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.