Diesel engines have been around for decades and in certain applications, they rule. Transport trucks, farm equipment and large boats all rely on diesel power for effective propulsion. Why hasn’t this been the case with cars and light trucks? Diesel cars have been available in Europe or some time, in fact 60% of the new vehicles sold in Europe are diesel powered. This has not been the case in North America, where we have enjoyed substantially lower fuel costs.
Advances in technology and rising cost for fuel might change this. Technology has allowed diesel engines to rev higher and burn cleaner, giving us greater horsepower and acceleration. Technology advances also allowed us to make diesel engines smaller and lighter. Now with the introduction of the new clean diesel fuel, black soot from the tailpipe is a lesser concern as well. These advances are evident in new models from BMW and Volkswagen, which boast similar performance to their gas burning versions with the advantage of diesel economy.
Will this be enough to convert the average North American motorist from gas to diesel? Today, I think diesel is a good solution for the economy-minded driver, especially if they do a lot of highway driving or travel great distances. Current Hybrids work well in town but tend to get lower fuel economy on the highway and electric vehicles have a limited range due to the weight and expense of current electric storage devices (fuel cells and batteries). Diesel provides increased fuel economy as well as increased range since the fuel tanks are of similar size to gas powered vehicles.
There is no doubt in my mind that we will be driving electric vehicles in the future but when will they be an economically viable solution? The modern diesel may be the transition engine that powers us toward a greener future.