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Will the US go diesel?

Posted by: Gail Edmondson on December 1, 2006

This year’s Los Angeles Auto show is like a debutante’s ball for automakers eager to display the charms of their new green technologies. Mercedes, Volkswagen and Honda are all betting that diesel will win US converts when the word finally gets out about the great fuel mileage, the low emissions and the terrific torque. After all, more than 50% of new cars sold in Europe are diesel. You can’t succeed anymore in the European auto market without a robust lineup of cutting-edge diesel engines. Consumers know these cars are a “best buy.”

The conventional wisdom is that it will take years for diesel to take off in the US — based on old images of dirty belching cars. I think that’s short-sighted. I bet the buzz about clean diesel will ricochet around the US market as fast as the buzz about Toyota’s hybrid Prius. That was about 18 months. Why should it take longer? After all, oil prices are high and not coming down. Mercedes Diesel E class costs only $1,000 more than a regular E class. A Lexus GS sedan costs $10,000 more than the gasoline version. American consumers are not dumb. I’m betting they will make a beeline for new diesels. Any takers?

Reader Comments


December 3, 2006 6:58 PM

When you take into consideration the lower maintenance cost, the longer engine life, the existing use of the technology on a large scale in Europe, and 25-40% better mileage, this should not be a hard sell. The hybrid thing got started without anyone thinking about these things, with inflated mileage representations (see the blogs), and $4,000 worth of new batteries needed on your 8 year old hybrid, I think diesels will grow rapidly. Add to this the use of biodiesel, and it closes the sale.


December 4, 2006 4:01 PM

A resounding yes, especially as the cost of aftertreatment drops over the next five years. It's worth remembering that the original catalytic converters on gas vehicles were extremely costy. The performance is outstanding (330d sport package? 155 mph and high 30s mpg, now the supplier community just needs to help the OEMs bring down the cost of meeting absurd emissions standards to promulgate a revolution in torque.

Chuck Schubert

December 5, 2006 11:55 AM

I agree with you. I drive a 2006 VW beetle
diesel. 40 MPG all the time. The car pays for itself. Before this I drove a 2001 Jetta Diesel
at 42 MPG. Total 6 years on diesel and I love it.
Chuck Schubert Columbus N.J.

Greg Shay

December 8, 2006 9:00 AM

Since I rented a small Diesel car in Europe last summer, I have been trying to find how to buy one here in the US (so far I cannot). One of the largest manufacturers for Europe is Ford!
Why can't I buy one? There is a snag in the new 2007 US EPA emissions, Tier 2/Bin 5, that requires overly clean emissions that currently no diesel on earth can meet, yet CO2 greenhouse gasses are not regulated at all. The EPA should be temporarily adjusted to allow the CO2 reducing cars, which are presently cleaner than any car on the road anyway, and set the extra strict particulate limits off a handful more years. Everyone I tell about the fuel efficiency is amazed, and has never head of this. My 17 year old son says this is what every young person needs, an inexpensive, fuel efficient car. There does need to be an education to let folks know these are less expensive and can be higher milage than hybrids. Regarding future tech: a diesel hybrid is the eventual future, even in Europe.

David Sykes

December 12, 2006 12:56 PM

I think diesel has excellent potential in the US. Most Americans have forgotten (or never knew) about the disastrous attempt by GM 25+ years ago to turn gas engines into diesel engines.
I had owned a couple of diesel cars
back in the late 80's early 90's. One was an 86 VW Jetta, the other a 84 Volvo diesel wagon. Both powered by reliable and economical VW diesel engines. But were they slow and cantankerous (hard to start) at below zero degrees. I would really like to test drive some of the new diesel power Europe has to offer.
Couple of issues in my mind need to be resolved. The ultra strict US regulations coming on line mean expensive after-exhaust treatment equipment (though Honda a recently announced some type of breakthrough). This cost will have to be wrung out of the system before manufacturers eagerly jump on the bandwagon and offer diesel power and do it in all 50 states. The refueling system needs to be made idiot proof so you cannot pump gas into a tank meant for diesel. My wife is really smart but I know that in our harried lives she *would* forget and pump gasoline into the diesel tank. I've read one manufacturer has already figured this out.

Dave Sykes
Boston, MA


October 2, 2007 6:29 PM

After riding in a friend's older VW Golf and watching him get close to 50mpg on the interstate I was stunned that you cant buy the same thing here in the US.

his fuel range on a 13 gallon tank is almost 600 miles!

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