American’s look to Europe for many things – wine, food, fashion and, of course, automobiles – to name just a few. But one European automotive tradition has not made the journey to our shores: diesel engines for passenger vehicles.

Big, smoke belching 18 wheelers and heavy duty trucks? Yes. Cars? No! At least not yet, but wait … there’s more, much more automotive retailers need to know about what their showrooms will sell and their service areas will repair and service in the near future.

Diesel cars have not sold especially well in the U.S., except to the very, very environmentally concerned. R.L. Polk, a leading data compiler has noted sales of diesel vehicles are up some 40 percent to 543,777 units, but that only amounts to 3.4 percent of all cars sold in America. J.D. Powers and Associates is predicting diesel sales may triple to 10 percent by 2015.

There is a persistent disease in the U.S., known to the automotive psychological experts as “diesel knowledge deficiency.” It is a disease, which I hope to argue has severely disenfranchised the American consumer of high quality and ultra performance automobiles.

So, what’s the big deal about diesels?

Perhaps surprisingly to some, diesel engines, while invented and patented in 1892 by Rudolf Diesel, were not used in passenger vehicles until 1936 when Mercedes-Benz introduced the 260D, the world’s first production diesel car. Until then, diesel engines – which were big, bulky and difficult to start in cold weather – were used in heavy trucks, steamships, freighters and similar equipment.

After the war, technological improvements and innovations were added to the diesel by Mercedes and in the 1970’s large volume production of diesel-powered passenger cars commenced. Today, more than 50 percent of all vehicles sold in Europe are diesel-powered. Over half! In the U.S, just 3.4 percent.

Basic question: what makes a diesel different from the engine under the hood of most cars and light trucks in the America today?

Without resorting to a lot of tech-talk or a lengthy and possibly boring statement, it will suffice to say the diesel gets power faster without an electric sparkplug – it uses compression to ignite the fuel – and, thus, does not require a fuel with a high ignite or combustion factor. Admittedly, that is over-simplification, but when reviewed by a Mercedes-Benz person I was reassured, “That is accurate.” In fact, diesel engines are so flexible they can run on vegetable oil. If you don’t believe me, check out this video featuring movie diva Daryl Hannah who only drives biodiesel. For those who want a more comprehensive and understandable explanation and demonstration visit or click here for a complete demonstration of how diesel engines work.

Generally, diesel engines are more effective, efficient, economical and, eventually, environmentally acceptable than the more familiar internal combustion engine. They get 20 to 30 percent better fuel economy, which results in roughly a 20 to 30 percent reduction in the emissions of carbon monoxide (CO), carbon dioxide (C02) and hydrocarbon gases.

Why all the news, information and conversation about diesels now?

Many factors, facts and fallacies have contributed to diesel news: among them –the global warming phenomenon; state emissions controls and regulations; the soaring cost of oil per barrel and, subsequently, gas per gallon; lingering perceptions of diesel engines; more vehicles on the road; the depletion of natural resources; governmental action or inaction; court cases, including the U.S. Supreme Court case that opened this week, and Al Gore’s notwithstanding environmental concern.

In the U.S., stringent new regulations concerning the sulfur emissions – cleaner burning – from diesels in heavy trucks (when you’re behind an 18 wheeler with a heavy load at a stop light, a gas mask is a welcome accessory) resulted in a drastically lower sulfur composition in the formulization. These big trucks may be a reason why many equate the technology with older cars and light trucks powered by diesel engines – noisy, smelly, etc. Another factor has been the limited availability of diesel fuel at service stations. But this is also about to change.

Last month, 45,000 service stations in 45 states began selling the “new and improved, ultra low sulfur” diesel fuel in response to the government’s request for lower exhaust gas emissions. Not all stations have the new fuel and it will be “sometime” before the new fuel replaces the old, according to one source I spoke with.

The national average price of the new diesel fuel as this article is being written, according to the Energy Information Administration, stands at $2.567 per gallon compared to regular gasoline, which averages $2.246 per gallon. In 2009 – just three short years away – an even tougher, tighter fuel composition regulation will be instituted.

Additionally and significantly, this new diesel fuel formula has resulted in significant re-engineering for “cleaner” diesel engine-equipped cars destined to be sold in this country. Brands including VW and Volvo that sold diesel-equipped cars have stopped selling in the U.S., but perhaps not for long.

According to various sources on both sides of the Atlantic, every car manufacturer in the U.S. and Europe has been upgrading, improving and literally re-inventing cleaner diesel engines to comply with new government regulations on emissions and diesel fuel composition. They are considering the technology a viable alternative to traditional gas engines.

While Pacific Rim nations are not yet as stringent in national emission controls, car manufactures in Asia are also hard at work on new diesel-equipped vehicles since many produce for the U.S. market or eventually hope to do so. In nations with economies – namely, Brazil, Russia, India and China – a few steps have already been taken regarding emissions, but nothing is yet significant and auto production has not become a growing economic-industry factor... yet.

Who is leading the industry in diesel innovations and technology?

Mercedes-Benz, the first car manufacturer to produce a diesel-equipped passenger car over 70 years ago, is still the highly motivated leader in diesel inventions, innovations, and improvements.

The result of the company’s significant investments in time, people and resources appeared earlier this year at the North American International Automobile Show with the introduction of the BLUETEC diesel line. To borrow a phrase, “these are not your father’s diesels!”

A media release stated, “Mercedes-Benz is the pioneer of a new generation of clean and powerful high-tech vehicle s with highly effective exhaust gas treatment systems that give them the potential to fulfill the most stringent emission limits in the future.” And they are turbo powered too.

A few weeks ago Mercedes-Benz revealed the new passenger it was bring to America that are equipped with the new Bluetec diesel engines. The company has sold millions trucks in Europe equipped with the new engines, so they are tried and true.

Last month, Mercedes-Benz unveiled its new E320 Bluetec sedan. It accelerates from 0 to 60 in just 6.6 seconds thanks to 400 pounds of torque and earns a significant 37 mpg highway/26mpg city. The E series will be joined by four other new-Bluetech diesel-powered vehicles next year as well.

The new 2007 models are not just fully compliant with new regulations, they set the benchmark for diesel engine technology that others will most definitely strive to emulate.

On the eve of the Los Angeles Motor Show DaimlerChrysler, Audi and Volkswagen announced that they intend to establish the BLUETEC brand name as the designation for particularly clean, highly fuel-efficient passenger cars and SUVs with diesel engines. Under the shared concept of BLUETEC, each of the manufacturers involved will be working on their own technical systems for meeting the world’s most stringent emission regulations.

Audi’s Winning ways

NASCAR rules in the U.S., but elsewhere in the world open-wheel racing is the favorite and is gaining fans in America too. This year, Audi shook the motorsports world to its high-tech-core with a record shattering 650 horsepower V12 TDI diesel-powered race car.

The diesel-powered R10 TDI race car won every major race it entered – the legendary 24 hours at Le Mans, 12 Hours of Sebring and the American endurance called Petit Le Mans Series – for a total of seven victories in a debut season. Along the way it was named Race Engine of the Year 2006, Alternative Race Engine of the Year, clinched the Manufacturers’ Championship and also won the Drivers’ and Teams’ titles.

At an exclusive event at the LA Auto Show, Audi revealed plans to introduce its diesel-powered vehicles in America. An Audi spokesperson informed me, “We will import diesel cars to the U.S. in 2008, but exactly when is to be determined.” Currently, Audi sells roughly 50 percent of its cars in Europe with diesel engines.

Recently, Audi premiered a world first twelve-cylinder diesel engine in a passenger car, the Q7. It is a six-liter, V12 generating, 500 horsepower and 738 ft-lbs of torque beast that is reminiscent of the engine featured in the winning Audi race car. Fast? 0 to 62 in 5.5 seconds with an electronically governed top end of 155 mph. Wow! Too bad it won’t be sold here … yet.

Honda’s on the Diesel-powered Bandwagon

John Mendel, senior vice president for American Honda Motor, noted confidence this summer when he said, “Our diesel technology will achieve our goal of crating new value in the market. Some have suggested this will be as important a breakthrough as the Civic CVCC was in being the first to meet the U.S. Clean Air Act in the early 1970’s.”

Mendel’s comments were followed late September by a release from Honda headquarters in Tochigi, Japan announcing the development of a “next-generation” diesel engine that reduces exhaust gas emissions to a level equal to a gasoline engine. The new engine uses a catalytic converter that enables a reduction in emissions sufficient to meet EPA requirements. The new diesel will be introduced within three years.

Toyota Is Not Resting On Its Laurels

As it turns out, Toyota is not merely focusing on hybrids. The company’s acquisition of 5.6 percent of Isuzu earlier this month for $375 million will give the auto giant access to more than 800 experienced diesel engineers at Isuzu and Toyota President Katsuaki Watanabe has said he anticipates “the growth of diesel engines going forward.”

According to the auto blogosphere, Toyota has another ace up its sleeve. A Land Cruiser model with a powerful diesel V8 that has been seen testing in Europe, reportedly with a 4.5 liter engine, generates with twin turbo-chargers 268 hg and 470 ft-lbs of torque. Could this be a power plant for the new Tundra trucks coming out of the new San Antonio, Texas plant?

That’s a question I intend to ask next week at the reveal of the new Tundra. Stay tuned.

BMW Tells All About Their Diesel Plans

BMW too announced plans to bring diesels to the U.S. in late 2008. The German automaker has developed an enhanced concept for minimum exhaust gas emissions for this engine, which will meet the strict emissions standards in effect in California and other states. As a result, BMW will be able to simultaneously introduce these new cleaner Advanced Diesels as so-called 50 States (Bin5) models.

What’s Up In Detroit?

GM has been quiet about plans for its diesel engines, but announcements should be made soon. You can bet the Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep brands will be among the first to establish a foothold with technology from its European divisions. And Ford has recently announced the development of a new regulation-compliant diesel engine.

Diesels bottom line?

Like the old movie title, The Diesels Are Coming. So, get ready. After years of literally ignoring diesel-powered vehicles, Americans will soon see more and more diesel cars and subsequently have the opportunity of benefiting from them.

The investment of countless millions of dollars, euros and yen from auto manufacturers throughout the world has resulted in a new generation of improved diesel engines … they’re stealth-like silent, efficient, environmentally equitable, and, of course, meet all the new government regulations.


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