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Diesel Now Less Than Premium As Gas Prices Surge


Old Gas Pumps

Old Gas Pumps

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As most figured they would do, gasoline prices are rising again. Not dramatically, mind you, but enough to push premium gasoline about one cent higher per gallon than diesel on average as of Monday. With a diesel engine's inherently higher efficiency (up to 30 percent more efficient than their gasoline counterparts) and crazy torque, suddenly the diesel equation looks pretty smart. Plus, new dieses make no smoke, no clatter, pollute no more than their gasoline competitors, and offer smoky burnout hoonage courtesy of stump-pulling torque.

In January, we discussed diesel's merits and demerits in response to Car and Driver's predictions of a dim future for the diesel engine in American passenger cars. But now that a month has passed, let's do another quick comparo with everybody's favorite, the BMW 3-series, in gasoline twin-turbo 335 form against the similarly powrful 335d diesel, the latter of which makes its miserly debut for 2009.

2009 BMW 335d

2009 BMW 335d

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First, a re-cap of the numbers (from the U.S. Energy Information Administration) from January 12 (when premium hovered at an average $2.00 per gallon and diesel averaged at $2.32):

  • BMW 335i, at an EPA 17/26, and with premium fuel at $2.00 per gallon, then yielded an operating cost of 7.69 cents per mile highway.
  • BMW 335d, at an EPA 23/36, and with diesel at $2.32 per gallon, then yielded an operating cost of 6.44 cents per mile highway.

Fast forward to February 16, when premium averaged $2.19 per gallon and diesel undercut it by one cent at $2.18 (again, U.S. Energy Information Administration numbers). Here's how the two BMW 3-series stack up in cents per mile just one month later:

  • BMW 335i, at an EPA 17/26, and with premium fuel at $2.19 per gallon, yields an operating cost of 8.42 cents per mile highway.
  • BMW 335d, at an EPA 23/36, and with diesel at $2.32 per gallon, yields an operating cost of 6.05 cents per mile highway.

2009 Volkswagen Jetta TDI

2009 Volkswagen Jetta TDI

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So not only is diesel now on equal price footing with gasoline, but the price fluctuations reflect an approximate six percent decline for diesel in one month, a roughly 16 percent increase for premium gasoline in the same time.

Perhaps the Germans' diesel onslaught for '09 isn't such an ill-timed move. 2009 should prove an interesting year as increasingly fuel-efficient hybrids like the 2010 Ford Fusion, 2010 Honda Insight, and 2010 Toyota Prius do battle with misers the likes of the VW Jetta TDI clean diesel for fuel economy primacy. But it's the oil companies (and perhaps Obama Administration machinations) who wield arguably the biggest influence on American billfolds and fuel tanks.

 
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Comments (4)
  1. "BMW"

    Buy a BMW w/ diesel - Save money :-) I think a better comparo would be the more mainstream Jetta but adding almost $5K for the diesel option will wipe out a couple of pennies/mile in savings (provided the difference in price of gas and diesel will remain the same for years to come which they won't...)
     
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  2. "It's more complicated..."

    You need to consider more than just the cost of the fuel used in the equation.....as the owner/driver of diesel cars for the last ten years I can assure you that service costs for diesels are higher than the equivalent petrol cars (more oil, more frequent timing belt changes etc.). So diesel can often be more expensive than the petrol car to own & operate. Under these circumstances, the only way for diesel to truly be an option for the car buying public is that the punter has to enjoy & prefer the diesel driving experience over all other alternatives.....which is a tough thing to do.
     
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  3. "Diesel"

    I also understand that diesel engines (despite often higher operating costs as seano stated) are more durable, so it makes sense to get one if you plan on keeping it for years. It works for heavy duty vehicles or SUVs if you plan to tow something often; there's no doubt about it. However, passenger cars will still be a niche market in the US for many years to come if not forever (or until replaced by other propulsion tech altogether.) Current avg. in GA: Reg: $1.829, Mid: $1.966, Prem: $2.053, Diesel: $2.218... Nope, sorry...
     
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  4. "+ other benefits"

    As a previous owner of the last-gen TDI, I enjoyed these other benefits to diesel: quiet engine! much quieter on the freeway, since it's turning at less than 2000 RPM vs 2800+ for the gas equivalent. if you drive lots of highway miles this is a real benefit. Fillups. 600 miles between tanks means no need to bother during the week with getting fuel. Timing chain vs belt. the belt has to go at 60K miles but the chain can go for a couple hundred thousand miles. since you usually replace the water pump at the same time as the belt, there are other additional costs you avoid with the diesel.
     
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