The Chevrolet Cruze, the most popular car in the U.S. last month, will come in a diesel version that could boost gas mileage to around 50 mpg, two people briefed on General Motors Co. product plans said Monday.
A diesel Cruze would help GM meet more stringent government gas mileage requirements. It also would rival the efficiency of the popular Toyota Prius gas-electric hybrid, which gets 51 mpg in the city and 48 on the highway, according to estimates from the Environmental Protection Agency.
The diesel Cruze won't hit showrooms until at least 2013, according to one of the people, both of whom asked not to be identified because the company hasn't made a formal announcement.
The people didn't know the price of the Cruze. Cars with diesel engines generally cost more than those with gasoline engines because they are more expensive to produce. The base version of the Cruze now starts at $16,525. The diesel Cruze would be built at GM's factory in Lordstown, Ohio, southeast of Cleveland.
GM spokesman Tom Wilkinson would not comment on the diesel engine.
GM sold about 25,000 Cruzes last month, vaulting the model past perennial leaders such as the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord to become the best-selling car in the U.S. Both Toyota and Honda had fewer models to sell because of parts shortages caused by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Japan.
GM has several diesel-powered cars in other parts of the world, including a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder turbocharged diesel Cruze that's selling well in Australia.
GM and other U.S.-based automakers have been reluctant to bring diesel engines to the U.S. for fear that people wouldn't pay extra for them. Only 2.7 percent of cars and light trucks sold in the U.S. came equipped with diesels in the 2010 model year, according to Ward's AutoInfoBank.
But Volkswagen, which offers diesels in several models including the Golf and Jetta compacts, can't produce enough diesel engines to meet demand in the U.S., spokesman Scott Vazin said. About 22 percent of the automaker's U.S. sales came from diesel vehicles in the first half of the year.
The Jetta diesel gets an estimated 42 miles per gallon on the highway and 30 in the city. A diesel Jetta starts at $22,995, about $2,000 more than the starting price of a comparably equipped gas-engine Jetta. But the diesel also gets about 35 percent better fuel economy on the highway.
GM, Volkswagen and other automakers will have to use diesel and other technology to meet stricter U.S. fuel economy standards in the coming years. Already the U.S. new-car and light truck fleet has to average 35.5 mpg by 2016, up nearly 10 mpg from current standards. The Obama administration is proposing that the standard reach 56.2 mpg by 2025.
Each auto company will have a different fuel-efficiency target, based on its mix of vehicles.