Green Update–>Diesels Are Better—But Not for the U.S.?

November 9th, 2010
2009 BMW 335d

2010 BMW 335d

Two recent stories on GreenCarReports caught my eye, and I’d like to comment on them. One gives five reasons why diesels don’t do well in the U.S. The other reports that gas engines will be with us for decades.

Neither piece is big news, really, but many people can’t understand the economics (and politics) behind our country’s lagging acceptance of diesel engines when it’s clear they outperform even some hybrids in fuel economy. The newer diesels are powerful, very torquey, and clean.

John Voelcker has been writing about the problem for at least a year, and he authored both the articles in question. First is the cost factor. Diesels cost about 15 percent more to build than an equivalent gas engine, and emissions equipment is quite expensive and complicated, because U.S. emissions laws are much tougher than those in Europe.

It’s also hard to calculate the true cost of ownership when diesels cost so much more initially and when diesel fuel is usually more expensive than gasoline. It’s cheaper in Europe because of tax policies that encourage its use. One could find many good and sufficient reasons for the U.S. to do the same.

Second is the perception factor. Only about half our filling stations have diesel on the main pump island. So people think fuel isn’t readily available, and most car buyers still think diesels are dirty, stinky, smoky, and inefficient.

BMW 335d engineNever mind that cars like BMW’s 2011 335d are virtually as fast as their gas-powered brothers (0-60 mph in 6 seconds), with better passing power (50-80 mph), and 33 percent better fuel economy. Read a review here. In the first six months of 2010, 41 percent of U.S. buyers chose the 335d over the 335i.

Some good news is that third-quarter U.S. diesel sales from Audi, BMW, Mercedes, and Volkswagen—the only companies now selling passenger diesels in the U.S.—were up an average 33 percent overall for 2010. VW led, with 37,803 diesel cars sold. Audi’s new A4 TDI gets an average 51 mpg and may come to the U.S.

Even though gas engines will be around for a very long time (some timetables estimate electric car penetration of 33 percent will take a good 20 years), there will always be a need for liquid fuels—unless and until the electric grid covers the earth.

Write your Congressman and ask why the politics of oil have for so long favored the production of gasoline over diesel (which is, by the way, cheaper to refine).

Would you consider a diesel for your next car? Why or why not?

—jgoods

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  1. randy
    November 9th, 2010 at 18:11 | #1

    I’ve really enjoyed driving modern diesel cars. The torque is amazing, especially at speed/gear combos where a gas engine just groans. Cost is high but the heavier construction of Diesels usually means a longer life. Biggest problem here seems to be the availability of low-sulfur Diesel fuel, which I think is why they require so much more emissions equipment in the USA. US manufacturers seem to be putting all their eggs in the hybrid/plug in basket.

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