- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Suppose you went to the Chrysler dealer to buy a Voyager minivan and, before the salesperson completed the paperwork, a stranger walked in and told you not to sign. That person asks you why you are buying a minivan that gets 20 miles per gallon (if you’re lucky.)

Instead, you are told, you can buy another Voyager minivan that will get more than 36 mpg on the road and go 700 miles on a single tank. Its engine will last at least 300,000 miles and can propel the minivan to 115 mph. On top of that, you can get a manual transmission instead of automatic and the overall driving experience will be virtually indistinguishable from the one you were going to buy.

Well, you might soon be able to buy this “miraculous” vehicle here in the United States because it’s been for sale in Europe for several years. There is no miracle, of course, just a different drivetrain — a 2.5-liter, common-rail, turbo diesel, to be exact. That’s not all. If you want a Jeep Grand Cherokee that can get 29 mpg on the road, just wait a while for the 2.7 liter, diesel-powered version.

Ford buyers will soon be able to get a Mondeo that’s powered by a 2.0-liter diesel that gets 40+ mpg, or a Focus that gets more than 45 mpg thanks to its 1.8-liter diesel. Upscale buyers will be able to find a Volvo S80 with a 2.4-liter diesel that yields 30 mpg and accelerates from 0 to 62 mph in 10 seconds. A tank of diesel fuel will take you 710 miles in that Volvo, by the way. GM buyers will also have a plethora of choices and they can expect average gains in fuel mileage of 30 percent or more.

In fact, because they already offer diesel-powered vehicles in Europe and Asia, most major manufacturers will soon be offering them here. On Oct. 16, a couple dozen of these vehicles were on Capitol Hill so that journalists and legislators could drive them around. The purpose, of course, was so that the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers (an association comprising most major manufacturers) could demonstrate the technology — and the need for clean diesel fuel — to the influential.

Soon to be a thing of the past are the smelly, noisy, sooty diesel engines that have turned off auto buyers here in the United States for decades.

That’s why sales of such vehicles account for a fraction of 1 percent of total sales each year. Replacing them are these high-tech, modern versions that don’t smell nor emit any visible soot. Their engines are much quieter, both outside and inside, because of new designs and advanced sound-deadening. The offensive smoke, smell and “pocketa-pocketa” sounds from elderly Mercedes and Peugeots will soon be gone forever, replaced by new diesel cars that won’t be distinguishable from their gasoline-powered siblings in performance or aesthetic appeal. The only difference will be significant increases in miles-per-gallon, typically 30 percent or more.

Clean, or low sulfur, diesel fuel is the key to the new-generation diesel engines. These engines are equipped with Direct Injection, a fuel-injection system that super-atomizes the fuel for efficient combustion, and a variety of exhaust-cleaning devices that trap nearly all particulates (soot.) These engines will operate as cleanly as gasoline engines, provided the sulfur content of the diesel fuel is less than 15 parts per million.

European regulators cleaned up their diesel fuel years ago. That action, in addition to higher fuel costs, accounts for nearly 40 percent of new vehicle sales in European countries having diesel engines.

Lagging far behind the Europeans the EPA — finally — has mandated such fuels for 2006 and beyond.

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