• The Diesel Technology Forum

2020 diesel vehicle sales up 28 percent in US as overall auto sales decline


Sales of pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles (SUVs) with diesel engines grew 28 percent in the U.S. during 2020, even as overall auto sales declined by over 14 percent for the year. Among alternative fueled vehicle offerings, vehicles with diesel engines held five of the top 10 rankings for fastest growing sales (2019-’20), according to the Diesel Technology Forum, based on data and analysis provided by Alan Baum and Associates.


“For several decades, full-size pickup trucks have been at the top of the most popular selling vehicles in America, and now with new fuel-efficient and powerful diesel engine options available, last year’s 28 percent growth in sales results confirm that consumers are embracing the new generation of diesel technology more than ever,” said Allen Schaeffer, DTF executive director. “At a time of renewed national focus on vehicle fuel efficiency and strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the more than 140,000 new diesels sold last year in full-size pickup trucks is boosting overall corporate average fuel economy as diesel vehicle owners realize 16 to 25 percent fuel economy advantages over gasoline in both city and highway driving. Consider that if every full-size pickup sold in the U.S. was equipped with an advanced diesel engine, the U.S. could save roughly 500 million gallons of fuel per year, equivalent to 15 percent of the entire car market switching to a battery-electric option, helping to contribute to climate and energy policy goals. Greater fuel economy from diesel engines means using less fuel, saving money and fewer greenhouse gas emissions, benefits everyone can value.”

Schaeffer noted that consumer trends toward SUVs and pickup trucks aren’t new—they have been occurring for nearly a decade. “What is new is the growing number of more fuel-efficient offerings for car and truck buyers than ever before, ranging from battery-electric, plug-in hybrid, full hybrid and even hydrogen fuel cell options, although diesel continues to dominate in the alternative fuel segment,” he said. “That five of the top 10 fastest-selling alternative fuel vehicles sold in 2020 are diesel-powered is a very strong statement that consumers value what the new diesel engines offer.”

Currently there are 13 diesel options available in mid-, full-size and heavy-duty pickup trucks. Starting in 2020, for the first time three diesel engine options were available the leading full size pickup truck segment from General Motors (Chevrolet Silverado 1500), Ram Trucks (1500 EcoDiesel), and Ford (F-150). This is in addition to their heavy-duty 2500 and 3500 series pickup truck offerings, including the Cummins Diesel in the Ram Heavy-Duty trucks. The Jeep Gladiator will have a 3.0L diesel engine option available in 2021.


Beyond the new lineup of diesel options in full-size pickup trucks, there is further market potential thanks to new options in full-size SUVs from General Motors—the Duramax 3.0L turbo-diesel engine now available in the Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban, GMC Yukon, Yukon XL and Cadillac Escalade, making a total of 12 choices in the SUV segment. In addition to SUVs, there are nearly a dozen full-size vans offering a fuel-efficient diesel option as well. A full listing of currently available and coming-soon options is available on DTF’s website.


“In the vehicle segments more Americans now prefer, more diesel options are turning out to be a win-win because diesel is a fuel-efficient choice that requires no compromises in fuel efficiency, vehicle utility or performance,” Schaeffer said. “With readily available fuel at more than two-thirds of all stations, highway ratings of as much as 33 mpg along with driving ranges that can exceed 500 miles on a single tank, the diesel option presents great overall value for consumers in these larger vehicles. The new generation of diesel engine options are the quietest, most powerful and fuel efficient we have ever seen, with near zero emissions as well, making them good choices for both the pocketbook and the planet. More diesel-engine sales would help boost the overall U.S. vehicle fleet fuel efficiency, which, according to the U.S. EPA, fell to 24.9 miles per gallon (mpg) in the 2019 model year as more Americans bought larger sport utility vehicles instead of cars. Last year was a difficult year for the auto industry, thanks to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, so seeing sales growth for diesel engine options is a strong signal that if fuel prices remain stable and economic recovery continues, we would expect that sales of pickups and larger SUVs with diesel-engine options are only likely to increase as consumers seek more fuel efficiency, power and performance for the long haul of vehicle ownership.”

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