LORDSTOWN - New Chevrolet Cruze clean Turbo Diesel cars began rolling off the assembly line this week at the Lordstown General Motors plant, the same week the company announced new estimates put the car's fuel economy at 46 miles per gallon.
Company officials boasted that means the Cruze diesel will get the best highway fuel economy of any non-hybrid car in America.
The new estimate is a 4 mpg improvement over earlier predictions for the automatic transmission released in March when the 2014 Cruze Turbo Diesel was unveiled at the Chicago Auto Show.
Gary Altman, GM's chief engineer for the car who was in Lordstown Thursday, said the crews "never stopped" working relentlessly to improve the small car's fuel economy.
At 46 mpg, the diesel Cruze matches the highway fuel economy of the Toyota Prius C subcompact and beats its closest competitor, the diesel Volkswagen Jetta, which gets 42 mpg on the highway.
Utilizing technology that includes an exhaust after-treatment system, the diesel fumes were not detectable to reporters standing near the rear of the vehicle when the ignition was started inside the Lordstown plant Thursday. And company officials promise that, from inside the vehicle, motorists will not detect any difference from the original Cruze in engine noise, helped by sound-absorbing features like a unique dash mat and hood blanket.
Tribune Chronicle / Brenda J. Linert
Gary Altman, chief engineer for the Chevy Cruze clean Turbo Diesel, stands Thursday near one of the first models to roll off the line inside the General Motors Corp. Assembly Plant in Lordstown. Altman expressed excitement to see the product come fruition.
"It's the cleanest diesel GM has ever made," Altman said. The vehicle generates 90 percent less nitrogen oxide and particulate emissions when compared to previous-generation diesels.
The car is being built in the Lordstown assembly plant with an engine made in Germany. After months of preparation and manufacture of "test models" that will not be sold, production started this week for vehicles that will be delivered to American buyers. Production is starting slowly, said plant spokesman Tom Mock, but will ramp up eventually to meet market demand.
"I think there will be a lot higher demand than we ever thought," Altman said as he stood near the newly built car. As he spoke, his excitement was evident.
"I think this is a significant milestone in Lordstown's 47-year history," Mock added. "This shows the company has significant confidence in this community. This is the future, and it will be made in Lordstown and this Mahoning Valley."
The model on display inside the plant soon will land on the showroom floor of a Chevy dealer in one of 13 American cities where diesels typically sell well. While local dealerships are not included among those early markets, GM officials said by early fall, the 2014 diesel models will be available nationwide, including in the Mahoning Valley, and in Canada. The car will sticker at $25,695, which includes destination charges and a two-year maintenance plan.
Ben Strickland, shop chairman for United Auto Workers Local 1112, stopped to check out the vehicle on display.
"We are definitely going in the right direction," Strickland said. "Our biggest trick right now is to make sure we build a car that people want."
The plant must be doing just that. General Motors last week awarded the Lordstown plant its stamp of approval with a prestigious manufacturing quality award known as "Built In Quality."
"This is big news for us," Mock said. "That achievement and this car are two key symbols in the confidence the company has in us."