DETROIT General Motors marketers are counting on the passion and loyalty of diesel fuel auto buyers to drive their purchases of the soon-to-be Lordstown-built clean-diesel Cruze.
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.
"If you were to buy a non-luxury diesel now, really your only choice is the Volkswagen," Landy said Monday.
Tribune Chronicle photos / Brenda J. Linert
Cristi Landy stands near a Lordstown-built Chevrolet Cruze on Monday in Detroit. A diesel version of the popular car could hit dealerships as soon as May. Landy is General Motors’ marketing director for Chevrolet small cars.
But Landy and a recent economic report on diesel-powered cars both indicated they believe demand is on the rise.
Landy spoke Monday as she sat near the Chevy Cruze on display at the North American International Auto Show. The Detroit show's doors opened Monday as a media and industry preview, but it will not open to the public until Saturday.
GM already has been billed as the "star of the show" unveiling its new Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Sunday evening and showing it off again Monday morning to the media.
That's just one of Chevrolet's 13 new models scheduled to be launched this year. The clean-diesel Cruze is another.
In an early morning news conference showcasing the new Corvette, GM's Senior Vice President of Global Product Development Mary T. Barra said overall. GM will unveil 20 new models this year.
The 2014 diesel-powered Cruze model is expected to begin production at the Lordstown assembly plant in April and will likely hit showrooms in May. The engine will be manufactured in Germany, the home of successful European diesel Cruze models.
Gas mileage and torque are the factors that Landy believes will lead buyers to a diesel car.
While the company has not released diesel Cruze mpg and output stats - Landy said engineers have not yet finalized the data - she said fuel economy will 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 diesel will bolster the already fuel-efficient Cruze lineup. Cruze Eco, with a standard six-speed manual transmission, is the most fuel-efficient gas-powered/non-hybrid vehicle in America.
And as far as power, a diesel-powered small car model will provide the torque of a bigger engine, Landy said,.
"It's going to be new. A lot of compact car buyers are not looking for a diesel, but we do expect a success," Landy said. "The diesel buyers that we know, and what we understand, are very passionate about diesels."
The automaker just might find its niche market in diesel truck owners, often the more educated men, who now are looking for a smaller model.
According to a recent economic report released by Diesel Technology Forum, clean diesel auto sales are projected to increase significantly. Currently, only 3.4 percent of the cars in the U.S. are diesel-powered. Diesel accounts for a larger share of pickup trucks at 13.6 percent. However, clean diesel sales are increasing and diesel auto sales increased 27.5 percent during the first six months of 2012 compared to the same period in 2011. Some analysts predict diesel passenger cars will account for 10 percent of the market by 2015.
The three existing shifts at the already highly productive Lordstown plant should have no problem outputting 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.
And the compact car segment continues to grow year-over-year. The automaker has planned for that growth, Landy said, noting there is enough flexibility at the Lordstown plant to add the Cruze diesel line without taking away from the existing output.
Worldwide, the Cruze's popularity has been phenomenal, 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.
GM also has sold more than a half-million diesel-powered cars across Europe, Asia, Africa and South America last year, including 33,000 Cruzes.