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Small Diesels Could Power Future Hyundai’s

When you think of diesel engine technology, companies such as Volkswagen, Honda, and Mercedes probably come to the forefront, but not Hyundai. The Korean automaker builds reliable gas engines, but doesn’t sell a single diesel powered model in the North American marketplace.

But, Hyundai is planning to change all of that by introducing a 1.6L I4 diesel which has the potential to deliver class leading fuel economy, perhaps on the order of 50 mpg highway or better. Sounds like a great idea, right? Yes, but don’t hold your breath: the engine will be built at the company’s Chennai, India plant and be made available for the European market. As of right now, don’t expect to see a diesel option offered with your Elantra or Sonata, at least for the next few years.

Hyundai’s plan to market a diesel engine in Europe makes perfect sense as approximately half of all cars sold in Western Europe are powered by diesel technology. If you don’t offer this long lasting and fuel saving powerplant as an option to your customers, then you’re going to lose out on sales. On the other hand, American drivers have largely ignored diesel engines until recently, remembering the loud and clanky powerplants produced by General Motors as well as the small, but heavily polluting diesels from Volkswagen.

Fortunately, today’s technology has changed diesel engineering dramatically, so much so, that diesel engines sold in the US meet strict federal pollution requirements while still delivering fuel economy numbers that are 20-40 percent higher than comparable gas engines.

And, it is for that reason why Hyundai will not market a diesel stateside anytime soon: the extra steps the Korean automaker would have to take to build a car that was compatible with federal and all fifty state pollution guidelines would be costly, effectively canceling out the benefit of a diesel program. Absorbing the cost of these upgrades isn’t appealing for Hyundai, but neither is passing on the cost to price sensitive buyers.

Exactly what can European buyers expect from the Chennai-built Hyundai diesel? Plenty including:

A car that will get a combined 50 mpg via city and highway driving.

* Some of the lowest emissions of any diesel engine built today.
* Placed in the all-new i20, a car being built at Chennai for the European market.

Prices for the Hyundai i20 have not been set, but given the company’s skill at producing well optioned cars for less, Volkswagen, Ford, SEAT, Skoda, Opel, and other small car manufacturers will need to brace themselves.

As far as possibly North American introduction goes, we’ll have to wait on that. Still, if a compact diesel-powered Hyundai did hit our shores, it would sell like hotcakes as consumers embrace the total package which includes driveability, fuel economy, and price.

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