VW was the only major automaker selling affordable diesel powered passenger vehicles in the United States. You could, for instance, buy a diesel-powered Jetta sedan, Golf or Beetle for about $22k.
At least, not for a while.
VW announced Wednesday that it will withdraw emissions certification applications tendered to the EPA for all 2016 model year diesel-powered VW passenger car models. This means they will not be legal for sale in the U.S.
Which means they will not be sold.
Which means, if you want an affordable diesel-powered car, you had better hurry to your local (or not-so-local) VW dealer and buy a 2015 Jetta, Golf, or Beetle TDI before the remaining inventory runs out.
After that, you’ll be out of luck.
With the diesel VWs out of the game, there is only one diesel-powered car remaining that costs less than $30,000. That would be the diesel-powered version of Chevy’s Cruze sedan, a kinda-sorta rival of the Jetta TDI’s. Kinda-sorta, because it’s about the same size. But it’s much more expensive. Base price: $25,660 vs. $21,640 for the VW.
A difference — a price jump — of about $4,000.
Now, the Chevy’s a nice car. But its price tag — the price difference — does a number on the economic argument for the diesel engine under its hood. You will have to drive many miles before the savings at the pump make up for what you paid up front. And that, as they say, is the rub.
VW’s “sin” was to sell affordable diesels.
When people ponder purchasing a diesel-powered car, they weigh the diesel’s mileage vs. that of an otherwise similar gas-engined car and base their decision about which to buy on whether the diesel’s higher price “up front” would be amortized over time by the diesel engine’s superior fuel efficiency. If it is, then the diesel makes economic sense.
If it’s not, then not.
The Cruze doesn’t make economic sense — even though it gets very good mileage (27 city/46 highway). Buy it because it’s well-equipped (it is; Chevy only sells the Cruze diesel in one “loaded” trim) or because you enjoy the right-now torque output of the turbo-diesel engine.
But if you’re buying it to save money, you’re math skills are lacking.
And it is the only remaining diesel-powered car on the market that’s priced under $30,000.
Next up after the Cruze is the Audi A3 diesel. It’s an Audi, so an entry-luxury model. Base price, $32,600. It makes even less economic sense than the Cruze diesel. After that, you’re definitely swimming in the deep end of the pool with models like the diesel-powered version of the BMW 3 Series sedan (the $39,000 to start 328d) and the Mercedes-Benz E250 BlueTec ($54,300).
Some inside baseball:
Mazda had planned to bring an affordable diesel to market. The 2014 Mazda3 sedan (and the 2015 CX5) were supposed to have been available with Mazda’s new “Sky-D” diesel engine. And they are.
Just not here.
Mazda was unable to figure out a way to make them compliant with federal rigmarole and both efficient enough and priced low enough to make them plausibly competitive in the U.S. market. To meet the federal requirements, efficiency would suffer — and the cost would go up. While people might pay $32k for an Audi diesel (or $54k for a Benz diesel) a $26k (or more) Mazda diesel is a much harder sell.
Ditto the Honda i-DTEC diesel. Available in the UK and Western European countries. But not here.
Ask Chevy how many diesel-powered Cruzes they sell.
The answer, Alex, is not many.
Because they cost too much. And because it’s a Chevy.
Meanwhile, in Europe, there are diesel-powered versions of practically every passenger car, from the humblest economy car all the way up to the highest-end cars (and SUVs, too). In Europe, diesels are not for-the-rich-only.
Here, they are.
Because of an out-of-control EPA and federal regulatory apparat that has imposed unreasonable — economically impossible to deal with — emissions rigmarole on diesel engines. If you have any doubt about this, ask yourself whether it’s an emissions-free-for-all in Western European countries like Germany and France. Do you believe their governments allow soot-spewing stinkpots on the road?
The problem is not that the diesels are “dirty.” It is that the EPA is out-of-control. This anti-democratic bureaucracy, subject to no vote, accountable to no American citizen, simply decrees standards that must be complied with irrespective of cost — or benefit.
And that is the nut of the problem here.
The people never had a say in this. No one ever empowered EPA to decide that a less-than-1-percent reduction in the overall output of oxides of nitrogen is worth whatever it costs to achieve compliance. EPA does not have to consider the economic impact of its fatwas. It simply issues fatwas — and leaves it up to the targeted industry to comply.
Regardless of cost.
The American people get no say. They simply get to pay. The best they can do is “call their representative” — which is like calling a “customer service” line in Mumbai to complain about a defective toaster.
Even Congress can do very little to rein in the EPA.
Because Congress has abdicated its legal obligation under the Constitution to pass laws. It has given to the EPA (and other federal “agencies”) de facto authority to legislate. What else is it, after all, when the EPA can issue a regulatory fatwa that has the force of law, that must be complied with?
This mess could be dealt with, if Congress would grow a pair. It need not even abolish the EPA (which would be like trying to abolish Kudzu in the South). However, it could actually pass a law to the effect that any diesel-powered passenger car that meets European emissions standards is automatically legal for sale in all 50 U.S. states.
Remember: European diesel emissions standards are not lax. They are in fact very strict. But they are different from EPA’s loony standards. And it is the cost of complying with both the European and the U.S. standards that is keeping clean, high-efficiency diesels (some of which deliver 60 MPG or more) out of the U.S. market.
There is no legitimate reason for that. EPA is run by maniacs, that’s all.
It’s time to chain them to a wall in a nicely padded room.