Friday, January 15, 2010

Who Killed the Diesel Car?

In 2006, an independent film called “Who Killed the Electric Car?” explored the demise of the electric car industry in the United States. Just over three years later, it appears the electric car has more lives than a cat. Not only is there a thriving cottage industry for electric cars and electric car conversions, but several major car companies plan to roll out electric cars in the next three years as well.

On the other hand, diesel powered cars are being killed. Nissan, Toyota, GM, Ford, and Chrysler have all scaled back their plans to produce diesel versions of several popular cars and trucks, or canceled them outright. Only ze Germans—BMW, Mercedes and Volkswagen plan to expand their diesel lineups in the coming months. Germany, if you recall, perfected diesel technology almost a hundred years ago and had diesel-electric hybrids as early as 1915. They were called u-boats.

Diesel is popular in Europe, and I don’t know why it hasn’t caught on in a truck crazy country like the US. The latest batch of diesels offer good performance and get 30-50% better mileage than their gasoline powered counterparts. Diesel versions of the Ford Fiesta and VW Polo routinely get 60-70 mpg in Europe, which is the kind of mileage makes hyper-milers giddy and turns already green Prius owners black with envy.

There is an urban legend about a man who tried to commit suicide by running his new diesel while sitting in the garage. According to the myth, he woke up after a couple of hours feeling refreshed because the tailpipe emissions from his car were actually cleaner than the outside air. I doubt this story is true, but the latest diesels do even meet California’s tough emissions standards.

In “Who Killed the Electric Car,” the demise of GM’s EV1 electric car program was partly blamed on the ignorance of consumers who were largely unaware such a vehicle existed. I suspect the same is also becoming true of the diesel.

No comments:

Post a Comment