When it comes to diesel car sales in North America buyers seems to be favoring the tried and true over the glitzy and new. For years, European car companies have been struggling to bring their efficient and inexpensive diesel products to America. The primary barriers have been extremely strict air pollution regulations - especially in the state of California - and a general apathy displayed by car buyers towards diesel technology, which is largely considered the province of pickups and semi-trucks on this side of the Atlantic.
The recent fluctuations in gasoline pricing has caused many car buyers to change their tune and investigate the possibilities offered by diesel as both a more fuel efficient and more powerful option in a daily driver. Riding this crest of renewed interest has beenÂ Volkswagen, a brand which has provided American car buyers with diesel options for several decades. EvenÂ AudiÂ has recently gotten into the act, offering oil-burning editions of some of its upscale SUVs.
Volkswagen's success with their diesel platforms has been quite impressive. The company claims that one third of all of its Jetta sedans are being purchase with turbodiesel engines installed. That figure jumps to an impressive 50 percent when looking at Jetta wagon sales. The company is optimistic that these trends will continue with the introduction of the 2010 Golf TDI hatchback to North America, a perennial best-seller for the brand.
These sales figures contrast sharply with BMW's experience in the diesel market. After bowing to pressure from environmentally-conscious car shoppers enamored with the company's vehicles but less than enthused with the lack of fuel efficient choices State-side, BMW has discovered that only 1 percent of its 3 Series sedans are being optioned out as diesel models. This vehicle, a very popular sport option which is roughly the same size as the Jetta, was meant to form the backbone of BMW's diesel thrust. The similarly-powered version of its full-size BMW X5 SUV has seen somewhat better sales numbers, with 8 percent of models featuring the new drivetrain, but this still seriously lags behind their home-country competitor.
Why have Volkswagen's diesel sales surpassed expectations while BMW's have fallen far under what was initially projected? BMW claims that it has under-advertised the turbodiesel vehicles, but it might be more fair to say that Volkswagen has spent many years organically growing its diesel buyer base. BMW customers are simply not accustomed to the benefits of a diesel-powered sport or family sedan, nor is the company's image aligned with the idea of frugal fuel economy and thrift.
Diesel success is only one shining aspect of Volkswagen's recent sales story. The company has posted 2009 first quarter sales which appear to have triumphed over current number one automaker Toyota. The Japanese company's estimated vehicle shipments for that time frame were nearly half what they were the year before, where Volkswagen managed to increase its global marketshare to 11 percent despite a downturn in sales. This may indicate that a diesel strategy could be more successful than the hybrid model pursued by Toyota, although industry experts claim that VW's worldwide sales increase has been most directly attributable to government incentives in three of their major markets.