One of the many unintended consequences of the rise of the Internet has been the demise of automakers' ability to keep future-product news away from the prying eyes of the auto blogosphere. And one of the key ways company execs appear to be trying to control this situation is by leaking the information on their own, but in the form of casually dropped information at relatively small events like the recent Directions in Engine-efficiency and Emissions Research Conference in Detroit. That's where Tom Stephens, GM's vice chairman of Global Product Operations, mentioned that a coming U.S. product'”a passenger car'”is slated to have a diesel engine under its hood. Not many details are available beyond this, but ye olde business case for a diesel-powered Buick Regal is awfully appealing.
Regal Needs Differentiation
from the Buick LaCrosse
See, as I've mentioned before, the 2011 Buick Regal on its own presents a nice package, providing a strong dose of Euro-style motoring'”including a streamlined appearance and relatively taut handling'”at a very appealing price point of just $26,245. The problem is its competition, or should I say, the lack thereof.
Its current I4-only configuration, the Regal doesn't have quite the presence to tackle the Lexus IS and it even comes up a bit short against the Acura TSX on the spec sheet. Buick says the new Volvo S60 will be a Regal rival as well, but I have to wonder if the same customers are really going to cross-shop both vehicles. The bottom line here is that the Regal's main competition seems to be sitting right across the dealership in the form of the Buick LaCrosse.
The LaCrosse is more than 6 inches longer and over 200 lbs. heavier than the Regal, but the rest of the numbers are surprisingly similar. The Buick LaCrosse stickers at $26,495'”just $250 more than the Regal'”but the entry models for both have the same engine (tuned to the same power outputs of 182 hp/172 lb.-ft. of torque), the same EPA line (19 mpg city/30 mpg highway/23 mpg combined), very comparable content lists and quite evenly matched interiors (the Regal actually offers more front and cargo room, while the LaCrosse has more space for rear passengers).
Thus, at this stage in the game, the biggest difference between the two is that the Regal offers more agile performance as a result of having the same engine as the LaCrosse pushing a lighter vehicle, while the LaCrosse offers more distinctive styling. It could be that the General believes the two different approaches to near luxury'”the Regal's European-oriented setup vs. the LaCrosse's, well, not-so-European strategy'”is enough to keep the two from cannibalizing Buick's customer base. But if it doesn't'”or, truth be told, even if it does'”a diesel powerplant in the former makes plenty of sense.
Diesels from Deutschland
Although the next-generation Mazda Mazda6 is slated to get a high-efficiency diesel powerplant, these engines are more usually viewed as being the hallmark of German automakers like Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen and Audi. The latter two brands especially have pushed their diesel technologies here in theÂ U.S., and to a fair amount of success. According to VW's August sales data, the diesel versions of the Volkswagen Jetta, Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen, Volkswagen Touareg and Volkswagen Golf combined for a sales surge of 25 percent last month. And remember, this is compared to very strong 2009 sales driven by the Cash for Clunkers program.
Now, coincidentally, over in Europe, the Regal'”or actually its Opel Insignia twin'”is a premium-ish German sedan that's available with advanced twin-turbo diesel powertrains that significantly reduce emissions and boost fuel efficiency, while still providing enough performance to satisfy U.S. customers.
Closing Arguments for a Diesel Regal
Let's connect the dots now, shall we? Putting a diesel engine in the Regal would provide an instant leap in fuel efficiency, would require relatively minimal changes to production (since GM is essentially already building them in Europe), set the Buick apart from its competition (including the LaCrosse), play to the Regal's Eurocentric strengths and even avoid one of the key stumbling blocks to diesel acceptance, the engine's increased cost. That is, customers are more willing to pay the diesel premium when it's attached to a premium vehicle.
Add in some open-minded customers and I'd say it's "case closed" for a diesel Regal.