The Chevy Cruze (Bio)Diesel Sedan Does it Have a Place in Washington Public Fleets?

The Chevy Cruze (Bio)Diesel Sedan  Does it Have a Place in Washington Public Fleets?

Prior to model year 2014 there haven’t been many options to place diesel passenger vehicles in fleet operations – but the arrival of the Chevy Cruze to the market could be a game-changer.

While Volkswagen (VW) has offered diesel vehicles in various body styles over the years, these vehicles are typically spec’d with premium options, creating a cost and an optics issue for use in fleets. The new Chevy Cruze is more budget-friendly and comes with a badge that fleets have greater comfort with. And unlike the VW, Chevy has warranted their product to run on B20 biodiesel.

It’s easy to see why manufacturers are not racing to bring fleet-friendly diesel passenger vehicles to market. They cost more to build, they may cost more to maintain, and many fleets wouldn’t accumulate the mileage to see a payback from the fuel economy improvement.

Wait a second: isn’t that the same argument that was leveled against using hybrids in fleet operations? And yet in Washington most public fleets have adopted hybrid vehicles and for the most part are finding them to be cost neutral or lower cost. What’s more, many organizations are content to run hybrids because they help our nation reduce its dependence on petroleum and generate less greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

This got me thinking: how does a Cruze operating on biodiesel compare to a hybrid in terms of operational cost and GHG emissions?  I generated the following rough comparison to evaluate the Cruze against its likely competitors. 

In this duty cycle the Cruze is the GHG minimizing vehicle, and it’s very close in total cost to the hybrid.  Granted, the above comparison is coarse grain; there’s no consideration for the time-value of money, residual values, or differing maintenance costs. It’s also a duty cycle that plays to the diesel’s strength and the hybrid’s weakness. Never the less, it shows that biodiesel fueled passenger vehicles can be a cost effective and environmentally sound choice for fleets.  

There’s another reason I’ve been thinking about the Cruze:Washington’s upcoming Alt-Fuel Rule.  If local governments must “adopt electricity and biofuels to the extent practicable” then the Cruze may be a viable choice for duty cycles where a battery electric or plug-in hybrid vehicle is not well suited.  

I see a bright future for the Cruze in public fleets. In the appropriate duty cycle the Cruze emerges as a cost-competitive addition to current vehicle and fuel options to help fleets to meet the requirements of the upcoming Alt-Fuel Rule without compromising on performance, utility, function or style.  

-Scott DeWees

Interim Program Manager