Nearly 40 percent of diesel-powered vehicles available in Canada offer a lower cost of ownership than comparable gas-fueled models. That's the conclusion Vincentric LLC arrived at in its 2016 Canadian diesel analysis, which compared purchase prices and estimated fuel costs for 280 diesel vehicles against those for comparable gasoline-powered models.
Let's get something out of the way: There are nowhere close to 280 distinct diesel vehicles available in Canada. That number includes trim variations offered on many of the vehicles included in the analysis, which are particularly numerous in the pickup segment. For example, there are 27 different ways to buy a Chevrolet Silverado 2500 diesel, and Vincentric included every one of them in the study, presumably in order to get as clear a picture as possible of the country's diesel marketplace.
Then there's the elephant in the room: the Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal that erupted in late 2015, which led Vincentric not to include all VW Group models from the analysis. It's also the reason why the study included just 10 cars and light-duty SUVs and pickup trucks. VW was North America's highest-profile diesel champion, bolting diesels into Golf hatchbacks, Jetta and Passat sedans and Touareg SUVs, not to mention the various Audi models that shared VW's diesel technology.
On that note, the list strangely included the Porsche Cayenne diesel, which used the same engine that knocked most of Audi's diesel models out of the marketplace in the wake of VW's wrongdoing; Vincentric said the Cayenne should have been left out of the analysis. And the company said the Jeep Grand Cherokee diesel (notable by its absence) was left out because they "do not currently have complete cost-of-ownership data for the diesel version in our Canadian database."
VW scandal damaging to diesel's reputation
"It's true that (VW's diesel scandal) has damaged diesel's reputation to a certain degree," said Vincentric President David Wurster. "However, I don't feel that's a long-term problem. Ultimately, this is going to be a VW issue."
VW TDI diesel owners may be rightfully upset the manufacturer lied about their cars' exhaust emissions, but they must feel better about their cost-of-ownership experience following compensation payouts and vehicle buybacks.
Wurster said the future of North America's light-duty diesel marketplace could depend on whether Volkswagen opts back in, once the company puts this scandal behind it.
"If VW pulls out of diesel, it would be bad for the diesel marketplace," said Wurster. "There was already limited acceptance for diesel in North America, a market that had been growing. Now, I'm concerned they've lost that momentum. None of this is good."
It was that momentum companies like Jaguar, Land Rover and Chevrolet were counting on: the two upscale British brands introduced a variety of diesel models last year, and Chevrolet has a diesel version of its compact Cruze coming this year.
Volkswagen Canada isn't selling any diesels for the 2017 model year, though it says it may bring them back in the future. But the company's American division has turned its back on diesel altogether in favour of a focus on profit-rich crossovers, as well as electrified powertrains, including a possible future hybrid GTI hot hatch.
Buyers may have misgivings about diesel now that VW has tainted the technology's reputation, but these torque-rich engines known for lower fuel consumption than comparable gas engines still promise noteworthy savings in many of the models offered in Canada.
High-end SUVs offer big savings potential
Among light-duty vehicles, the Land Rover Range Rover boasted the biggest potential savings in diesel form -- a whopping $22,000 versus the V8 gas-powered Supercharged model -- but you have to spend $145,000 to enjoy that savings over a five-year period, in which Vincentric assumes 25,000 km of driving annually. The company compares official fuel consumption and price differences between comparable diesel and gas-powered vehicles to determine the cost of ownership over those five years.
Of the 10 diesel cars and light-duty SUVs and trucks in the study, only the Ram 1500 pickup didn't promise lower costs in diesel form, which you can blame on the steep price premium commanded by the Fiat-sourced 3.0L V6 Ram uses in that truck. The other eight vehicles -- BMW's 3 Series (sedan and wagon), 5 Series sedan and X3 and X5 crossovers; the Mercedes-Benz E 250 Bluetec sedan and GLS- and GLE-Class crossovers; and Land Rover's Range Rover Sport (a smaller, less-expensive vehicle than the full-size Range Rover) -- would all be cheaper to own and run with a diesel under the hood, according to Vincentric's calculations.
Big cost differential among pickup trucks
In the heavy-duty truck segment, Vincentric says Ford's F-250 and F-350 Super models make the best sense with diesel power, promising cost-of-ownership savings of between $8,000 and $9,000 in any of the 51 trim levels offered. At the other end of the spectrum are 2500 and 3500 versions of the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra, which would be anywhere from $6,771 to more than $8,000 costlier to own in diesel form in any of 72 different configurations. Ram's heavy-duty diesel trucks (there are 65 ways to buy them, in 2500 and 3500 designations) were also consistently more expensive than their gasoline counterparts, but not to the same extent as the General Motors models.
That significant price disparity suggests two things to us: There's a reason Ford's F-series trucks handily outsell every other vehicle available in Canada, and pickup truck buyers are so loyal that many will pay more for the vehicle they think is the best, even if a competitor can be had for, in some cases, $16,000 less.
"Prices are really set by the consumers," said Wurster. "At the end of the day, these vehicles are sold at a price people want to pay, and that tells me GM has found a marketplace at that price point."
Vincentric found that Ford's diesel Transit commercial van models also offered the most significant cost advantage compared to GM and Ram's vans, though the potential savings are smaller across the segment than among pickups.
The diesel pickup market could be in for a shake-up this year, as Ford gets set to begin selling its first-ever F-150 diesel, a vehicle that may prove cheaper to own than Ram's 1500 diesel, if these trends continue.
And then there's U.S. President Donald Trump’s promises to dial back vehicle fuel economy and emissions requirements, which could dampen demand for diesel's fuel efficiency advantage. But Wurster doesn't think that will have a major effect on diesel engine sales.
"There are people out there concerned about vehicles' effect on the environment, but those people are not the market for these vehicles," he said. The people buying diesel vehicles are those "worried about their pocketbooks."