Diesel Cruze to be unveiled next week

Auto enthusiasts next week will get their long-anticipated first glimpse of General Motors’ first diesel passenger car since the 1980s.

The clean-diesel Chevrolet Cruze, set to be built at the Lordstown GM complex, will be unveiled publicly at a news conference Thursday morning at the Chicago Auto Show, GM officials announced Friday.

Manufacture will begin in Lordstown soon thereafter, and the auto will hit showrooms during the second quarter of 2013.

Don Johnson, GM’s U.S. vice president of Chevrolet sales and service, said he expects diesel sales to make up about 10 percent of the total Cruze sales but was cautious in his predictions because the concept is new again for GM.

”It’s been quite a while since we offered a passenger car diesel, so we will see. I think success for us is going to be establishing Chevy as an industry leader by offering technology like this that other manufacturers are not,” Johnson said Friday during a conference call from Detroit.

Company officials have said they are counting on the passion and loyalty of diesel fuel auto buyers to drive their purchases of the vehicle.

And despite the limited current small U.S. demand for diesel cars, GM’s marketing director for Chevrolet small cars Cristi Landy believes there is a void that the company can fill.

National Automobile Dealers Association chief economist Paul Taylor agreed with that assessment.

”If consumers like the characteristics of the diesel, if it runs smoothly and reasonably quietly, it should be extremely popular,” Taylor said.

He also pointed out that competition among diesel cars in the U.S. is very limited, creating what could be a niche market for the new small car.

The diesel Cruze, one of Chevrolet’s 13 new models scheduled to be launched this year, will contain an engine manufactured in Germany, the home of successful European diesel Cruze models.

Gas mileage and torque are the factors Landy believes will lead buyers to a diesel car.

The company has not yet released diesel Cruze mpg and output stats, but Landy indicated fuel economy should be comparable to a Cruze Eco, listed at 42 highway mpg, but with added range. By comparison, a hybrid model delivers better fuel economy in the city, she said.

Due to a higher compression rate in the engine cylinders and greater density of energy in diesel fuel itself, diesel-powered engines are able to produce more power per gallon than gasoline-powered engines.

The three existing shifts at the already highly productive Lordstown plant should have no problem producing the new line of Cruzes, company officials said.

GM stats list the Lordstown plant as the most productive GM car assembly plant in the U.S. The plant produced 310,183 2012 model year Cruzes last year.

Worldwide, the Cruze has been billed as Chevrolet’s best selling nameplate around the world. The company has sold more than 1.7 million Cruzes since the vehicle was launched in 2009.

In the U.S., Cruze recorded a total of 237,758 sales in 2012, up 2.6 percent from 231,732 a year earlier.