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The Diesel Armada

Posted by: Gail Edmondson on May 4, 2007

Thinking of buying a clean-diesel car to get better mileage? You might want to wait until 2008. European and Japanese automakers are about to invade the US market with new clean-diesel models that get far better mileage than the same gasoline-burning model. But most will hit the market next year. Equipped with new soot-cleaning technology, many will meet even the strict emissions requirements of California, and will be sold in all 50 states.

We’ve flagged the diesel trend already — but the momentum now is gaining critical mass. Among the many contenders, Mercedes will offer its SUVs — M-Class, R-Class and GL-Class —with diesel engines. BMW aims to bring its popular turbo diesel engines to US models. And Nissan is coming with a diesel Maxima sedan. Volkswagen was an early pioneer in diesel in the US, but it will convert to new cleaner diesel technology in models starting 2008, which it dubs “Blue Motion.” VW is betting its new TDI Jetta, which launches in February, will help stoke its US sales.

As recently as a year ago, when I wrote about Mercedes’ plans to bring clean diesel luxury sedans and SUVs to the US, hybrids were all the rage. Many still believed that Americans would never embrace diesel cars, recalling the sooty emissions of 1980s models. But high gasoline prices and growing criticism of the energy efficiency of ethanol are giving new-generation diesel cars greater appeal. Now the buzz about diesel is building daily.

The oil industry could help tip the scales. One big chicken-and-egg question a year ago was whether or not oil companies would actually invest in clean-diesel refining and user-friendly diesel filling pumps for passenger cars, laying the foundation for consumers to make an easy switch. (Diesel is only available at 42% of US filling stations.) Marathon Oil Corp.’s recent decision to invest $3.2 billion in a clean-diesel addition to its Garyville, Louisiana refinery is a clear bet diesel use will grow in a changing US energy landscape. “It demonstrates a growing sense within the auto and oil industries that increasing numbers of US cars and light trucks will run on diesel, becuse they get better fuel economy than those using gasoline,” says a May 3 Wall Street Journal article.

Even though hybrids got off to an early lede, market researchers are betting diesel cars will become more popular as consumers realize that hybrids save on fuel consumption only in city driving, while diesel cars consume 20-40% less than gasoline cars under all driving conditions.

At present only 3.6 percent of US vehicles sold have diesel engines, and most of those are light trucks. European’s long ago fell in love with fuel-efficient diesel passenger cars and more than half of cars sold in Europe are diesel.

Market researcher J. D. Power forecasts diesel cars and light trucks will take 11.8% of the US market by 2015 versus 4.86% for hybrids. And get this: French automaker PSA Peugeot-Citroen is already working on a hybrid diesel which would outperform both.

Reader Comments

Robert K

May 4, 2007 3:15 PM

I saw a custom Corvette with a 6.5l diesel truck engine getting 48mpg!

I'm waiting. The hybrid premium is ridiculous and diesels can burn WVO and SVO with some modifications. Just as long as they are not dirty and super noisy, or too slow. Diesel trucks are stupid expensive and not practical. Around $9,200 for a Duramax Diesel and Allison transmission is stupid.

Ethanol is a government program to enrich farmers not save us drivers. We pay green and turn yellow. In fact ethanol is dirtier than gas and lowers the MPG!!

The big question is whether the farm lobby going to block Urea-injection?? Otherwise diesels from the big 2.5 will still have a high premium from the filters, and the clean Asian diesels without will then hit the last death nail in the 2.5's coffin.


May 5, 2007 12:04 AM

"In fact ethanol is dirtier than gas...."
Most of your points were correct, except this one, unless you qualify it. Ethanol burns cleaner. However once you take an inventory of the energy used and CO2 output by fertilizer manufacturers, lime suppliers, farmers, and ethanol plants, it's highly debatable whether we get more energy out of the process than put into it. Anyway you look at it though, GWBush is a blithering idiot for cutting the budget for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory as soon as he came into office. He finally restored it last year, but much of the research had already been mothballed. I believe that solar electric is probably the quickest & cleanest method to decrease our petroleum usage, but I have not read an inventory of energy input vs. output.

Jack Tate

May 5, 2007 4:53 AM

Isn't it nice that these so called clean diesel cars only filter out the large soot particles and because of their efficiency, generate even more of the small, cancer causing particles. There is nothing "clean" about clean diesel.

Wolfgang J

May 5, 2007 7:52 AM

Why are all journalists comparing gasoline hybrid with diesel engines?
Hybrid is a technology which can be used with many different sources... gasoline-electric, diesel-electric, h2-electric etc...

I think this comparision was initiated mainly by the german car industry which is not ready with new technologies and was surprised by the japanese hybrids.

Greg Faulkner

May 6, 2007 12:17 PM

Price premium not as high as the first post indicates

Diesel engines for light, heavy-duty trucks, like the Chevy HD, Ford Super Duty, and Dodge Cummins garner a high premium because they are high utility and way outperform the gasoline counterparts for durability and workability. They are built by semi-truck engine manufacturers. This explains their high premium, but the engine premium is not $9,000, but more like $5,800 (avg).

With respect to cars and true, light-trucks we will not see these huge premiums. The VW Jetta BlueMotion will bring 40 more hosepower (140) and 59 more lbs of torque (236) beyond the outgoing, 1.9 liter TDI, while achieving about 7 more miles per gallon, combined (city/hwy) over the previous edition. Moreover, the new Jetta diesel will stay about the same price (about $2,000 over the comparable, 2.5 model according to VW spokespersons), while commanding about a 19 mpg edge over the standard, gas model (combined rating) with an additional advantage of the diesel being alternative-fuel capable right out of the box. And the alternative fuel for diesels, biodiesel, is far superior to ethanol for gas cars in terms of applicability and fuel economy results.

The Jeep Grand Cherokee CRD premium is $3,050.

The Mercedes models: R320 CDI, ML320 CDI, GL320 CDI, and E320 BlueTec all bring an extra, $1,000 only.

The VW Touareg TDI brings a very hefty premium, but it is VW's super car version of that vehicle, which would be similar to MB's AMG line. With 310 horsepower and 553 lbs of torque, the VW Touareg TDI gets a premium for its performance advantage; not because it's a diesel. The upcoming Touareg and Audi Q7 (2008) will get a more modest, 3.0 V6 diesel that should have a much smaller price premium with much lower CO2 and much better fuel economy, while not sacrificing peformance for the driver.

Greg Faulkner

May 6, 2007 12:33 PM

Great article that expresses a knowledgeable understanding of what is happening in the auto market concerning the prospect for clean diesels in the U.S.

Diesels to come (all future entries will be fifty-state emission compliant): 2008 - Mercedes-Benz; R320 BlueTec, ML320 BlueTec, GL320 BlueTec (or possibly, GL420 BlueTec), E320 BlueTec. Volkswagen; VW Tiguan *BlueMotion, VW Jetta BlueMotion, VW Touareg BlueMotion. Audi; Q7 TDI (3.0 liter V6), Q7 super car TDI (6.0 V12). BMW; model specifics TBA (possibly, 5-series and X-series). Mini Cooper D; 1.6 liter 16 valve Peugeot-designed engine with hwy mpg around 64. Jeep; Grand Cherokee CRD 2009 - Ford; F150 (4.4 V8 Ford design from the U.K.). Honda; models unnannounced but a concept Accord has been shown with a 2.2 icdi engine that may get up to 62 mpg on the hwy. (unsure whether figure is U.S. or imperial gallons). 2010 - Mitsubishi Lancer; Nissan Maxima; Hyundai Veracruz; GM; Chevrolet Silverado 1500 / GMC Sierra 1500 (4.9 liter Duramax). Dodge; Ram 1500 and possibly, Durango (5.6 V8 Cummins and 4.2 V6 Cummins respectively).

* BlueMotion is a guess of the brand name since VW has shown TDI, BlueTec and BlueMotion as possible branding for the VW U.S. diesel name.


May 7, 2007 11:12 AM

Previously posted:

"Isn't it nice that these so called clean diesel cars only filter out the large soot particles and because of their efficiency, generate even more of the small, cancer causing particles. There is nothing "clean" about clean diesel.

Posted by: Jack Tate at May 5, 2007 04:53 AM"

In response: What in the world are you talking about?? Your comment makes no sense. A diesel car that gets 45mpg is going to be cleaner than a gasoline car that gets 20mpg, even without the new exhaust treatments, just because it burns less fuel, and therefore emits less exhaust. So, with the new emissions equipment, yes, they will be a lot cleaner. I'll bet these new vehicles will be cleaner than whatever your current car is... oh, and by the way, Macaroni and Cheese causes cancer too...


May 7, 2007 8:18 PM

quote from previous post: "I think this comparision was initiated mainly by the german car industry which is not ready with new technologies and was surprised by the japanese hybrids."

On the contrary, from my readings it is the hybrid proponents outraged about all the diesel talk as they seem to think that gas-electric hybrids are threatened by the prospsect of some diesel models coming to America . Diesel proponenets love hybrid technologies, because we know that electric propulsion for cars has no bearing on whether or not compression-ignition is superior to spark-ignition, since hybrids still rely on an internal-combustion engine for help in propulsion. Journalist compare diesels to hybrids only because one can see similar fuel economy results from a non-hybrid diesel, as a hybrid gasser.

One could argue that Toyota is behind all the anti-diesel talk, since they are way behind, even Ford, when it comes to diesel tech. They know hybrid tech better than everyone else, so one could assume, they don't want us to like diesels, because, then, we wouldn't be buying Toyotas. Crazy idea, I know, but no crazier than the German conspiracy theory eluded to earlier.

And the poster that is up in arms about small PM particles, remember, there are other emission substances besides PM. Diesels reign superior in two out of four, and diesels emit an average of 15% less carbon emissions, while averaging 30% better fuel eoconomy in the city and hwy. We have to breath all the harmful substances, not just the ones in which the EPA has decided to focus on (those most associated with diesel-type exhausts). Biodiesel reduces all but NOx, without the loss in fuel economy seen with ethanol, and all diesels can use any blend of biodiesel. If you buy a diesel, you don't need an FFV and you don't have to fill up more often. Just buy a diesel and drive with biodiesel. It's that easy. I'm doing it, and getting 45 mpg in a car that gets only 26 mpg with the gas version of the same car.


May 7, 2007 8:46 PM

A little confusion about emission technology for reducing NOx by the first post. The author questions whether the Asians will patent non-urea injection diesels; I'm assusming, from his readings about the Honda 2.2 iccdi engine.

No way!

Although the technology is evolving on a global scale, right now, large diesel engines (V-6 and larger), like the ones getting ready to be used by MB, VW Touareg, Audi, and BMW; and later in GM, Dodge, and Ford 1/2-ton pickups, will use SCR (post urea-injection which is actually, ammonia injection, chemically changed from urea), because this technology is more suitable for V-6s or larger engines.

For small engines, LNT (lean NOx Trap) is the leading technology that doesn't do enough for larger engines and it decreases fuel economy too much in the larger engines and/or is too costly for larger engines. Although Honda is claiming superiority with respect to LNT, they have not done anything new or different that I can tell that has not already been achieved with small engine designs from other companies. In fact, VW will have the first LNT-type NOx reducing system in our market before Honda develops an on-board diagnositic system for their concept vehicle.

Yes, Honda is making great strides and their system may one day prove cheaper and better, and Hyundai is good with diesels as well, but the other Asian companies are really behind the U.S. and way behind the Europeans when it comes to diesel tech.

Toyota recently announced that diesel cars were economically, unfeasible for them in the U.S., and that is because they don't have the technological know-how to make them economical, fuel efficient, clean, and performance-oriented at the same time. VW/Audi knows how; BMW knows how; Peugeot-Citroen knows how; Daimler Chrysler knows how; Renault knows how; and Ford is very quickly, learning how. This is why these companies are bringing diesel engines to America. Yes, even Renault and Peugeot will introduce diesels in America. Renault with Nissans, and Peugeot with Mini Coopers.

Toyota leads everyone else with gas-electric hybrids. Our country will have both technologies, plus turbo, direct-injection gas engine technologies from Ford and others. All these technologies can help improve fuel economy, but consumers must tell automakers that we want to improve fuel economy; not go faster and faster every year. If we send the wrong message, we'll spin in our tracks; like we have for the last twenty-five years. We'll average the same 21 mpg, but average horsepower will move to 300 and we can all go from 0-60 in 5.5. And this will do WHAT for America?

Glenn Reid

May 7, 2007 9:57 PM

so what happened with coal to diesel fuel montana

just me

May 23, 2007 6:13 PM

Unfortunately diesel is a dirty word in the USA just hang behind one of those yellow school buses or maybe a Dodge/Ford or Chevy diesel truck and you'll experience first hand. however I have experienced the German diesels first hand and I'm looking forward to a good selection of choice of models the smell from the Germans tail pipe is more like burning alcohol no smog comes out of the tail pipe an the engine sound is sort of acceptable more or less like one of a budget gasoline car, engine compression well mine had over 300000 miles on the same engine stil it runned like new you're probably wondering why I disposed of it well it got totaled in an accident, and of course we have to appreciate the fact that it's gonna be cleanner I hope the government imposes the same standards on all the american made diesels too ( by the way once I had the wonderful opportunity to find out that most of the american cars are gross polluters out of the assembly line in comparison to any and all imports yes our wonderful goverment is very linient with the american brands the government sets up strict standards for all the imports but allows the american brands to deposit excessive amounts of polutants into the air yes our govenment is so gracious).


June 7, 2007 4:25 PM

Any comments on the Mercedes blue tech diesel engine especially in the area of technical or maintenance problems.

What changes will be made in 2008 to meet US requirements?

Ronald Hon

August 9, 2007 11:08 AM

BlueTec diesel engines use Urea to filter out 90% of Nox before releasing from the exhaust. They require Urea to be filled up frequently.


August 28, 2007 12:36 AM

Diesel engines are the wave of the future!!! Let's face it diesels have technology on there side. Diesels have more complexities than the outdated gas engines. Diesels run longer and are more durable. Put the gas down on these things they can take the punishment. The days saying "floor it, its a diesel" will become an attractive slogan statement the auto makers will make commercials in the future. Right around the corner 3 maybe 4 years and the diesel will dominate the markets.

Why? First, aftermarket parts for improved performance in mpg, an increase in horsepower and torque curves will be avaible at less than $1,000.00. Second if the engine makers make them with traditional durability parameters they a diesel engine should run 3000,000 miles without problems. Do the maintance and your set.
Third, economists have a word its called satisfying.
Satisfysing is nearly reached in the auto industry. How comfortable can a car/truck really become. Auto makers are nearing there limits or threshold for car comfort and convience. Yes, maybe a robot someday will drive you around but that's 15 years or so away.
Basically a diesel will last you 15 years until the next technological marvel comes along.
The gas engine does not have technology on its side. It just can't compete with the innovations that can make a diesel more of an investment.


November 22, 2007 10:21 PM

Who Killed The Electric Car?..........Its a documentary. Please rent it soon and watch it.

There is almost no need for "hybrid technology".

Of course for heavy duty usage diesel will always out perform gas and electric vehicles are no match for diesel engines.

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