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What About Diesels, Rob?

People never seem to get tired of asking me that question. I know my long association with Diesel Progress magazine is part of the reason it bubbles to the top, but the query did seem particularly prevalent during this year’s SAE Congress.

Frankly, there is certainly this resurgence in the interest level and I think the stage is now being set for a resurgence of product as well.

People are often surprised I don’t own one and never have, but it mainly comes down to the lack of availability of good product here in the United States. So what will it take to get me in a diesel?

I’m certainly aware of the solid offerings overseas, particularly in Europe, and get to drive them every so often. They are quiet as can be and they’ll run just like a scalded dog. Performance is no longer an obstacle. Because of the popularity of diesels in large pickup trucks here, there’s no problem with refueling infrastructure as there was in the early 1980s. And it will only improve so that’s another important hurdle that’s been eliminated.

Next is the smell. My wife hates it and once it gets in the garage it will only migrate to the house. Forget having that battle. But when we phase in low sulfur diesel in mid- 2006, then another obstacle is gone.

Technical progress in emissions such as the Additive Diesel Particulate Filter developed by Rhodia, Inergy and Faurecia (featured in this issue) bodes well for meeting all standards conceived to this date at least. NOx standards are still a sticking point but do look like they will fall into place as well. Now what about economics? Diesel power always comes at some premium, over $4,000 for the diesel option on a big pickup. That won’t work for me.

I drive my Grand Cherokee about 15,000 miles per year and get about 16 mpg and at $1.74 per gallon pay $1,631 per year for gas. A diesel should put me at about 21 mpg and diesel fuel at $1.64 per gallon would put me at $1,182 for a year’s diesel fuel. A three year payback seems about reasonable to me. So if I can get in a diesel automobile for less than $1,350 for the option, then I’m money ahead because the trade-in value should be greater and I just might hang onto that car longer.

The economic impact is much larger if you consider that I’ve bought over 200 fewer gallons of diesel than I would have with gasoline ¨C each year. Multiply that by the SUV population alone and there is an enormous impact.

I could certainly drive something smaller and accomplish the same thing. But Jesus wants me to drive an SUV and that’s why I do. Or, I could drive a hybrid and accomplish the same thing as well. That is something I’ll have to consider as that technology takes on larger vehicle types.

But put diesel power in a vehicle I want to drive at a reasonable premium and I’m aboard. Like right now.

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