America Is Ready for Diesel Power

The advances made in clean diesel technology have been despite the old stereotype of diesel-powered autos being loud, smelly, slow, and unreliable -- traits personified by the late '70s GM (NYSE: GM  ) debacle that was the diesel Oldsmobile. 

Today, diesel technology has improved to bring noise, vibration, and smell much closer to that of a gasoline engine while providing 20%-40% better fuel efficiency. Though diesel fuel costs about the same or slightly more than gasoline, this price discrepancy can be attributed to a combination of higher taxes and niche demand. 

Not everything is completely peachy in the world of modern diesels. Initial costs are far higher: anywhere from $1200 to over $5000. These extra costs are associated with higher materials costs in the engine blocks and components that handle the high compression ratios and expensive exhaust treatment systems needed to meet emissions requirements.

Another consideration is the availability of fueling locations. Fewer than half of all gas stations in America sell diesel fuel. Away from highways or urban centers, it can be difficult to locate a place to fill up.

On the bright side of these considerations: diesel engines can recoup the initial cost in fuel savings in as little as three years; they are worth significantly more at resale; and they can last twice as long as gasoline engines with proper maintenance.  

With these trade-offs in mind, there are substantial opportunities for America's leading pickup truck manufactures to incorporate light duty diesel engines into one of America's most popular automobile segments: the half-ton pickup truck.

Ram Truck, a subsidiary of Fiat  (NASDAQOTH: FIATY  ) , is the first company to make this move. Beginning in model year 2014 the company will offer a diesel V-6 option for their Ram 1500 model. While the impressive fuel economy and towing capabilities will undoubtedly attract more consumers to the truck market, it very well could cannibalize sales of the heavy duty 2500 and 3500 models which have had diesel options for years.

Pickup trucks are not the only vehicles where diesel engines can find success in America.

Mercedes, a subsidiary of Daimler (NASDAQOTH: DDAIF  ) , has diesel engine options for its S, M, GL, and GLK models that boast 30% better fuel economy, 30% fewer greenhouse gas emissions, and higher torque than their gas engine counterparts. 

Other automakers are also beginning to offer diesel options for some of their sedans and SUVs: GM, Jeep, Volkswagen (NASDAQOTH: VLKAY  ) , and BMW (NASDAQOTH: BAMXF  ) among others have models available in America with clean diesel technology.

Conspicuously absent from this recent trend is Ford (NYSE: F  ) , whose diesel technology is well established in the European and heavy-duty American truck markets, but seemingly missing from the domestic car and SUV markets.

America is beginning to warm up to the idea of diesel engines in their automobiles. While this won't be a seismic industry shift, it's clear that the undercurrents of American preferences are open to accepting the idea. This is a trend worth watching, and as automakers improve their technologies and bring down the initial costs, the tides may turn in favor of diesel.

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Read/Post Comments (11) | Recommend This Article (6)

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  • Report this Comment On June 26, 2013, at 9:49 AM, NineD930thTA wrote:

    If GM would offer a 4 cylinder diesel in their 1500 trucks and just have that or the V-6 they wouldnt need the 8 cylinder engine at all.

    I would love to see a diesel in the Equinox/Terrain too but it would have to be a smarter introduction that GM has done with the Cruze diesel. 46 mpg highway but at $25,000 its really priced out of the point to help the people that want the better gas mileage.....the people that are tight financially.

  • Report this Comment On June 26, 2013, at 12:24 PM, Hoptopia wrote:

    They wouldn't need the 8 cylinder? Beg to differ with you there. They still need a large displacement powerplant for their heavy duty line. A straight 6 like a Cummins design can produce that, not so sure about a V-6 especially something that they'd have to tune down for a smaller chassis to reduce torque. I own a Silverado Duramax so I'm not unfamiliar.

    I'm biased but I'd almost rather not see more diesels unless the demand will force the oil companies to produce more diesel because it is d@mn expensive to fill up these days!

  • Report this Comment On June 26, 2013, at 1:36 PM, UliMunich wrote:

    Here in Europe, more precisely in Germany, cars with diesel engines make up for a little more than 48% of all cars. You will find diesel engines in high profile cars like Porsche, Audi, BMW and so forth. So this technology is mature, solid and lots of power.

    The production of diesel and of gasoline is strongly connected. This is called in Germany "Kuppelproduktion" (hard to translate). You can`t produce one without the other.

    So in former years diesel was much cheaper than gasoline here because demand for diesel was to low. Now, with almost 50 percentage marketshare, prices went up and are now almost identical.

  • Report this Comment On June 26, 2013, at 2:41 PM, Monty116 wrote:

    "unless the demand will force the oil companies to

    produce more diesel "

    The refiners don't have a lot of choice in the matter. Out of a barrel of crude they're going to get ~19 gallons of gasoline and ~10 gallons of diesel. As diesel becomes more popular the price of diesel will go up and gasoline will go down (relatively).

  • Report this Comment On June 27, 2013, at 9:04 AM, shiroky wrote:

    Several points that are misleading or need to be clarified:

    Rural areas have diesel readily available, it's the urban areas away from Truck Stops that may be difficult. Diesel is needed for Farming! So rural areas all have access, if they have a gas station or Co-op.

    Diesel engines cost more in the beginning but last much, much longer than gas engines. The mpg is better, that's why diesel engines are preferred over gas for tractors, mowers, etc.

    I have 2 diesel jettas and I love them. I even get my diesel at Dillons, which is a grocery chain part of Kroger.

  • Report this Comment On June 27, 2013, at 9:05 AM, shiroky wrote:

    Check out fueleconomy.gov. You'll see that diesel has a smaller carbon footprint on most cars and that the cost per year is much less!

  • Report this Comment On June 27, 2013, at 9:11 AM, gigabob635 wrote:

    The torque curve on diesel is ideal for heavy pick-up pulling and who needs horsepower to run all day at 80MPH on the freeway? Europeans have done this for decades. After a few days with a rental diesel in the UK - and getting 50MPG - I bought a Volks Jetta Sportwagen TDi for my commute. I get 43MPG on the highway - and nobody passes me on mountain inclines - I have too much torque in reserve. It's quiet and cost under $20K used.

  • Report this Comment On June 27, 2013, at 9:39 AM, goalie1979 wrote:

    My experiences being stuck behind diesels in heavy, slow moving traffic is that I can still tell they are diesels.

    I would not want to subject other drivers to that.

  • Report this Comment On June 27, 2013, at 9:46 AM, FordRules wrote:

    Back in the '80s a co-worker of mine in Western NY had a diesel 4-door Buick Riviera. She told me that the main flaw of the car was that it was a mother to start on cold winter mornings. This was further backed up by one of my neighbors in the apartment complex I lived in at the time, who was a truck driver and bought his 18-wheeler cab home with him when he wasn't on some run out of town. On the type of cold winter nights my Buick owner friend mentioned, my neighbor used to leave his rig idling in the lot all night, chugging away hour after hour. I haven't live up there for years, but I'm sure if this happened nowadays, some other neighbor with strong environmentalist opinions would drop a dime on him to the site management.

  • Report this Comment On June 27, 2013, at 10:37 AM, oldeagle52 wrote:

    Almost every station in Texas, rural or urban has a diesel pump and fuel available. the problem with diesel is the price. The spread between unleaded regular and diesel is not cost effective for the consumer. Another thing keeping the injectors clean. Dirty injectors put a lot of pollution in the air. I had a diesel truck and loved it when I needed one but when the need was gone the almost $1.00 per gallon difference meant it had to go.

  • Report this Comment On June 27, 2013, at 11:06 AM, hunter3203 wrote:

    I'm looking forward to seeing how the new Chevy Cruze diesel does. If it's even moderately successful I think you'll see Ford and Chrysler both jump into the market. US diesel emission standards have been substantially higher than Europe's for years. But in 2014 the European standard will be nearly identical to the US's and should make it even easier for manufacturers to bring over existing diesel engines to the US.

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