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Diesel gets a witness

Posted by: David Welch on July 5, 2007

Finally, someone is stepping forward to make the case for diesel. I was watching MSNBC last week and saw a Mercedes ad boasting that its new Blue Tec diesel engines are fuel efficient, fast and a smart way to cut petroleum use. It also makes the case that these new diesel engines are high tech—an important message for many Americans who ahve bad memories of diesel cars and see modern diesel as the domain of pickup truck drivers and semis.

The Mercedes ad dopes a pretty good job of making its case, too. In the Mercedes ad, the engine rises up from the engine bay. Key components float off the engine—like the hardware that runs at optimum efficiency and gets up to 600 miles on a tank of fuel. Then the two turbo charges separate from the sides of the engine, and the narrator quickly explains that the two blowers will give drivers some real pick up. Diesel engines can boost efficiency by 25% to 40%.

The message is clear and it’s made quickly. The Mercedes diesel engine is high tech. It’s not the sputtering and sooty diesel that probably was in your father’s Oldsmobile back in the ‘80s. And by the way, it’s plenty fast. Mercedes has been running the ads since April in every state except California, New York, Maine, Massachusetts and Vermont. In those states, emissions regulations prohibit diesel-powered cars. That will change next year, when Mercedes will sell three suvs and, eventually, its E-class sedan with a diesel option in all 50 states.

Unfortunately, too few consumers and even fewer policy makers have given diesel much of a chance in the U.S. Hybrids have generated all the hype and have a head start in the market. Plus, tough clean-air regulations for diesel—not to mention lobbying dollars behind ethanol—have helped shove diesel into a dark corner. Until recently, the fuel available at filling stations was laden with sulfur and thus too dirty for the carmakers to be able to clean with simple emissions equipment. But now that the refiners have been forced to clean up their act, diesel exhaust is getting cleaner, too.

That’s why it deserves a chance. If more auto makers start selling diesel engines and put some marketing bucks behind the technology, perhaps consumers and policy makers will wake up to the fact that we may be able to cut foreign oil reliance using the same technology that has worked in Europe for years. Car makers may be able to reduce the cost and improve efficiency enough to make hybrids the best fuel saver, but until they prove that they can build them economically, diesel at least deserves a hearing. At least Mercedes is finally speaking up. Watch for Honda and Nissan to follow.

Reader Comments


July 6, 2007 9:18 PM

I totally agree, but it's interesting you don't mention VW given its long commitment to diesel. I saw confirmation today that VW is planning a March '08 release date for their Jetta/Jetta Sportwagen TDi's, 50 state clean with no (Mercedes) urea tanks to deal with. The initial mileage estimates are equivalent to the current hybrids. The hybrid engineering at Toyota and Honda is admirable, but it is also clear that much of the sales success of the Prius is due to the positive statement it's distinctive appearance makes about its driver. What else explains the hybrid Civics' relatively lagging sales when their actual gas mileage is not so different? I think the next 10 year is about the more practical and developed engineering solution (diesel), not the political statement (Prius) with it's cutting and possibly bleeding-edge technology. It would seem this is an opportunity for the domestic manufacturers who have paid their dues on diesel development in the past. A clean diesel in the Edge could provide a nice profit center.

44 mpg by 2010

July 7, 2007 5:13 AM

Look specifically for Fords, Vauxhall (GM/Opel), and Mini Cooper D! They have ~22% of the vehicles achieving 120 g/km or less and are getting a minimum of 47 mpg(US) combined average according to VCA. It is important to note that 130 g/km CO2 requirement is being proposed for 2012.

To put it simply, FORD and GM have more vehicles in the EU achieving over 47 mpg(US) combined city/highway than they have in the USA getting over 30 mpg(US) combined or better for 2007 AND 2008 as of 7/07/08. See

Add to that several Hondas, Toyotas, a Hyundai, and a VW on the lists as well for an additional ~20% of the EU offerings achieving lower than 121 g/km CO2.

In fact, of the 36 EU vehicles listed getting above 47 mpg(US) combed average, 25 are diesel.

Note that in 2005 EU CO2 emissions regulations required fleet average 160 g/km which resulted in combined city/highway of 35 mpg(US) and the 2008 requirements of 140 g/km forces a 44 mpg(US) combine average for the fleets. Note that this is a 26% improvement in fuel economy in ONLY 3 years accomplished under the guidance of Ford, GM, (and now Chrysler) World Headquarters.

Is there something wrong with this picture?

Rod Campbell-Ross

July 7, 2007 9:22 AM

I drive a diesel, have done for years and will never go back to petrol.

I like the torque you get with diesel that makes driving a diesel a muscular experience. When I occasionally drive a rental gas car it feels weak and insipid, will not go up hills or overtake without changing gear.

Then there is the fuel consumption: My diesel VW takes 11 gallons and I do 500 miles. My friend has an iderntical gas VW, his does 320 miles on 11 gallons of gas.

Why do they even make gasoline cars?

Greg Faulkner

July 7, 2007 1:57 PM

Not only is Mercedes-Benz becoming bullish on diesel for the American market, but recently, VW (who doesn't command quite the media presence in the U.S.) has come out heralding their upcoming CR 2.0 TDI four-cylinder which will actually be the first clean diesel power plant to hit all fifty states under the new, tier 2, bin 5, anti-diesel emissions system adopted by our anti-diesel EPA.

The 2.0 will first hit us in the Jetta Sedan TDI in the first quarter of 2008. It will improve on the outgoing, 1.9 liter by 40 horsepower (140 up from 100) and 59 lbs of torque (236 up from 177), while simultaneously becoming about 75% cleaner burning and garner about 7 more mpgs (45 mpg--combined up from 38 mpg--combined--2006 model; VW estimated). VW claims that the new Jetta will maintain the same approximate price which can be had for about $23,000 and one moderately-equipped @ around $25K. When one considers that a 2.5 trim that is similarly equipped will cost one around $21K; it's not a bad deal to get about 75% better fuel economy and the opportunity to use any blend of alternative fuel blend (biodiesel) without loss in fuel economy or neccessity to perform any engine modifications.

Then VW will apply this same engine to an upcoming Jetta SportWagon (called a Golf SportWagon in Europe) also in the first quarter of 2008; and then, by Spring we should see a new Tiguan, small SUV with this same power plant. VW has not announced this engine for the Rabbit and/or Beetle, but those may soon come as well.

Unlike the 3.0 V-6 Mercedes-Benz BlueTec, the VW CR 2.0 TDI will not require the consumer to add a urea solution or any other additional solution as the system for four cylinders (called LNT) will reduce NOx in house, as compared to upcoming V-6s that will use SCR-type NOx-reducing systems that will require adding urea solution at each oil change.

BMW and Audi are also talking more about diesels for the U.S., as they too will be adding V-6 diesels to various models. So far, everyone is developing a 3.0 V-6, including BMW, VW/Audi, Mercedes and Hyundai. Honda should be coming with a four cylinder, 2.2 liter, without the necessity for adding urea, around 2009, presumably in the Accord.

Donald MacDONALD

July 8, 2007 7:48 AM

absolutely agree. Diesels are inherently more efficient with no blocking or choking by a throttle valve - and need high compression to work. Common rail or unit electronic injectors will be serviced by replacement and will be cheaper to build and service than high-pressure injection pumps either rotary or in-line. The turbocharger essentially a simple and small device works far better with diesels than with any petrol injection (even direct gasoline injection) as there is an excess of air in diesel exhaust which is much cooler than gasoline exhaust. No cutting or or part-cutting off of air by the throttle in a diesel, for it breathes fully open at all times. The higher the compression the more efficient and economical is an i.c. engine. No ignition which until CDI and similar systems was the Achilles heel of SI spark ignition engines. Not high rpm because of the slower burning speed of dieseline-distillate but high rpm is not needed - the massive torque allows high gearing of the final drive and is splendid in the real world of picking up speed and regaining speed after a check. A diesel consumes next to nothing at idle.
Japan and the US are both behind EU in passenger car diesel engines - the US perhaps because of bad conversions from gasoline blocks by GM which you may not have forgotten. The irony is that the diesel engine makers of the US make the best diesels in the world for line-haul trucks, off-road equipment, and high-speed marine engines = equalled only by some Europeans principally Germans. Big Japanese engines which seem to lack the high torque-rise and flat torque curve of US big truck engines are well behind US and EU. Regards from Brisbane.

bruno di nardo

July 8, 2007 4:53 PM

New conventional clean diesel engines are just the start. Wait until the clean diesel hybrid engines become cost competitive.


July 9, 2007 1:58 PM

Finally!! the newer diesel engines are exceptionally great... and am glad to hear that the emission regulations will be laxed in the said states by next year... not only will we see diesels from mercedes... but from Audi as well... VW too.

put me on the list for a diesel.. they surely are the way to go for the next 5-10 years before hybrids actually start to become really efficient... currently its only the prius and honda civic hyrid that are making any real waves.

just me

August 3, 2007 6:21 PM

I'm loving this diesel news I currently drive a V6 Touareg my contract it's up mid 2008 right on target for the release of the new Tuguan TDI. there's no way I'll get another gas power engine. We're planning a trip from Los Angeles to Seattle WA equals to aprox 2200 Miles both ways, the gas bill it's gona suck my pocket dry.
I have not seen the Tiguan except on pictures but based on those pictuers I know it's the right vehicle for me. by the way I had a 1997 Passatt TDI and I loved that car.

Peter Ptacek

February 12, 2009 2:21 AM

Diesel is dirty power!!!

Dear friends,
# my name is Peter Ptáček and I am from Czech Republic. Saturday 22. November
# I saw on TV a reportage from Volvo ocean race as a eye-catcher before testing
# your car Volvo XC 70 D5 ocean race edition. It was a reason I had to write this
# mail. I beg your pardon, don´t consider this mail as a aggression. I hate diesel
# engine absolutely. In my opinion diesel is symbol for poverty and dirt.How you
# can celebrate such beautiful ocean race symbols like clear nature, fight with
# pure water, one´s mind challenge etc. through diesel engine car? In my country,
# Sweden is considered as a very liable to living environment.I´m a XC 90 gasoline
# owner, therefore I write to you.I´m very sad when I see European diesel
# mania.Yes, of course you can say modern diesel is quiet and economic, but how is
# possible when I´m walking on the streets I can´t breathe and I feel irritation
# in my neck?Especially in Prague, capital city of the Czech Republic, is a disel
# cars number alarming.Old even new , all are producing peculiar stifling smell. I
# rather don´t mention a huge black smoke often to see and characteristic tractor
# sound.And who is liable for our children´s health? I visited New York and Tokio
# and I didn´t smell stink.Why? Because almost no diesel. I would like to ask you
# for your human (no marketing) standpoint concerning a diesel future.I would like
# to know you really believe that diesel is OK and has no harmful impacts? Thank
# you very much.
# I sent this mail to green car as reaction on VW TDI green car election. God be
# with USA against diesel!!!!!
# Best regards
# Peter Ptáček, Prague, Czech Republic

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