FREDERICK, Md. — Are we there yet? With summer knocking at the door, many Americans are contemplating an old-fashioned hit-the-open-road summer family driving vacation.
But the pinch of higher gasoline prices and fast-aging cars in driveways means the first stop for many vacationers might be a car dealership.
For Americans looking for new fuel-efficient cars the choices are plentiful. But for those looking for a proven technology with long-term value that delivers better real-world fuel economy without sacrificing performance, the new car may not use gasoline at all.
For more Americans this summer, the smarter all-around choice will be a new clean diesel.
The new generation of clean diesel cars is guaranteed to impress and crosses generational boundaries like a family reunion at a resort park.
Baby boomers will reflect on how the new diesels are “nothing like the old ones of my day — thank goodness!” Gone are the clatter and smoke, and wheezy slow performance.
They’ve been replaced with clean, quiet and fun to drive. Generation X’ers will appreciate the driving performance, long term value and positive return on investment of the new diesels.
Millennials will “Like” and “Tweet” how awesomely far they went on one tank of fuel; a new twist on the range-anxiety plaguing electrics and other fuels. They’ll also be ready to fill up with a blend of biodiesel fuel, a unique capability shared by all diesel cars old and new.
Whatever the generation, the resurgence of the diesel car in the U.S. comes at a critical time, because the 30 percent fuel efficiency advantage of diesel over gasoline means using more diesels will reduce demand for petroleum and reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.
And since new government rules require a near doubling of fuel efficiency from today’s 27.5 mpg average to 54.5 mpg by 2025, it’s easy to see why diesels are a logical choice for consumers in the U.S. where diesels account for less than three percent of the market. In Europe over 50 percent of new cars are diesels.
Like the pump-bottle flavors at a summer snowball stand, today there are more diesel choices than ever before, with more on the way.
Today consumers have 22 diesel choices from 10 brands — subcompact cars, small station wagons, crossovers, full size SUVs, luxury, performance, half-ton and heavy-duty pick-up trucks.
Five years ago less than half that were available. By 2015, there will be twice as many diesel choices in the U.S. as today.
More choices are better, because we’re not a one-size fits all country. From 2010 through 2012, registrations of hybrids were up 33 percent while diesels increased by 24 percent.
Meanwhile the overall auto market was up less than three percent. While Texas and all its big pick-up trucks help it rank number one overall in diesel registrations, drivers in California, Massachusetts and New York made those states the fastest growing for sales of new diesel cars and SUVs. That we have seen this growth in diesel sales is no small feat considering the relatively few models available, an economic recession and the highest diesel fuel prices on record.
All new fuel and vehicle technologies have premium prices and compromises, but when you run the numbers for long term value, diesel drivers are seeing green.
Yes, diesel fuel prices have been 20 or 30 cents more per gallon than gasoline in recent times, but diesels also deliver better fuel economy, fewer refueling stops, consistently higher resale values, often lower maintenance costs and unmatched long term durability without the uncertainties or limitations associated with hybrid real world fuel economy or range limitations of electric vehicles.
As more Americans hit the road driving new clean diesel cars, they’ll take comfort knowing that more than half of all service stations today sell diesel fuel.
And with ranges of 600 -700 plus miles on a single tank, there’s more time for vacationing and less time needed for fueling up.
Allen R. Schaeffer is executive director of the Diesel Technology Forum.