General Motors Intends to Grow Its Diesel Family

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Mention the terms “diesel” and “General Motors” to a group of people, and a certain subset and/or age group will begin groaning and shaking their heads. That’s because GM (NYSE:GM) made some pretty downright terrible diesel models in the past, resulting in a period that some GM employees or former employees might like to forget about. The strategy of using a similar foundation to its gasoline engines and essentially converting them to run on diesel fuel didn’t really pan out, and it turned many Americans off to the benefits of diesel power.

But that was many years ago. Now, GM still offers some diesel models — mostly in its heavy duty truck range, but also the Cruze diesel, which was engineered to go head-to-head with Volkswagen’s Jetta TDI. It gets 46 miles per gallon on the highway, doesn’t belch out black smoke, and overall looks like an ordinary Cruze save for some additional badging.

It’s a sign of more to come, as GM signaled that the Cruze is “the first of many diesel-powered passenger cars General Motors will offer in the United States,” according to GM’s vice president of global powertrains Steve Keifer. Diesels are commonplace abroad, but U.S. emissions laws have hindered their growth domestically. However, Volkswagen, BMW, and Mercedes also offer a variety of diesels, and the segment has shown promising growth over the past couple of years.

Domestic companies, however, have been reluctant to embrace the oil-burning method of power, and instead have been more on board with hybrid technologies or turbocharging. Ford, for example, has notably resisted implementing any sort of diesel engines in its U.S. lineup with the exception of the heavy duty F-Series pickups.

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Next in line, that we know of, will be the GMC Canyon and Chevrolet Colorado twin pickups, which debut later this year. For 2016, they will pick up a 2.8 liter four-cylinder diesel option, making for the first available diesel in its class and giving an added bit of towing prowess to what will be GM’s smallest trucks. Outside of that, it’s anyone’s guess as to what the next vehicle to get a diesel powertrain will be.

“We will continue to introduce more diesels as appropriate and as the market accepts them,” Automotive News quoted Keifer as saying. Diesels generally offer superior fuel efficiency and improved torque, to the detriment of raw horsepower; they are also more expensive, at least for the time being.

GM has numerous vehicles in its lineup that could benefit from a diesel conversion. The Silverado/Sierra pickups would be ideal for battling Ram’s 1500 EcoDiesel, but also the SUV families — the Yukon, Tahoe, and even the Acadia or Traverse could benefit from a hearty diesel-six. Similarly, the larger sedans — the Impala, Buick LaCrosse, or even the Cadillac CTS or XTS — would do very well with a diesel engine, as Audi’s A6, A7, and A8 sedans have. But don’t hold your breath.

It’s unclear what GM’s priorities will be for its plug-in hybrid platform, which forms the foundation of the Volt compact and the ELR coupe; GM has invested too much into it to let it fall by the wayside just yet, but its diesel ambitions may signal that the plug-in hybrid formula may not see broader use throughout its portfolio.

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