'New' diesels boost mileage, reduce soot
If you want a car that
burns 20 percent to 30 percent less fuel than
a standard gasoline engine with little sacrifice
in performance, forget hybrid -- think diesel.
Now before you write off diesel
engines as the overpolluting, underperforming
beasts of the 1970s, give the new generation
Beginning with the 2008 model
year, a slew of carmakers are planning to
unveil a new generation of diesel vehicles
that run clean, are powered by peppy turbocharged
engines, sip fuel and routinely run for hundreds
of thousands of miles without significant
engine work. There's even a vegetable-based
diesel fuel whose green credentials are far
sounder than the gasoline alternative, sugar-based
|Diesels get better
While diesel as a green alternative to gasoline may be a new concept for Americans, these new diesel engines are old hat in Europe, commanding around 50 percent of their automotive market. That is a far cry from the 3.2-percent share of vehicle sales diesels get in the United States. But, according to an analysis by J.D. Power and Associates, that is about to change. They predict the diesel share of U.S. light-vehicle sales will more than triple to about 10 percent of sales by the middle of the next decade.
Part of the reason Americans
drive so fewer diesel vehicles than Europeans
is because of a stigma earned by earlier diesel
models. As a rule, when most U.S. car buyers
think diesel, their skin crawls. That's because
the first attempt to introduce these engines
was such a failure.
"In the '70s and '80s we tried to like it, we didn't,
and we rejected it," says Philip Reed,
consumer advice editor for automotive resource
Edmunds.com. "But now we are looking
at another cycle of diesel engines trying
to crack our market."
Led by European giants Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen,
carmakers first tried introducing Americans
to diesel engines during the 1970s gas crisis.
Because it is less expensive to refine, and
because the high-compression engines burn
fuel much more efficiently than gasoline engines,
policymakers thought diesel would be a surefire
way of easing the pain at the pump.
Unfortunately, with the gains those first generation engines offered in fuel savings, they also spewed clouds of soot, smelled awful and struggled to climb even the smallest of inclines.
"Because of that, when
people think diesel, they think of a bus.
They think of the old cars covered in soot
from their own tailpipe," says Jonathan
Linkov, managing editor for autos at Consumer
Within a decade, nearly every carmaker abandoned their
diesel experiments and left the fuel to only
the large truck market and the few passionate
believers who stuck with their trusty diesel-powered