You know, I always love a good conspiracy theory, but I rarely get a chance to launch one myself. So, I'm glad that a recent report from the U.S. National Academy of Sciences (NAS) recently came out detailing how much money it could cost consumers to improve the fuel efficiency of cars and trucks today. After all, it gives me a chance to wonder: Is there a concerted effort going on to dissuade people of the benefits of something like a diesel Ford Fusion?
Look at it this way: The most fuel-efficient non-hybrid Fusion currently achieves an EPA line of 22 mpg city/31 mpg highway/25 mpg combined. Across the pond, you can get a diesel-powered Ford midsizer (the Mondeo) that rings up more than 53 mpg in the European cycle. True, that would come down to about 44 mpg using U.S. gallons, and a bit more due to the vagaries of the different testing regimes, but we're still talking some standout fuel-efficiency numbers.
On the other hand, that Mondeo stickers at roughly $3,700 more than the Fusion. That's certainly a nice chunk of change, and it gets to the crux of the matter. There's a certain core group of auto observers who get their kicks by saying, essentially, that improving fuel economy would add so much money to the cost of new cars that consumers would stop buying them.
Me, I'm thinking not so much. The starting MSRP on the entry-level 2010 Fusion is $19,695. For argument's sake, let's say a diesel version gets priced at $3,700 more than this, which comes out to $23,395. Does anybody think that's too expensive for a Fusion? If so, consider that it's actually a couple hundred dollars less than the base V-6 Fusion, over a $1,000 less than the up-level I4 Fusion, almost $3,000 less than an up-level V-6 version, over $3,000 less than a Fusion Sport and $4,555 less than a Fusion Hybrid.
Or how about this comparison: The midsize diesel Fusion at that price would be only $700 more than a compact Chevrolet Cruze LTZ.
Those of you who have actually seen the NAS report, or even read the press release, might be saying, "Yeah, Krome, but the study said that the added cost to replace a standard gasoline-powered engine with a diesel would be approximately $5,900, not $3,700."
And this is where the conspiracy stuff kicks in. The press release does make prominent mention of the higher number, and that's the price tag that's getting a lot of attention from the anti-fuel efficiency crowd. But what isn't made clear until five paragraphs further down the release is that the $5,900 refers to the cost of adding the next-generation of advanced diesels to "intermediate or larger vehicles."
To add one of today's diesels'”efficient enough to propel the Mondeo to over 53 mpg and good enough, per the study, to "reduce fuel consumption by about 33 percent"'”the report highlights the fact it would cost only about $4,800 to swap out a V-6 for a diesel.
Putting this into context, the V-6 Ford Taurus can be had with an MSRP of $25,170, which would thus come up to a pretty hefty $29,970 using the NAS cost information. That might seem steep at first, but the Taurus Limited starts at $31,770 and the Taurus SHO opens at $37,770. Toyota's full-size competitor, the 2011 Toyota Avalon, has a base MSRP of $32,245.
But all this is still misleading, though, because when you get to the actual data chart used in the study, you can see that the cost of switching four-cylinder vehicles from gasoline to diesel comes in at $3,590. (Which, you'll notice, is right in line with the price difference I came up with between the Mondeo and Fusion.) Now, in case anyone needs reminding, the use of four-cylinder engines is growing throughout the industry, and is especially notable in some of the market's most important segments.
In the midsize sedan category, the 2011 Hyundai Sonata goes without a V-6, and so will the next-gen Kia Optima. Among the small crossovers, the Honda CR-V forgoes a V-6 option. And it's not exactly mainstream, but I'll also point out the Audi A4 has dropped its V-6 engine, too.
Let's put this all together now, shall we? After untold years and who knows how much money spent, the NAS has shown that adding current diesel technology to vehicles can cut fuel consumption by about a third. The Academy's own numbers, when put into the context of today's industry, indicate that the resulting price point for many of these products would remain competitive'”at least'”with the MSRPs of other in-segment rivals.
And yet large swathes of the media are spinning this study in a way guaranteed to scare people off of diesels.
It's no wonder we still can't figure out who shot JFK.