Clean diesel challenges gasoline on efficiency, power and emissions

There’s a huge emphasis on fuel efficiency at this year’s Denver Auto Show, going on through Sunday at the Colorado Convention Center. Almost every automobile and truck manufacturer is showing something: electric vehicles, hybrids, super-efficient gasoline engines and compressed natural gas. The high cost of gasoline guarantees they’ll get a lot of interest from consumers.

But keep your eyes open for yet another very efficient technology that’s been largely ignored in the U.S. – at least for cars and light trucks –clean diesel. Clean diesel cars are poised to be the next big wave in fuel-efficient, environmentally friendly transportation.

Volkswagen has sold diesel automobiles in the U.S. for years – notably the Jetta, Golf and Passat– but other German cars such as Audi’s A3 and Q7; Mercedes’ BlueTecs; and BMW’s X5, 335d and new 328d are joining in. Now the Chevrolet Cruze, Mazda 6 Skyactiv D and Jeep Grand Cherokee EcoDiesel are coming to the party, along with Chrysler’s Ram 1500 pickup. Audi is even developing a clean diesel “supercar” with more than 700 horsepower.

When you think of diesels do you mean those smelly, slow, loud contraptions? Maybe that represented previous diesels, back in the 80s, but in 2013 diesel is different: quieter, cleaner and definitely faster. It’s something that the Europeans have known for years, but Americans have been slow to embrace. Things have really changed in the world of clean diesel.

The clean diesel revolution really began with the federal government’s mandate that all highway-grade diesel fuel have dramatically reduced sulfur content, and this ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel allowed automakers to change vehicle exhaust systems to work with catalytic converters so pollutants, even a lot of carbon monoxide, can be scrubbed out. The result is that the black soot is gone.

Slow no more. Most diesel engines are turbocharged and have direct-injection, so performance off the line is on a par with gasoline-powered engines. They have much more torque (50 percent more, by some reports), or pulling power, and its available at lower revolutions per minute (rpms) than gasoline engines.

The noise that has characterized diesels has been muffled considerably in new clean diesel vehicles with noise and vibration-damping technologies. This is because they don’t use spark plugs, instead igniting their fuel with the heat that’s generated under compression in the cylinders, which is where the noise originates.

Probably the best news about clean diesel technology is how fuel-efficient the vehicles are. Generally speaking, diesels use between 25 and 50 percent less fuel than gasoline-powered vehicles. This is partly because diesel fuel has a higher concentration of energy than gasoline (147,000 BTUs compared to 125,000 BTUs for gasoline), and partly because of the direct-injection engines that waste less fuel.

Clean diesel vehicles are particularly efficient at highway speeds, great new for U.S. commuters. Yes, diesel fuel costs more than gasoline in the U.S. but the greater efficiency of the engines more than offsets the increased cost. And while they cost more initially they also have a higher resale value. According to many reports, diesel-powered vehicles also last longer and have fewer maintenance problems.

Fuel availability has been a concern but more than half of all fueling stations now offer clean diesel. Finding them is easy with online locators such as If a tankful of diesel can take a car up to 600 miles, not as many stations are needed.

It’s no surprise that diesels make up more than 40 percent European cars, since gasoline costs are much higher. European automakers were the natural leaders in the U.S. So far, the American diesel market is between three and five percent, comparable to hybrids. However, VW has increased diesel sales by more than 25 percent. With Chrysler (Ram and Jeep), Chevy and Mazda backing clean diesels, analysts expect domestic diesel vehicle sales could be between 10 and 15 percent of the market by 2015.

Clean diesels are on display through Sunday at the Denver Auto Show, plus vehicles of all types from 25 manufacturers and aftermarket suppliers. Regular admission to the Denver Auto Show is $10.00 for adults, $5.00 for children (6-12), and children under six are free.


About timwjackson

Working every day for a better Colorado.
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