-size pickup trucks have been at the top of the most popular selling vehicles in America, and now with new fuel-efficient and powerful diesel engine options available, last year’s 28 percent growth in sales results confirm that consumers are embracing the new generation of diesel technology more than ever,” said Allen Schaeffer, executive director of the Diesel Technology Forum, a not-for-profit association representing manufacturers of diesel engines and equipment, key suppliers of emissions control and other technologies, and fuel producers.

DTF considers diesel to be an alternative fuel in light-duty applications where gasoline-fueled powertrains have long dominated sales.

“At a time of renewed national focus on vehicle fuel efficiency and strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the more than 140,000 new diesels sold last year in full-size pickup trucks is boosting overall corporate average fuel economy as diesel vehicle owners realize 16 to 25 percent fuel economy advantages over gasoline in both city and highway driving,” Schaeffer said.

“Consider that if every full-size pickup sold in the U.S. was equipped with an advanced diesel engine, the U.S. could save roughly 500 million gallons of fuel per year, equivalent to 15 percent of the entire car market switching to a battery-electric option, helping to contribute to climate and energy policy goals,” Schaeffer continued. “Greater fuel economy from diesel engines means using less fuel, saving money and fewer greenhouse gas emissions, benefits everyone can value.”

Though electric, hybrid and fuel cell offerings have grown over the years, diesel continues to dominate the light-duty alt fuel segment according to DTF.

“That five of the top ten fastest selling alternative fuel vehicles sold in 2020 are diesel-powered, is a very strong statement that consumers value what the new diesel engines offer,” Schaeffer said.

Currently there are 13 diesel options available in mid, full-size and heavy-duty pickup trucks.  The year 2020 marked the first time that three diesel engine options rolled out for the leading full size pickup truck segment GM (Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Duramax), Ram Trucks (1500 EcoDiesel), and Ford (F-150 PowerStroke).  These ½-ton diesel offerings are in addition to the brands’ heavy-duty 2500 and 3500 series pickup truck offerings, including the Cummins Diesel in Ram’s heavy-duty trucks.  The Jeep Gladiator will have a 3.0-literdiesel engine option available in 2021.

Beyond the new lineup of diesel options in full size pickup trucks, there is further market potential thanks to new options in full-size SUVs from General Motors – the Duramax 3.0-liter turbo-diesel engine now available in the Chevrolet Tahoe and SuburbanGMC Yukon, Yukon XL and Cadillac Escalade, making a total of 12 choices in the SUV segment. In addition to SUVs, there are nearly a dozen full-size vans offering a fuel-efficient diesel option as well.  A full listing of currently available and coming soon options is available at the Forum website

“In the vehicle segments more Americans now prefer, more diesel options are turning out to be a win-win because diesel is a fuel-efficient choice that requires no compromises in fuel efficiency, vehicle utility or performance,” Schaeffer said. “With readily available fuel at more than two-thirds of all stations, highway ratings of as much as 33 mpg along with driving ranges that can exceed 500 miles on a single tank, the diesel option presents great overall value for consumers in these larger vehicles.”

Schaeffer said advancements in diesel engine technology are proving attractive in the market in terms of fuel efficiency, power and reduced emissions.

“The new generation of diesel engine options are the quietest most powerful and fuel efficient we have ever seen, with near zero emissions as well, making them good choices for both the pocketbook and the planet,” Schaeffer said. “More diesel engine sales would help boost the overall U.S. vehicle fleet fuel efficiency which, according to the U.S. EPA, fell to 24.9 miles per gallon (mpg) in the 2019 model year as more Americans bought larger sport utility vehicles instead of cars.”

So long as the economic recovery continues and fuel prices remain stable, Schaeffer expects that “sales of pickups and larger SUVs with diesel engine options are only likely to increase as consumers seek more fuel efficiency, power and performance for the long haul of vehicle ownership.”