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Advocacy group says diesel vehicles are coming back, though mostly trucks

The future of the technology in the US appears to be manufacturers using diesels to improve efficiency in trucks, while turning to electrified powertrains to do the same in passenger cars.

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When the Volkswagen diesel scandal erupted last year, it not only hurt the public perception of diesel vehicles in the U.S., but also eliminated the biggest seller of diesel passenger cars from the market.

TDI diesel models once made up as much as a quarter of the Volkswagen brand's U.S. sales, and VW Group's Audi and Porsche luxury brands sold them as well.

Since the scandal broke, VW hasn't tried to certify any new diesels for sale in the U.S., and indeed it may never return to selling them here in large numbers.

But if you're a diesel advocacy group, sometimes there's no other option but to look for the silver lining in the Volkswagen-scandal cloud.

The Diesel Technology Forum released a statement this week with a headline that U.S. diesel-car sales rebounded in the second half of 2016.

But the vast majority of the vehicles responsible for that uptick were pickup trucks, SUVs, and vans, not the passenger cars of the type previously popularized by VW.

Citing data collected by HybridCars.com and Baum & Associates, the Diesel Technology Forum noted that U.S. diesel sales represented just 0.43 percent of total new-vehicle sales in January 2016.

By December 2016, diesel's market share had almost doubled to 0.81 percent, with 115,337 diesels sold in the U.S. in all of 2016.

That represents a very small share of the millions of new cars and light-duty trucks sold in the U.S. last year.

The Diesel Technology Forum noted that figures would be higher if they included heavy-duty pickup trucks, a segment where diesel engines are more popular.

Most of the diesel vehicles counted in the group's sales total are pickup trucks and SUVs; no manufacturer has stepped up to replace the diesel passenger cars previously sold by Volkswagen.

Two of the models listed—the BMW 5-Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class—are also older-generation models that are in the process of being replaced; it is unclear if diesel versions of the new models will be sold in the U.S.

Granted, 2016 did see the launch of diesel versions of the Jaguar XE and XF luxury sedans.

And there are more new diesels on the way.

General Motors is preparing to launch a second-generation of its Chevrolet Cruze Diesel compact sedan and new hatchback, as well as a first-ever diesel engine option in the Chevy Equinox crossover.

At the 2017 Detroit Auto Show, GM also announced a diesel option for the related GMC Terrain, and Ford confirmed a diesel option for its 2018 F-150 full-size pickup truck.

The 2018 Mazda CX-5 is also expected to be the recipient of the Japanese automaker's long-delayed Skyactiv-D diesel engine.

All of these new models may make 2017 a brighter year for diesels, but the focus will likely continue to be on utility vehicles and pickup trucks.

That appears to be where the future of diesels in the U.S. lies, as manufacturers use diesels to improve efficiency in trucks—while turning more to electrified powertrains to do the same in passenger cars.

This story originally appeared on Green Car Reports.

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