Monday, September 08, 2008

Why Not Diesel?

This article about the new European Ford Fiesta ECOnetic, which gets 65 mpg, got me thinking about diesel powered cars, and why they are not more popular in the US. At first glance, it is pretty simple. Diesel is more expensive (the government's fault - it is taxed more), harder to find (only 42% of stations sell it - both industry's and the government's fault), and people (ignorantly) think that diesel cars are inferior to gasoline cars.

In Europe, half of passenger cars run on diesel. I have ridden in and driven many of them - Fords, BMWs, etc. - and they are indistinguishable from gasoline cars from a performance perspective. Moreover, in Europe, diesel is cheaper (by 10 Euro cents per liter) than gasoline. Furthermore, diesel cars in Europe get, on average, 60 mpg. A limited number of diesel cars are available in the US.

Hybrid cars are, for the most part, more popular among environmentally conscious people than are diesel cars. This seems a bit mistaken; hybrid cars, while they admittedly save gasoline, require expensive and environmentally taxing (toxic and expensive to recycle) battery systems. Moreover, while the government provides a tax break to hybrid buyers (up to $3k), hybrids often cost more than conventional cars. Furthermore, hybrid cars still only get 45 mpg on average (because hybrids save the most gasoline in urban driving conditions), rendering them inferior to diesel vehicles for driving conditions that are not primarily stop-and-go.

While diesel is admittedly a dirtier fuel than gasoline, modern clean-diesel engines render this difference negligible. Moreover, when fuel efficiency is taken into account, modern diesel cars produce far fewer emissions per mile than conventional gasoline cars.

Why aren't diesel cars more popular in the US? Why does the government subsidize hybrids yet tax diesel at a higher rate than gasoline? What am I missing here?


Blogger Tory said...

Interesting post. I agree that if the difference between diesel engines past a present is stark, in terms of how dirty the emissions are, then it's worth a look.

My guess is that there just hasn't been much in the way of political interest in order to get diesel on the table. Perhaps with rising fuel costs, the efficiency ratio alone would be reason enough for folks to reconsider.

1:42 AM  
Anonymous allenfre said...

I can't imagine if they could ever get one passed on the table. Plus, the diesel prices are going up in the world market.

11:40 PM  

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