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Diesel cars: Gaining popularity with improvements

Clint Williams
by Clint Williams, Dimespring Contributor

Conventional wisdom has commuters of the future behind the wheel of electric cars and hybrids. But a lot of those drivers will be cruising in a new-breed diesel car.

Automakers – driven, in part, by the prospect of meeting Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards of 54.5 mpg by 2025 – are introducing a growing number and variety of diesel-powered cars.

Notions of diesel engines being loud and dirty are as outdated as a dial-up modem.

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Diesel engines today meet the same emissions standards as gasoline vehicles. Improvements in fuel injection and electronic engine control technologies have increased power and fuel efficiency. The clatter once noticeable in idling diesel engines is gone.

And buyers are catching on. Diesel car registrations nationwide increased by 24.3 percent from 2010 through 2012, according to a study released earlier this year by the Diesel Technology Forum. Diesel car and SUV registrations increased from 640,779 in 2010 to 796,794 at the end of 2012. Hybrid car and SUV registrations during the same period increased from 1,71 million to 2.3 million – a 33.6 percent increase. Total car and SUV registrations in the U.S. increased by just 2.75 percent.

Because of the towing power a diesel engine cranks out, the option was typically found only in pickup trucks and big SUVs. But the fuel efficiency of a diesel engine has prompted more and more automakers to drop them into smaller cars.

Volkswagen offers diesel-powered versions of the Beetle, Golf, Jetta, Passat and Touareg. Other German manufacturers Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz offer diesels.

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The 2014 Chevrolet Cruze features a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder diesel and a six-speed automatic transmission. The diesel generates 148 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. The EPA says the Cruze will get 46 mph in highway driving.

Later this year, the Mazda6 mid-size sedan will offer a SKYACTIV-D 2.2-liter clean diesel engine, making Mazda the only Japanese manufacturer to offer a clean diesel technology option in the North American marketplace.

And more are on the way – Cadillac ATS, Chrysler Dakota, Jeep Grand Cherokee EcoDiesel. Land Rover will introduce a diesel hybrid Range Rover and Range Rover Sport to the U.S. in the next couple of years, reports

Some analysts predict diesel sales will reach 10 percent of the U.S. market by 2020, Allen Schaeffer, the Executive Director of the Diesel Technology Forum.

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“In addition, clean diesel vehicle sales are also projected to increase as the U.S. moves toward increasing fuel efficiency standards to 54.5 mpg by 2025,” adds Schaeffer. “Because clean diesels are 20 to 40 more efficient than gasoline engines, diesel cars and trucks will play a major role in achieving these new standards. And an interesting wild card will be the emerging market domestically and internationally of clean diesel hybrid vehicles that will achieve astounding mpg numbers.”


Clint Williams is an Arizona-based freelancer for DImespring. He has written for the Arizona Republic and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.