This Automobile mag article is a couple months old, but it’s still an interesting look at things.
Yes, VW cheated. Blatantly. But their newest diesels (and the old ones currently being resold in the U.S.) do indeed meet emissions regulations legitimately, as tested with the impossible-to-cheat on road test (if anything, the on road test equipment adds so much weight that the cars are likely to be under higher load and pollute slightly more than they might under more normal, less loaded conditions).
What does that mean here? Probably nothing. The penetration of diesel in the mass market wasn’t high enough to have enough people left who know how good these cars drive while also returning excellent fuel economy. And there are more still who could care less about how a car drives and only care about it being a reliable appliance. Which, well, fair enough. Us enthusiasts are in the minority and always will be (and I say this broadly, enthusiasts of any automotive kind, not just the diesel kind). Plus, in a large swath of the country, diesel fuel itself costs so much more than gasoline than the cars don’t make much economic sense. Though, funny enough, in California the way fuel is taxed, diesel is currently almost dead even with regular unleaded. You’d think a state that seems to want to do everything in its power to be rid of diesels would artificially raise the price of the fuel to get what they want. Maybe I’m giving the government too much credit.
The article itself goes on to explain that diesel sales in Europe made up 39% of VW’s sales in Germany in 2017, post scandal. That number rose to 43% last year, which isn’t exactly a massive jump, but considering the murdering of diesel’s image in most media coverage, is surprising to see any increase at all. VW’s Matthias Muller had stated that he expected a diesel renaissance in the near future in context of Europe, since diesels there were outselling gasoline engines for quite some time and those who had gotten used to the easy, torquey driving experience and no need to downshift at highway speeds to pass other vehicles with ease and very minimal extra noise, they would end up missing the experience after going to gasoline post scandal. Seems he may not have been wrong. But I have my doubts of anything remotely similar to that happening in the U.S. since so little of the market knows or cares about how good of a daily driver these cars are, especially for long distance highway commuters.
But, if CAFE regulations were to continue on the path in which Obama’s EPA laid out, it would be hard for automakers to not include diesel in their lineup to meet the target numbers. Of course, the current administration is doing their best to delay the introduction of those higher efficiency standards...
In the meantime, BMW seems to be winding down its diesel offerings in the U.S. due to low sales. They were the one German automaker that seemed to not get caught cheating in this market (in Europe, it’s a whole other story...). But, other automakers are ramping up diesel offerings in their SUVs and trucks, which is a place where diesel makes a ton of sense. Land Rover and Jaguar both have diesel SUVs here. Ford and soon GM have 3.0L 6 cylinder diesels for their 1/2 ton trucks (I believe the Ram ECODiesel is no longer offered at the moment) and both companies also have diesel offerings in their mid size Ranger and Canyon/Colorado pickups (3.2 5 cylinder and 2.8 4 cylinder diesels respectively).
Diesel is not dead, but in this market it might only have reasonable demand in trucks and SUVs, where the buyers seem far less concerned about being eco-friendly and are more about their own bottom line as well as the vehicle’s utility.