Why People Bother to Drive Diesel Cars

Diesel cars comprise more than half of cars in Europe, but lag in the U.S.

September 22, 2015, 4:39 PM

— -- While diesel cars make up only a small percentage of U.S. cars on the road, they do have benefits over traditional gas engines, experts say.

Volkswagen, the largest car maker in the world, is accused by U.S. regulators of using illegal "defeat device" software that causes 482,000 of its diesel cars to cheat on emissions standards tests. Today, Volkswagen said the emissions scandal involves 11 million of its diesel cars worldwide.

Drivers are willing to pay a premium for diesel cars in return for better fuel economy and possibly better longevity and reliability, according to Jack Nerad, executive editorial director with Kelley Blue Book. Premiums range from about $1,000 to $2,000 over gas engine cars.

"There is the perception that diesel engines are more rugged and will last longer," Nerad said. "A lot of diesel advocates buy one after the other. They like the feel of a diesel and what they get from them."

In particular, many diesel advocates like the car's torque, which can be described as what drivers feel immediately when they step on the gas pedal, added Nerad. Many buses and trucks rely on diesel engines for their torque.

"It feels strong, though it might not be as quick from 0 to 60," Nerad said.

Diesel cars comprise about 25 percent of Volkswagen's U.S. sales. Diesel cars are much more popular in Europe, with more than 50 percent of European drivers choosing diesel.

California Volkswagen drivers are most impacted by the EPA's emissions probe. More than 14 percent, or 65,931 units, of registered Volkswagen diesels will have to be recalled, according to IHS Polk registration data. The state with the second-largest share of affected Volkswagen diesel cars is Texas, at 7.39 percent or 34,106 units.

Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn addressed the government's claims today, apologizing to Volkswagen employees and vowing to win back the trust of Volkswagen users.

"The irregularities that have been found in our Group’s diesel engines go against everything Volkswagen stands for," he said. "At present we do not yet have all the answers to all the questions. But we are working hard to find out exactly what happened. To do that, we are putting everything on the table, as quickly, thoroughly and transparently as possible. And we continue to cooperate closely with the relevant government organizations and authorities. I am deeply sorry that we have broken this trust. I would like to make a formal apology to our customers, to the authorities and to the general public for this misconduct. We will do everything necessary to reverse the damage. And we will do everything necessary to win back trust – step by step."

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