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Buick Thinks Diesel, Wants More Power for Popular Encore

Just the Facts:
  • It's likely General Motors' Buick division will soon offer a diesel engine, a Buick source told Edmunds.
  • Diesel power for Buick is probable as it increasingly aligns its U.S. product line with models sold by Opel, GM's European arm.
  • Buick also reportedly is studying a way to get more power under the hood of the surprise hit Encore subcompact crossover.

DETROIT — General Motors' Buick division is likely to offer a diesel engine in the near future, a well-placed company source told Edmunds. Although the person would not name a specific Buick model that would be the first to use a fuel-saving diesel, the compact Verano is the probable candidate, as GM earlier this year began offering a four-cylinder diesel engine in the Chevrolet Cruze, effectively the mechanical twin of Buick's Verano.

Fuel economy is a chief concern for the new-vehicle shoppers — in many vehicle segments it remains the No. 1 purchase criteria — and automakers increasingly have been looking to efficient yet powerful diesel engines to boost fuel efficiency without sacrificing performance. Although U.S. automakers are only now testing consumer consideration for diesels, most of Buick's Europe-based competitors, including Audi and Mercedes-Benz, are expanding diesel availability in the U.S.

The Buick source said that given GM's plan to more closely align Buick's models with those developed by the company's European Opel division, availability of diesel engines would be a natural progression for Buick; approximately half of all passenger vehicles sold in Western Europe are diesel-powered. Currently, three of Buick's five-model U.S. lineup — the LaCrosse large car, Regal midsize sedan and Verano — are derived from Europe-developed vehicle structures. And Buick's Encore subcompact crossover is based on a vehicle architecture engineered in Asia.

The Encore also has presented an interesting situation for Buick. The small crossover's early popularity was somewhat unexpected — in September, for example, the Encore sold a plump 3,206 copies and outsold every model from Cadillac save the SRX crossover. But a source outside GM told Edmunds a primary reason those considering the Encore cited as a reason for not buying the diminutive crossover its lack of engine power. The Encore's only engine is a turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder with 138 horsepower.

Buick is said to be scrambling to find a way to get more power in the Encore, but until now engineers had few options: The more-powerful 2.0-liter turbocharged and 2.4-liter four-cylinder engines common in other Buick and GM models simply won't fit in the Encore's tight engine compartment. The source said GM now is believed to be looking to a recently released new generation of 1.6-liter four-cylinder gasoline and diesel engines, with the less-expensive gasoline engine being the likely first choice for the Encore.

It's unknown how quickly Buick might be able to adopt one of these Europe-built engines for the Encore, but the Encore is a big reason why Buick sales are outperforming the industry and are up nearly 15 percent so far this year. Customer feedback also indicates the division could be selling even more Encores if the crossover had more power. The Encore's power upgrade, if technically feasible, could come as soon as the 2015 model year.

Edmunds says: Buick's duking it out with European brands to attract younger buyers as well as those concerned with fuel economy, so offering diesel engines appears to be a natural strategy.

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