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A blog about the cars I drive

Does the US dodge diesel?

After this morning’s review of VW’s 2015 Jetta Hybrid appeared, I received an email from a friend. Why, he wondered, are US buyers denied access to high-mileage turbo-diesels available in Europe.

Volkswagen Polo

Volkswagen Polo

He wrote: Our friends rented a VW Polo in Europe that gets 91 mpg highway.  I did some research to learn it is a 1.4 litre turbo-diesel that Porsche engineers created.

He sees a conspiracy: I am in contact with Rep. Cathy McMorris’ office to determine the reason(s) The Empire does not allow fuel-efficient cars into the USA.  I have been trying to get an answer since September.  I also contacted the US DOT and am unable to get their stated reasoning. 

It’s less a conspiracy, I replied, than a business decision. When deciding which engines to export to the US — and especially diesel — foreign manufacturers confront a complex matrix of decisions. Diesel fuel costs more here than in Europe, due in large part to a difference in tax structures. Further, in 2008, the US switched to low-sulfur diesel and imposed new clean-air standards to which imported diesels must adhere. Add to that American’s historical preference for gas and the low “take rate” that VW might expect for the three-cylinder 1.4-liter BlueMotion diesel that powered my friend’s friends’ Polo, a “supermini” not available in the US.

So, no conspiracy. In fact, some analysts believe European diesel sales will fall as the Continent tightens its emissions standards.

Want to know more? This 2009 Popular Mechanics piece is a good place to start.