German OEMs increase diesel, hybrid focus for North America

Image: VW CrossBlue concept Jan13.jpg

VW’s new CrossBlue concept, unveiled at the 2013 NAIAS, is a seven-seat midsized SUV concept powered by a diesel/PHEV powertrain with electric all-wheel drive.

German automakers are leading a diesel renaissance in the U.S. light vehicle market, judging from recent sales growth reported by the VDA, Germany's auto industry association.

“Compared to 2009, the German manufacturers have more than doubled their sales of diesel cars in the U.S.,” VDA President Matthias Wissmann said January 14 during the 2013 NAIAS.

During the first 10 months of 2012, German automakers sold more than 77,300 diesel powered passenger cars in the U.S., representing a 125% increase from the same time period in 2009 when sales tallied approximately 34,300 units.

“Even more impressive are the growth rates the German vehicle makers have achieved in sales of light trucks with diesel engines,” Wissmann said. He noted volume of diesel-powered utilities almost tripled in comparison with the same period in 2009, rising from 10,800 units to 38,900 vehicles.

The proportion of diesels among all passenger cars and light trucks in the U.S. is still low in comparison with those of Western Europe, where diesel has approached 50% of the market in some countries. But the diesel share of the light vehicle market has been rising steadily since 2009. It has grown by more than one quarter to 2.7%, noted Wissmann.

The German industry's increasing success with diesel in the U.S., particularly that of VW in the mainstream segments, has inspired Mazda and Chevrolet to launch new 2014 diesel sedans (the Mazda6 and Cruze, respectively) later this year.

In late 2012 Audi of America announced that diesel options will be added to the A6, A7, A8, and Q5 crossover to will join the automaker’s current TDI offerings. “These new models as well as our 2013 Q7 TDI are being introduced with a new engine,” said President Steve Keogh, during the Los Angeles Auto Show.

The German OEMs are pursuing a broad-based strategy of optimizing the internal combustion engine while simultaneously developing alternative drivetrains.

According to the VDA's Wissmann, while clean-diesel technology is at the forefront, the companies are “also optimistic about their progress in hybrid vehicles. The proportion of hybrids among all light vehicles climbed from two to three percent in 2012.”

The German automakers' hybrid-electric offerings in the U.S. include the Audi Q5; BMW 3-, 5-, and 7-Series; Mercedes E- and S-Class; Porsche Panamera and Cayenne, and Volkswagen Jetta and Touareg.

Audi's Keogh noted that in addition to diesels, “We’re making investments in other drivetrains, from a plug-in electric hybrid to our new hybrid TCNG A3," a concept a car recently showcased in Europe that achieves a 750-mi (1207-km) range on a mix of natural gas and gasoline.

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