Clean Diesel Car Sales Rose 40% in March (F, GM, TM)

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US car buyers purchased 11,642 clean diesel vehicles in March, a rise of nearly 29% over February sales and up nearly 40% year-over-year. Year-to-date US sales of clean diesel vehicles is up 35% to 28,260. Of a total of nearly 3.5 million vehicles sold in the US, that amounts to 0.83%. Volkswagen AG dominates the diesel vehicle market in the US, and US carmakers Ford Motor Co. (NYSE: F) and General Motors Co. (NYSE: GM) won’t have diesel vehicles available until later this year.

Sales of hybrid vehicles in March topped 24,000 and year-to-date hybrid sales total about 106,000, or 3.44% of total US car sales. Toyota Motor Corp. (NYSE: TM) dominates the hybrid market.

March sales of plug-in electric vehicles totaled just 4,161, or 0.3% of total US sales. GM’s Chevy Volt took more than half those sales despite questions about the vehicle’s batteries.

Sales of clean diesel vehicles could continue to rise as more carmakers introduce new models in the US and as US drivers become acquainted with the vehicles and their 20%-40% mileage improvement over gasoline-powered vehicles. Diesel fuel is currently priced about 6% higher than gasoline at the pump. US drivers who can do the math and who are looking for a new car might be willing to pay the additional cost for a diesel engine, about $2,200 for a Volkswagen Jetta for example, as long as the buyer plans to keep the car long enough to amortize the difference — about 6 years at 12,000 miles per year. That’s not a bad deal, and certainly a cheaper alternative to higher mileage than plug-ins.

Paul Ausick