Ford is winning the diesel engine battle in the U.S. market.
By concentrating on heavy-duty pickups trucks, commercial vans and an option for the F-150 truck, Ford has captured nearly 48 percent of the diesel vehicle market. That’s based on sales estimates for the first half of this year from Alan Baum, an independent auto industry analyst.
“Ford is stronger in the segment as a whole in heavy-duty pickups. GM has always been a good competitor and Ram is trying to get into the market,” Baum said.
Baum’s data looked only at vehicles up to one-ton pickups. It does not include medium-duty and heavy-duty commercial trucks.
General Motors and Fiat Chrysler Automobile’s Ram brand are neck and neck. Each has about 23 percent of the diesel market. GM leads Ram by about 700 vehicles.
Ford sold 112,903 diesel trucks and vans during the first half of this year. That’s up 2 percent from the same period a year earlier. GM – between its Chevrolet and GMC brands – sold 54,866 diesel vehicles during the first half. That’s down 20 percent from the same period a year earlier.
GM plans to regain ground later. It will introduce an improved 3-liter Duramax diesel engine for its light-duty Silverados and Sierras later this year. The new engine will have more power and greater fuel efficiency, according to the automaker. The automaker’s light-duty pickup will get an EPA-estimated 33 mpg in highway driving and 23 mpg in the city when equipped with the new engine. That’s the highest among the light-duty pickup trucks.
The company also said it is increasing production of its heavy-duty diesel pickups to meet customer demand.
FCA sold 54,174 diesel vehicles so far this year. That’s up 5 percent from the same period a year earlier.
The next closest competitor is Mercedes-Benz. The German automaker sold 12,936 diesel this year – all Sprinter vans. That was 5 percent below the same period a year earlier.
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Overall the diesel market makes up a small percentage of U.S. light vehicle sales, not even 1 percent, Baum found. Automakers also are selling fewer vehicles. Sales of diesel vehicles fell 7 percent to 236,800 units during the first half of this year, according to Baum’s data.
The segment is almost all pickup trucks and cargo vans. Combined, they accounted for 85 percent of diesel vehicle sales through the first half of this year. The segment includes half-ton pickups that people use for towing and hauling. It also includes cargo and work vans and heavy-duty pickups.
“Diesel powertrains offer an outstanding combination of capability and efficiency,” said David Elshoff, a Ram trucks spokesman.
“They are by far the preferred powertrains of three-quarter and 1-ton heavy-duty pickup truck buyers,” Elshoff said. “And we have seen – as has every other competitor in the segment – those same attributes appeal to a significant segment of light-duty truck buyers.”
But the market for diesel passenger vehicles is fading in the U.S.
“There is a group of enthusiasts, but not much more,” Baum said. “It could have grown beyond that but Volkswagen messed it up. There was a huge opportunity that was lost.”
VW largely abandoned the U.S. diesel market after getting caught cheating regulations with its emission system in 2015.
Volkswagen, which five years ago was the leader, sold just 180 diesel passenger cars so far this year. That includes its Audi, Porsche and VW brands. Sales plunged from 3,402 in the same period a year earlier.
Other German automakers also pulled back. BMW sold 543 diesel vehicles in the U.S. in the first half. That’s down from 2,462 in the same period a year earlier.
Mercedes-Benz remains in the market with its popular Sprinter cargo van. But it no longer sells diesel passenger cars in the U.S.
“We have put the certification process for diesel passenger cars on hold for the time being,” the company said in a statement. “For passenger cars, the diesel engine is a niche product in the U.S.”
If demand picks up, the automaker would consider re-entering the market.
GM also has had trouble selling diesel passenger cars. It is killing its Chevrolet Cruz, which had a diesel option. It’s also scrapping the option on Chevrolet Equinox and GMC Terrain models.