General Motors is following the Volkswagen playbook by bringing a diesel-powered small car from Europe to the United States.
The automaker introduced the diesel version of the Chevrolet Cruze compact, which is assembled in Lordstown, on Thursday at the Chicago Auto Show.
Volkswagen, which offers diesels in a number of its cars including the Jetta compact sedan, gets almost 18 percent of its sales from diesel-powered models.
Last year, the German automaker’s U.S. sales rose more than 30 percent.
“We expect to beat the Jetta in terms of price, features, range, even horsepower and torque,” said Gary Aultman, chief engineer for Chevrolet small cars.
With the diesel Cruze, GM is trying to offer both performance and gas mileage. Diesel engines usually are about 30 percent more efficient than gas motors because they compress the air-fuel mixture at a higher level. They also have more power at lower speeds, allowing faster acceleration.
But diesel fuel is also more expensive than regular — even premium — gasoline.
Diesel was selling for an average price of $4.12 per gallon in the Akron area on Thursday, according to the latest prices from AAA’s Fuelgaugereport.com site. The national average for diesel was $4.01 a gallon. By comparison, regular gasoline on Thursday in the Akron area sold for an average of $3.62 a gallon, while premium was at $3.86 a gallon.
The Cruze has been a good seller for GM. During some months of 2011, it was the top-selling compact in the U.S. But that was largely because Toyota and Honda factories had been hobbled by an earthquake and their dealers ran short of cars. GM sold almost 238,000 Cruzes last year, a 2.6 percent increase over 2011.
Chevrolet sold 474 Cruze models in Summit County in 2012, down 17 percent, or 97, from 571 in the county in 2011. The Cruze was still among the top 40 best-selling new models in Summit County; the best-seller was the Ford Escape with 735 sales last year.
Chris Marhofer, operations manager for the Marhofer Auto Family of dealerships, said he expects there will be good demand for the diesel Cruze. The dealership group sells Chevrolet, Nissan, Hyundai, Mitsubishi and GMC vehicles.
“Some customers have been asking for the car,” Marhofer said. “A lot of people are curious about the vehicle. ... The main driver for the car is the fuel efficiency. It may spark quite a bit of interest.”
It’s likely the diesel Cruze will take sales away from Volkswagen’s diesel-powered Jetta, he said.
The Cruze will have a new 2-liter turbo diesel with 148 horsepower and ample power at all engine speeds. The car initially will be sold only with a 6-speed automatic transmission, beefed up for the diesel’s higher power. GM says the diesel will go from 0 to 60 mph in 8.6 seconds.
The Cruze promises at least 42 mpg on the highway. City and combined mileage testing are not finished yet. An eco version of the gasoline-powered Cruze also gets 42 mpg on the highway with a manual transmission, but GM says it doesn’t perform nearly as well as the diesel.
“You’re getting a little tiny performance sedan with superb fuel economy,” said spokesman Tom Read.
Inside, Chevrolet’s MyLink touch-screen system is standard. It has leather-appointed seats.
Outside, the car offers aerodynamic improvements, 17-inch alloy wheels, low rolling resistance tires and a rear spoiler.
The price starts at $25,695 including shipping. It’s a hefty premium over the base gasoline version, which starts at $17,940, and the eco with automatic, which starts at $21,685. The car is to go on sale in May or June.
Even though GM hasn’t had a diesel model in the U.S. since 1986, it made more than 500,000 diesel cars across Europe, Asia, Africa and South America last year. Forty percent of European Cruzes have diesel engines.
The diesel Cruze has less trunk space than the gas-engine Cruze because of diesel pollution controls.