• More than 33,000 diesel Cruzes sold globally last year
  • U.S. model likely to deliver nearly 50 mpg highway
  • First diesel car in U.S. from American automaker in decades

When GM starts selling a diesel-powered Cruze in the U.S. later this year, it will have taken a bold step by becoming the first American manufacturer to sell a diesel vehicle in the U.S. in decades. Although the diesel vehicle market here is relatively small - around 4% of all vehicles sold - it is expected to double in size by 2017 due to increasingly tough fuel economy standards.

Sensing an opportunity to dominate this growing market, the German brands, led by Volkswagen, have been offering a growing range of models with diesel engines. Although many Americans remember the diesels of old as loud, smelly, finicky contraptions, today's modern diesels couldn't be farther from that image. Diesel fuel is packed with a higher amount of energy per gallon than gas, and diesel engines operate at higher compression ratios than gas engines, both of which add up to about 30% better fuel economy.

Thanks to turbocharging and other modern technological improvements, diesel engines are also now some of the cleanest and quietest engines on the road and they provide more than enough power to get up and go.

With the German dominance of diesel in the U.S., it might seem that a company like GM will be playing some serious catch up, but in fact the company has been selling diesels to most of the rest of the world for years. GM sold a half million diesel-powered models in Europe, Asia, Africa and South America last year alone. This seeming disparity has lead many Americans to grumble about being left out - grumbling that GM insiders say has played a part in pushing the company to spend significant amounts of resources to engineer their diesels to meet stricter U.S. emissions standards.

While older Americans with bad memories of diesels may need some convincing to buy one, younger buyers don't have any preconceived notions about diesel cars. It's for this reason GM has decided to introduce their diesel tech on a car targeted at the younger crowd.

"So far, the German automakers haven't had any diesel car competition in North America," said Mike Omotoso, powertrain analyst at LMC Automotive. "GM could do well with it, particularly with younger buyers who don't have the old prejudices against diesel."

While official fuel economy numbers and pricing won't be out for a few more months, GM officials have hinted at highway numbers reaching as high as 50 mpg. Pricing will likely be within a few thousand dollars above a gas-powered Cruze.

What it means to you: The 2013 Chevy Cruze Diesel looks to be a fuel economy champ, and will provide some much needed diesel competition for the German brands.

author photo

Nick Chambers is a "next generation" car enthusiast, recognized for his green automotive coverage in Gas 2.0, The New York Times, Popular Mechanics, HybridCars.com and PluginCars.com. In addition, he's been syndicated in Matter Network, AP and Reuters.

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