Will New, Cleaner Diesel Cars Fuel Comeback in U.S.?

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http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/A60923-2004Feb21?language=printer washingtonpost.com
Will New, Cleaner Diesel Cars Fuel Comeback in U.S.?
By Greg Schneider
Washington Post Staff Writer Sunday, February 22, 2004; Page A01
Joe Gibbs is back coaching the Redskins, '70s TV shows return as big-budget movies and now the auto industry is pushing a technology that's been around the block a few times:
Diesel.
The last time most Americans gave diesel a try, it was smoky and loud and had no acceleration. Diesel was an 18-wheeler clattering up a hill, a 1979 Cadillac with black exhaust stains on the back. U.S. carmakers eventually quit offering diesel engines except in the biggest pickup trucks.
Now several companies are bringing them back, hoping to do for diesel power what the Atkins diet has done for red meat -- turn public perception on its head. They are pitching diesel as not only good for drivers, but good for the planet.
"This is really a conservation technology," said Allen Schaeffer, director of the Diesel Technology Forum, an alliance of automakers, engine companies and fuel suppliers.
Because of advances in electronics, diesel vehicles now do a far better job of controlling how fuel burns in the engine, eliminating much of the smoke and noise of 20 years ago. That allows some of diesel's good qualities to shine: It gets 20 to 40 percent better fuel economy than gasoline power. Diesel engines tend to be far more durable than gasoline engines, routinely lasting for many hundreds of thousands of miles. A diesel has tremendous low-end power, which is good for hauling boats or jumping off the line at a stoplight.
What's more, the federal government has mandated that low-sulfur diesel fuel be available in the United States by 2006, which experts say will help diesel engines meet strict air pollution guidelines that go into effect in 2007.
"Historically, agencies concerned about the environment have not been big fans of diesel, but the new technology that's emerged in the last few years has actually made us big supporters," said Jeffrey R. Holmstead, Environmental Protection Agency assistant administrator in charge of programs to control air pollution. EPA projections show that if diesels accounted for a third of all vehicle-miles traveled in the country by 2020, the nation could save a million barrels of fuel a day and consumers could save more than $20 billion per year.
In Europe, where tax breaks make diesel fuel much cheaper than gasoline, more than 40 percent of all new vehicles are diesel-powered -- more than double the amount of just five years ago. European carmakers would like to expand that market into North America, but they are worried that Japanese rivals Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. are cutting them off with a different type of alternative power technology -- gasoline-electric hybrids.
So the Europeans are making their move. In April, Mercedes-Benz plans to offer its first U.S. diesel product since 1999, the E-320. This fall, DaimlerChrysler AG plans to begin selling a diesel version of its Jeep Liberty SUV. And Volkswagen AG, which has been offering diesel-powered passenger cars here since 1996, this year plans to introduce diesel versions of its Passat sedan and its Touareg SUV.
If those products do well, more will probably follow. "For us the biggest thing is how well the Liberty is going to be received. I think that will dictate what our moves are," said Jim Weidenbach, manager of small diesel applications at the Chrysler Group.
DaimlerChrysler sells diesel versions of its PT Cruiser, Jeep Grand Cherokee and minivans in Europe, and could bring any or all of those to the United States if the Liberty catches on, Weidenbach said.
"The big problem is going to be consumer acceptance," said George Peterson, president of AutoPacific, an auto industry consulting firm in California. "The experience most Americans have had with diesel passenger cars is negative."
That experience was shaped during the energy crisis of the late 1970s, he said, when General Motors Corp. slapped diesel engines into some of its cars and did not engineer them well. Today, surveys show that about 2 percent of consumers are interested in diesel products, Peterson said.
"Americans aren't going to go with diesel," said Art Spinella, who tracks auto consumer attitudes for CNW Market Research in Oregon. "Every time we do a survey of alternatives to gas engines, diesels come up at the bottom. It's got a bad reputation and GM is to blame. . . . Americans are very cautious about anything that burned them once before."
GM still puts diesel engines in its Chevrolet Silverado heavy-duty trucks and in nearly half of its vehicles sold in Europe. But the company is cautious about jumping back into the technology in North America, said Charlie Frees, GM's executive director of diesel engineering. Gasoline prices here are so low that fuel savings take years to offset the higher up-front cost of buying a diesel vehicle, Frees said. And though diesel engines are far cleaner today than 20 years ago, they have a hard time meeting U.S. emissions standards, which are stricter than those in Europe, he said.
Diesel engines put out less carbon dioxide than gasoline engines, but emit more soot. The advent of cleaner diesel fuel in 2006 will help fix that, but engineers are still figuring out how to make diesel engines clean enough for the tough federal air standards that will hit in 2007.
California and the four other states that follow its toughest-in-the-nation clean-air guidelines -- New York, Maine, Massachusetts and Vermont -- ban the sale of new diesel vehicles. And a study last month by the Union of Concerned Scientists found that "the high up-front cost of diesel engines and emission controls allows improved gasoline vehicles to deliver energy security and global warming benefits at a lower cost."
Ford Motor Co., which sells about 200,000 diesel work trucks a year, is waiting to see how both technology and the market for diesel develops before rolling out mainstream products, spokesman Joe Koenig said.
For those who are introducing products this year, the key is working to educate drivers that the technology has changed, said Michael Bernacchi, marketing professor at the University of Detroit, Mercy. "But that education has to be driven by the public really understanding the value of diesel -- and I don't mean the value to the environment. I mean the value to performance," Bernacchi said.
Mercedes, Jeep and Volkswagen all have mounted unusual marketing campaigns for their diesels that concentrate on getting people into their products and building word of mouth instead of pasting images all over SuperBowl TV spots. All have participated in alternative-fuel events, such as the Bibendum Challenge rally in California, and have brought their diesels to Washington to give lawmakers and members of the media a chance to sit behind the wheel.
Mercedes, which promotes the E-320 as the only luxury diesel in the United States, also is counting on a core group of enthusiasts who prefer diesels because the cars have been known to last for 300,000 miles or more and because they can drive 700 miles without refueling, company spokesman Jim Resnick said.
Jeep plans to put its diesel Liberty at the Lollapalooza rock festival later this year, and to feature it at the company's annual Camp Jeep retreats for owners and their families held in California and Virginia. It also had the diesel Liberty at the Winter X Games, where extreme snowboarders and their fans could take it for a ride.
Volkswagen, until now the Lone Ranger of the diesel passenger car movement in the United States, is trying to build its customer base slowly. The company encourages its dealers to put customers in turbo diesels without telling them what they're driving, only revealing the truth after they've been impressed by the performance, said Volkswagen spokesman Tony Fouladpour. "I know it sounds like an oxymoron to say 'high-tech diesel engine,' but it's not. We have some of the most sophisticated engines around," he said.
The trick is getting Americans to believe that in sufficient numbers to make diesel profitable to the manufacturers. Volkswagen's best-selling diesel model is the New Beetle, with a fuel-efficiency rating -- about 50 miles per gallon -- and sales volume -- nearly 57,000 last year -- that are both comparable to Toyota's Prius hybrid.
"There are barriers to acceptance of diesel in the U.S., and they've got to be overcome," said Dennis Fitzgibbons, director of public policy for Chrysler. "The most clever marketing campaign in the world can't overcome a bad real-world experience."
2004 The Washington Post Company
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Diesels are at best a niche market here because of our peculiar fuel policy. Diesels get about 40% better fuel mileage, so if gas and Diesel both cost $4.50 a gallon at the pump, many would choose a Diesel car. But unlike Europeans we insist on paying $1.50 at the pump and $3.00 in taxes for the "defense" budget so that we can HAVE $1.50 fuel at the pump.
At $1.50 a gallon we don't need good fuel mileage, thus pur schizophrenic national auto regulation policy- "passenger cars" must by law get good mileage and meet strict safety standards, while if we buy tall cars ("multipurpose vehicles" or SUV's) we take a pass on those rules.
Bill Ditmire Ditmire Motorworks,Inc. 425 White Horse Pike Absecon,NJ 08201 http://www.ditmire.com 609-641-3392
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snipped-for-privacy@aol.com (Bill Ditmire) wrote in

Open up 5% of ANWR and the $3.00 in taxes goes away.
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Dick project!
Bill Ditmire Ditmire Motorworks,Inc. 425 White Horse Pike Absecon,NJ 08201 http://www.ditmire.com 609-641-3392
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How's this: get liberals and regulatory agencies out of the energy business and gas will be below $1/gallon again.
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I wonder how many others long for the day when "Kenny Boy" Lay, Jeff "Makin' me a killing" Skilling, George Bush, and "Tricky" Dick Cheney ran the energy side of things.
Bill Ditmire Ditmire Motorworks,Inc. 425 White Horse Pike Absecon,NJ 08201 http://www.ditmire.com 609-641-3392
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snipped-for-privacy@aol.com (Bill Ditmire) wrote in

Ken Lay and Enron gave more money to Clinton/Gore than to Bush/Cheney. Look it up if you don't believe it.
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We'll take you word for it. And we will add... they sure didn;t get their money;s worth from Clinton!
Bill Ditmire Ditmire Motorworks,Inc. 425 White Horse Pike Absecon,NJ 08201 http://www.ditmire.com 609-641-3392
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snipped-for-privacy@aol.com (Bill Ditmire) wrote in

I don't know... the hanky-panky started under Clinton's watch, but they got busted under W.
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We had better review. They STILL haven't been busted- their pyramid scheme collapsed. The Feds had to be dragged kicking and screaming to do anything. They are still closer to bagging Martha Stewart than Ken Lay.
Bill Ditmire Ditmire Motorworks,Inc. 425 White Horse Pike Absecon,NJ 08201 http://www.ditmire.com 609-641-3392
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snipped-for-privacy@aol.com (Bill Ditmire) wrote in

They're doing it exactly as they should. Get the testimony from the small fry and move up the food chain.

You want to equate a $200K stock deal with a $40,000,000,000 company? Glad the PROFESSIONALS are handling both. Jeesh.
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snipped-for-privacy@aol.com (Bill Ditmire) wrote in message

Do you read the news? CFO Andrew Fasdow and his wife were indicted months ago. Just a few days ago CEO Jeff Skilling was indicted. There's an excellent chance Ken Lay will be indicted too, though all the knowledgable lawyers I have heard on TV indicate that the case against him is much more questionable and harder to prove. And who exactly was dragging the Feds kicking and screaming to do anything? As I recall, they were all over Enron as soon as it became apparent that crimes might have occured.
Comparing Enron to Martha Stewart's case has little merit. One is a very complex case of convoluted fraudulent finanacial deals that takes a lot of time to sort out. The other is a simple case of lying to investigators over a stock tip. Which is better, taking the time to develop the cases correctly so that you get a conviction, or just bringing it quickly to make it seem like something is being done?

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Well I agree with you that he SHOULD be. But he is NOT named in the Skilling indictment, and the mealy-mouthed prosecutor said nothing to indicate he should be scared. Prosecuting Martha (whom by the way I have no use for generally) reminds me of the guy who is looking under the streetlamp for his missing contact lens- not because that is where he dropped it, but because the light is better there!
Bill Ditmire Ditmire Motorworks,Inc. 425 White Horse Pike Absecon,NJ 08201 http://www.ditmire.com 609-641-3392
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How's this .... stop WASTING THE WORLDS FUEL as fast as possible. Make it $5 a gallon and come to grips with reality.
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Best way to make sure adequate fuel is available is to let the market do it. Best way to make sure we don't have any is to get the government involved.
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By that rule of thumb you should stop interfering in the Middle East where you get an ever increasing proportion of your oil.
Huw
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I'm all for drilling in Alaska - plenty of oil there.
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"Were we directed from Washington when to sow and when to reap, we would soon want for bread." - Thomas Jefferson
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I think USA Gov has a fascination with the bottom of the well.
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Most of the gas and oil leases issued by the Clinton along the Florida Gulf coast were revoked by the Bush family. That energy could be online much sooner than ANWAR. Want to take a guess at why they were revoked?
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