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Updated Automatically on July 24th, 2008
better gas mileage

By October 15, 2006 U.S. diesel fuel retailers must, by law, be selling cleaner burning ultra-low-sulfur diesel fuel (ULSD.) With only a handful of U.S. passenger vehicle models currently offering diesel engine options, will this new, lower pollution fuel spark a diesel car revival?

American diesel fuel has lagged behind Europe in terms of cleanliness. This has mainly been due to the high sulfur content (500 parts per million maximum) of U.S. diesel. Sulfur helps lubricate diesel engines, but it also contributes greatly to the pollution generated by those engines. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has mandated that by October 15, 2006 diesel retailers must be selling fuel that meets the same ultra-low-sulfur (15 parts per million maximum) specifications as European diesel fuel. Diesel fuel refiners will use other methods to improve the lubrication properties of the new ULSD fuel, possibly including blending biodiesel fuel into their product.

Diesel cars are very popular in Europe. In 2005, diesels made up 49% of the European car sales. In 2006, diesel cars are expected to overtake gasoline models as Europe’s most popular. This popularity is reflected in the number of models of diesel-powered cars available for sale outside the U.S. There are currently over 135 models available, including models from divisions of the “Big Three” U.S. automakers.

By contrast, diesel powered cars, trucks, and SUVs make up only about 3% of the U.S. car sales. As a result, we currently have one light SUV and four passenger cars models available with diesel engines. If you add in heavy-duty pickup trucks and and SUVs, we get five more models available. Throw in passenger-capable cargo vans and you get four more. That’s it, just 14 models of diesel powered passenger vehicles.

Diesel powered light vehicles get 20-40% better mileage than their gas powered brethren. This is especially noticable in SUVs and light trucks. But because of the higher emissions of diesel vehicles, five states (CA, ME, MA, NY, and VT) currently prohibit the sale of new diesel passenger vehicles. But with the new ULSD fuel coming soon, we may see a revival of diesel powered cars, trucks, and SUVs.

Mercedes is introducing the E320 BLUETEC model this fall which should meet the pollution standards of all 50 states while still delivering outstanding performance and gas mileage (excuse me, “diesel fuel economy”) in a full sized luxury car. Will Ford, GM, and the other manufacturers follow suit? Diesel technology has advanced tremendously since the last diesel power boom in the 1970s. Now we have things like common-rail injection and particulate filters that make current diesels quieter, cleaner, more powerful, and virtually smoke-free. And those four passenger car models available in the U.S. get between 37 and 44 MPG on the highway!

With gas prices climbing again, VW and Mercedes may find it hard to keep their diesel models in stock and the other automakers may be kicking themselves for not anticipating a diesel revival.

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Updated Automatically on July 24th, 2008
better gas mileage

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