Article by Jacob Black

All over the world there are cars on the roads making less pollution and going further on a single tank then our regular petrol-powered cars. Despite being made of the same dead dinosaurs that power “regular” cars, this fuel pack more energy per litre and burns more efficiently than its more-famous cousin.

2014 Chevrolet Cruze
Monday Rant: Where’s My Diesel?!

Truckers, ship builders and railroad engineers have known for eons that diesel fuel makes for a high-torque, high-economy engine – so why aren’t there any on our roads?

Audi has joined stablemate Volkswagen and competitors BMW and Mercedes-Benz in providing North America with a diesel alternative, and Chevrolet has jumped on board big time with its impressive Cruze Clean Diesel. In 2014, Mazda will get in on the act with its SkyActiv-D powertrains.

But those marques have a long way to go. Right now, diesels represent as little as two percent of the passenger vehicle market in North America. In Europe, that figure is more like 50 percent, globally, it’s about 20. So why are there hardly any diesel cars here?

Well, for one – Tax. Diesel fuel in many provinces here in Canada, and down in the USA, is taxed more than regular gas. “But wait,” you say. “Isn’t it more efficient, and aren’t we incentivizing more efficient energy sources?”

2013 Volkswagen Golf TDI
Monday Rant: Where’s My Diesel?!

Good point. Yes we are, but the diesel tax is a legacy of governments needing to claw back additional money from truck and freight companies. Those larger vehicles have a greater impact on the road and so the governments around the place decided to find a way to tax them higher. The original plan was to tax the vehicles themselves at point of sale – but you can imagine how that went down. The compromise then was to tax diesel, and since very few passenger cars used the stuff, it would pretty much only effect truckers. Australia, Canada and the USA all took this approach.

In much of Europe though – particularly in France, Germany and the Netherlands, diesel is cheaper than regular petrol. So the uptake is higher. The UK not so much; they took the same approach as Aus, Can and the US.

But that can’t be the only reason can it?

1978 Oldsmobile Regency 98 diesel
1978 Oldsmobile Regency 98 diesel; photo courtesy General Motors. Click image to enlarge

Probably not. Many people cite the horrific experiences of the last century with the drop in diesel acceptance. I wasn’t here then, but from what I hear the domestics dropped some truly horrible engines on the public, and the public has a long memory. The reputation for loud, stinky, dirty engines is a well known one. It probably wasn’t helped by the high-sulphur content which made diesel reek to high heaven.

Nowadays the sulphur content of diesel fuel has dropped 99.9 percent. That means, for every ounce of “peeee-yuuuu” that existed before, only 0.1 ounces of pee-yuuu is left.

But there is some light on the horizon. Chevrolet’s Cruze Diesel is opening up a lot of doors for diesel power here in Canada and the US. Having a domestic champion the cause is a boon for those with an interest in diesel fuel, and the Cruze is making waves in the new car market.

Adding to the ground swell are results like that of hypermiling husband and wife duo Garry Sowerby and Lisa Calvi. They just completed a cross-Canada run at an average of 4.3 L/100 km – shattering the Passat’s old record by 1.29 L/100 km, or 23 percent.

Hopefully that will make even the staunchest of “well this here ain’t no you-rope-peean country, boy – in these parts we use good ‘ol gasolleeeeeeen,” diesel critics sit up and take notice.

Meanwhile, the green lobby is pushing for incentives on hybrid and electric vehicles – granting them large tax concessions and perks like access to HOV lanes. But while those darlings of the green corps get the legislative love, diesel gets nada. Why? Shouldn’t diesels get a bit of action too?

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