Not that long ago, finding a diesel car or truck - a truck with fewer than 18 wheels, anyway - on an American highway was about as rare as an icy road in July. Not so today. The era of dirty, smelly and noisy diesel vehicles has gone the way of the 8-track tape player, clearing a path for high-profile and increasingly popular diesel sedans, SUVs and pickup trucks.
Fueling great mileage
One of the main advantages of diesel vehicles is their excellent fuel economy. Diesel fuel costs about 7 percent more than gasoline at the pump but it can take a car or truck much further down the road. On average, a vehicle running on diesel fuel gains 30 to 35 percent in fuel efficiency over a vehicle running on traditional gasoline. Diesel fuel has a greater amount of energy per gallon than gasoline, says Neil Hoff of CHS, a company that produces diesel fuel for fleet operations across the country. This is why a diesel car can average closer to 50 miles per gallon on the highway.
In the past, diesel fuel was primarily for tractor
trailers, school buses and other oversized vehicles that churned out smelly, dirty pollutants. But new technology has brought diesel back into the mix with quieter engines with lowered emissions. In fact, diesel engines are
becoming more common in sedans, SUVs and
pickup trucks. Consumers are attracted to the fuel efficiency offered by diesel-powered vehicles.
Similar to traditional gasoline, consumers can upgrade at the pump to a premium diesel for added performance. "Using a premium diesel fuel, such as Cenex Roadmaster premium diesel, can increase fuel efficiency and power by another 5 percent," says Hoff. "The premium diesel packages are also ultra-low sulfur, which is cleaner-burning than a standard diesel. Drivers appreciate the combination of added power with fewer emissions."
Responding to demand
Though long popular in Europe, diesel vehicles have not yet enjoyed widespread popularity in the United States. However, American automakers are taking a cue from consumers who desire an alternative to gasoline-fueled cars.
For example, Chevrolet has introduced its 2014 Cruze Clean Turbo Diesel, a compact car that boasts 46 mpg on the highway; and the 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee diesel claims to drive up to 730 miles on one tank of gas.
Other companies, including Volkswagen, Audi, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche all offer diesel varieties that carmakers hope consumers will warm to. Trucks are not left out of the equation, with diesel pickups available from Chevrolet/GMC, Ford and Ram.
Laura Anderson of Minneapolis has owned a diesel-powered Volkswagen Passat for more than a year. "I do a lot of highway driving," says Anderson, "so the great fuel economy and the power of the diesel engine are what sold me on giving diesel a try. I'm very glad I made that decision. I love my car, and I love saving so much money on gas."
Powered by technology
Diesel engines, too, have undergone great advances, such as high-pressure injection technologies that promote engine health and longevity. "Diesel engines have come a long way in the past decade and are certainly more marketable than they used to be," says Hoff.
"Today's diesel engines are quieter and smoother running than ever. When you pair that with great fuel economy and reduced sulfur levels, for consumers, that's a combination that's hard to beat."