Should Subaru Develop a Diesel Vehicle for the US?
I seem to get a quite a few questions about whether or not there will ever be a Boxer diesel imported into the U.S. by Subaru? The answer is no one really knows for sure and that includes Subaru, they did initially plan on doing so but the market place changed in a few different ways in 2011 with those changes known about for a few years prior. I will take a few minutes to explain some of the headwinds preventing the Subaru diesel from potentially ever coming to the U.S.
Other parts of the world seem to get all of the cool stuff if you are an enthusiast; this has been true for years and has always been about government regulation here in the U.S. VS the rest of the world. Many twin turbo model legacy vehicles from the mid 90’s would never run properly on the fuel we serve at the pump in the states. The same issues are present for Subaru to import in the Diesel Boxer engine.
In the US we regulate the emissions produced by Diesel vehicles in a different way than in Europe caring more about the content out of the tailpipe rather than the Volume. This creates a situation where the fuel economy of many diesels right now are not as good as they were just ten years ago, yes we have seen a fuel economy decrease across the board starting in 2004 with a few exceptions. There are many factors for this but the primary reason is that diesel fuel is used to cool the exhaust to help reduce NOX emissions (see here for explanation) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NOx
A portion of the diesel fuel used in a combustion cycle doesn’t actually go towards powering the vehicle but instead is used to lower the content of the tailpipe which creates a very inefficient situation. This is also known as the third injection event. Light diesel trucks were averaging up to the mid 20’s for fuel economy prior to 2004 ½ when the first of many regulations took effect, then again in 2007 and finally in 2011 the new clean diesel rules are in full effect resulting in fuel economy well under 20 mpg and actually closer to the tens and low teens!
While it’s true that Volkswagen, Audi and Mercedes all have a clean diesel in the US, it’s also prudent to point out that they command a price premium that the drivers are willing to pay, and are not as efficient as they once were. Subaru fits into a different space than the German Vehicles and may have a tough time selling a Diesel vehicle that commands a higher price with a very long term of payback VS a gas engine. Instead Subaru Has focused on the CVT transmission as a way of improving fuel economy in an AWD vehicle.
Where we are at right now is that the Automakers must spend money into development of better ways of reducing the content of the tail pipe emissions to satisfy the U.S. regulations while at the same time improving fuel economy to the point where it makes sense to pay more for a Subaru vehicle equipped with a Diesel engine and also pay more at the pump as Diesel is more expensive than gasoline due to the high refinement costs also associated with regulation of the content of the tailpipe in the way of ultra low sulfur diesel fuel which costs more to produce than diesel did 5 years ago.
Fuel economy has been on the rise for the diesel platform in the light duty domestic truck from the big three, but they are also commanding an extremely high price. Adjusted for inflation a diesel truck just does not make economical sense for anyone right now, its only about the want factor. Translate that into the want factor for a Diesel Subaru and they would sell a few but it would be a very low volume vehicle, as the sticker price would discourage many people. Subaru has shown as of late that they want to continue to increase US sales volumes which means they have to keep the focus on what the majority of drivers want and can’t afford to dabble in the lower volume vehicles that they have tried in the past. Part of this comes from the heavy influence from Toyota who owns a rather large chunk of Subaru having purchased General Motors 16% stake years back.
As an enthusiast I had hoped we would have a diesel Subaru in the US by now. As someone who follows the auto industry in whole I understand why it may be very difficult to make it happen.
I will add that with the extreme disparity of Natural gas price VS Gasoline and Diesel we may actually see a CNG vehicle from Subaru before a diesel as the payback would be much quicker with the 2 dollar a gallon savings. The current obstacles to CNG is the range and lack of fueling stations or investructure. If Automakers started to actually build vehicles designed to run on CNG they could incorporate larger storage systems into the vehicle whereas now most are conversions with a tank added to the trunk cutting down the cargo capacity of the vehicle and still only having a range of around 200 miles. If sales start to stall out for what’s available right now we could finally see a shift to a fuel that would slash our dependence on foreign oil plus a thousand other benefits.
That is until the EPA and Department of Ecology found something they needed to regulate, raising the price of the fuel and the vehicle.
Thanks for reading and please share your opinion about the Subaru Diesel!