By Jim Mackinnon
Beacon Journal business writer
When the Chevrolet Cruze Turbo Diesel engine is running, anyone standing outside the compact car can hear a low but familiar typical engine “clatter.”
It’s a different story at the tail-end of the just-introduced, made-in-Lordstown car: There’s no black, truck-like exhaust. And inside, extra soundproofing filters out almost all of the diesel engine rattle.
Step on the pedal and you find plenty of low-end diesel oomph from the 2.0 liter engine that produces 151 horsepower and 264 pound-feet of torque. The ride is quiet and comfortable.
Fuel use is hybrid-like miserly. Early trade and enthusiast publication reviews show the 2014 vehicle, with its six-speed automatic transmission, getting more than 50 miles per gallon on the highway at times — its EPA rating is 27 mpg city, 46 highway.
One trade-off is there’s no spare tire, just a spray can to temporarily patch and inflate a flat. The space in the trunk where a spare tire would normally fit is taken up by a special emission-control device.
Sales, which started earlier in 13 markets including Northeast Ohio, have topped 500 so far, according to Chevrolet. Those sales figures are meeting expectations for what General Motors expects to be an important but not large-selling vehicle in its lineup.
Starting next week, Chevrolet launches the diesel Cruze nationally, kicking off in Ohio with a 61-dealer “ride and drive” event at Lordstown. The diesel model is a high-end version of the popular five-passenger car, of which more than 800,000 have come off the Lordstown assembly line since production started in 2010.
The diesel also commands a premium price.
The base list price for a 2014 gas engine Cruze is $17,170; the diesel Cruze base price is $24,885.
“It’s not intended to be high volume,” said Annalisa Bluhm, Chevrolet spokeswoman. “I would place it in the category of niche vehicle. We are going after people who like diesels.”
The diesel engine is a modified version of one that General Motors sells in Europe, where diesel cars are extremely popular.
Mark Reuss, president of GM’s North American operations, told the Los Angeles Times earlier this month that he would be happy selling 5,000 diesel Cruzes annually in the U.S.
The diesel Cruze is intended to go after foreign competition, specifically the diesel version of the Volkswagen Jetta, Bluhm said. Initial data show that many people traded in imports, including diesel Jettas, on the new Cruze, she said.
“The good thing about the diesel is, it offers our customers another option,” said Tom Mock, spokesman for the Lordstown complex. General Motors invested about $5.5 million at Lordstown to accommodate the new diesel car, which will be built on the same line as the gasoline models.
The addition of the diesel Cruze model to Lordstown, while it didn’t add extra jobs, is important to the Mahoning Valley region; the complex employs about 4,500 people. General Motors is among the automakers looking at offering diesel engines as a means to meet increasingly stringent federal fuel economy regulations.
Marhofer Chevrolet off Darrow Road in Stow has already sold a handful of the new diesel car, said general sales manager Jeff Miller.
“They’re just starting to trickle in,” he said.
Marhofer’s diesel Cruze buyers were attracted to the car for its highway mileage, Miller said — the customers typically had work commutes of 30 or more miles.
“Fifty miles per gallon is going to get some looks,” Miller said. Based on highway mileage, a diesel Cruze can travel about 700 miles on one tank of fuel, he said.
Even with diesel fuel selling for more than premium gasoline, buyers can save money over the long term by buying a diesel vehicle, Miller said.
A study released in March by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute said that diesel vehicle owners can save thousands of dollars in total ownership costs versus comparable gasoline vehicles.
Diesel cars typically get much better miles per gallon and retain higher resale values than comparable gasoline vehicles, according to the study.
“The estimates of savings for three and five years of ownership vary from a low of $67 in three years to a high of $15,619 in five years, but most of the savings are in the $2,000 to $6,000 range,” the study said. Those savings factor in the extra cost to buy a diesel version of a vehicle.
The study can be found at: www.dieselforum.org/files/dmfile/20130311_CD_UMTRITCOFinalReport_dd2017.pdf
Jim Mackinnon can be reached at 330-996-3544 or firstname.lastname@example.org.