Diesel Economics 102: More Buyers Choosing Diesels

By Jonathan Spira on 1 June 2010
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A new analysis by The Diesel Driver shows that diesel sales are not only on the upswing but, in some cases, are exceeding those of the petrol-powered equivalent model

In Diesel Economics 101, we looked at the price points for diesel-powered automobiles in the U.S.  In Diesel Economics 102, we analyze current sales figures for these cars.

While the U.S. market for diesel-powered automobiles is nowhere close to the European market in size, where diesel sales comprise over 50% of the new-car market. Despite the fact that there are relatively few models available, diesel sales are on the rise.

In the U.S., where a comparable diesel model exists, such as in the case of the Audi A3 (A3 and A3 TDI) or the BMW X5 (X5 xDrive30i and x5 xDrive35d), 30% of buyers on average chose the diesel model, according to an analysis of 2009 new-car registration data released by Bosch, the company that developed and manufactures the common rail diesel technology used in most modern diesel autos.

The Bosch analysis shows that the average percentage of registrations for cars with clean diesel engines were:

  • Audi A3 TDI: 20%
  • Audi Q7 TDI: 30%
  • BMW 335d: 8%
  • BMW X5 xDrive35d: 17%
  • Mercedes-Benz GL 350 BlueTEC: 18%
  • Mercedes-Benz ML 350 BlueTEC: 13%
  • Mercedes-Benz R 350 BlueTEC: 12%
  • VW Jetta TDI (Sedan and Sportwagen): >49%
  • Volkswagen Touareg TDI: 33%

As impressive as they are, these figures don’t even begin to tell the whole story.

The Diesel Driver’s careful analysis of the first four month’s of BMW’s diesel model sales shows that, in some cases, diesel sales are actually exceeding sales of the equivalent petrol-powered model.

Take for example, the BMW 3er Series.  In the U.S., the BMW 335d is available only as a four-door sedan (internal code E90).  In order to make an accurate comparison, its sales can only be compared to the 335i sedan.

For the first five months of 2010, 38% of buyers of 335-class BMWs chose the diesel-powered version.  In April, 54% chose the diesel.

For BMW’s X5 Sport Activity Vehicle, 36% of buyers, over the same five-month period, chose the equivalent diesel model (the X5 xDrive35d) versus the petrol-powered offering (the X5 xDrive30i).  In May, 85% chose the diesel.

It’s equally revealing to analyze at the percentage of hybrid-electric cars chosen when there is an equivalent petrol-only model.  For calendar year 2009, only 8% of Camry buyers opted for the Camry Hybrid, a model that has been on the market far longer than most diesels.  In the same period, only 10% of Ford Escape buyers purchased the hybrid model.

These impressive sales figures beg the question, when will European car makers start to offer more diesel models in the U.S.

BMW is one of several car makers that has announced its intention to bring more diesels stateside.  In addition to the X5 diesel and 335d that are currently available, two more diesels will make it to these shores within the next 12 months including a 5er Series model, most likely the 530d.  Jim O’Donnell, president of BMW of North America, recently promised that, “[B]y 2014, between 10 and 20 percent of our mix will be diesels.”