The future of diesel: still cloudy


Treehugger looks at the possibility of diesel becoming more popular in the US for mainstream automobiles. After a bad experiment in the 1970-80s, diesel cars were relegated to niche status with only a handful of manufacturers, most notably Volkswagen, continuing to produce them for passenger cars. Many diesel models manufactured for sale in Europe were never imported states-side and large trucks for commercial use remained the primary application owing to better fuel-economy, reliability and cost factors. As diesels progressed far beyond their bad reputation for noise and soot, environmentalists continued to gripe about this state of affairs.  Some continued to pin their hopes on a diesel revival for reducing carbon emissions and because these engines can be converted to run on biodiesel mixtures, including 100% blends of used vegetable oil. Occasional success story, no matter how far removed from the mundane world of passenger cars, such as Audi winning 24 hours of Lemans in 2006 with a diesel race car, kept these hopes alive.

But the current prospects are not good. California tightened emissions standards related to sulfur in diesel, which restricts the type of fuel that can be used legally. More importantly the price difference between gasoline and diesel inverted: it is now more expensive to buy diesel. This was an abrupt change.

“Over the past year, the average price of diesel in America has risen by 117%—twice as fast as petrol. While both carry the same taxes in America, diesel now costs 60 to 70 cents a gallon more than regular gas. […]”

At least some economists are expecting this to increase to the point of canceling out the improved mileage from pure cost point of view. (Reduced carbon emissions remains as a benefit.) Meanwhile the cutting edge for high efficiency vehicles appears to be concentrated on gasoline-electric hybrids or fully electric vehicles, even though a few diesel-hybrids are in the works. Diesel just may become another beta-max: a better technology whose time never comes because of market quirks.

cemp

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