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Bankrate's 2007 New Car Guide
Going green
Environmental concerns are bringing major changes -- right down to the cars we drive.
Going green
'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 a look.

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 ethanol.

Diesels get better
New fuel, new engines
Watch out hybrids
Growing trend
Fuel availability

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 Reports magazine.

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 cars.

-- Posted: Aug. 2, 2007
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