When gasoline prices in America first hit $4.00 per gallon, consumers suddenly started demanding more fuel efficient cars. Gas guzzlers like the Hummer disappeared overnight. Sales of full size trucks and SUV’s plummeted. Manufacturers were desperate to build more fuel efficient products that would bring buyers back into showrooms.
Toyota introduced us to hybrids with the Prius. It has taken the rest of the auto industry 10 years to catch up, but suddenly there are hybrids available from every major manufacturer with more on their way. The new darling of the automotive world is the plug-in hybrid that allows drivers to go farther on electric power alone. Nissan offers the LEAF, an electric only automobile.
Electric cars are nothing new. They were around before the gasoline engine was invented. In fact, the very first Porsche, built in 1898, was an electric vehicle. So we have come full circle, back where we started more than 100 years ago. But car shoppers…..we have a problem. The average price of a hybrid today is around $30,000. Make it a plug-in hybrid and the price climbs to $40,000. That’s a lot of money no matter how many miles per gallon it gets. People who buy plug-in hybrids will have to drive them 8 years or more before the money they save at the pump equals the extra money they shelled out at the time of purchase. Yikes!
So what’s the answer? Is there a viable alternative that is more fuel efficient than a gasoline engine but less costly than a hybrid? Fortunately, there is. It’s called the diesel engine and it has been around since 1893.
In Europe, about half of all new cars are diesel powered. In America, that number is less than 5%. Why the difference? There are some economic factors. The price of diesel fuel on the Continent is less than gasoline and most diesel cars cost only a few Euros more than their gasoline powered cousins. In the US, diesel fuel costs more than regular gasoline and our emission standards drive up the cost of diesel cars considerably. For instance, Volkswagen estimates it costs $5000 per car to comply with US emissions standards.
So what’s the big deal about diesels? That’s simple. A diesel engine is more fuel efficient than a gas engine. About 18% more, in fact. The driver of a diesel car will get about the same mpg as the driver of a hybrid, but pay less to drive one off the lot. Diesel models have a higher resale value than either gas powered cars or hybrids. All of which makes a diesel a smart economic choice.
But aren’t diesels noisy, smoky, and slow? Not any more. Over the past 30 years, new technology has addressed those issues and made diesels quieter, smoke free and powerful. Now, Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Porsche and Volkswagen have joined forces to promote their diesel engine models here in America. The campaign is called Clean Diesel. Clearly Better and will be launched at the Detroit International Auto Show this January. Volkswagen has already begun the push, rolling out a clever television ad recently that features two young men listening to Spanish lessons at the start of a road trip. When they finally stop for fuel – 700 miles later – they are speaking Spanish fluently. It’s funny but effective.
I was in France last May, driving from Geneva to Monaco and back in a diesel powered Opel. My driving partner and I didn’t take the high speed Auto Route. Oh, no. We deliberately sought out the steepest, twistiest roads we could find so we could conquer the Alps just as the Roman legions did 1,000 years ago. When it came time to fill up, I was astonished to find our trusty Opel averaged more than 40 mpg in this rigorous driving.
Would you buy a diesel car? I know I would.