An Anti-Diesel Conspiracy in America?

It’s been half a decade since I killed a tree (and I’ve killed more than my share in my day), but that might come to an end very soon. I’m getting ready to shop a book/documentary proposal, with the working title “Bent Over a Barrel” … it’s the story of how Big Oil’s actions and influence have driven this country’s economy to its current state.

Influence is just as important as action (or inaction).

Here’s a specific case in point …

Last April, Newsweek published a piece entitled Miles to Go, with the far more descriptive yet entirely misleading subhead, “Why automakers don’t sell a car that gets 50 MPG.” Never once does the article mention fuel-efficient diesel engines, yet the article begins with the chestnut:

Wouldn’t it be great if you could drive a car that gets 50 miles per gallon? Well, you can. Just hop on a plane and fly to Europe, where all new cars average 43mpg, or Japan, where the average hits 50mpg.

Well, gee … why do European cars get such great mileage? Lets guess … it’s not just because they are often smaller then their American counterparts. It’s not because Europeans are driving hybrids (which they largely dismiss). It’s because more than fifty percent of the new cars sold in Europe use far more efficient diesel engines.

Can we blame the article’s omission of fact on editorial ignorance or something more heinous?

Ah, but all hope is not lost.

Earlier this month, Newsweek woke up and ran an article entitled Diesel vs. Hybrid, with the subhead “There’s more than one way to build an environmentally-friendly car.”

Could it be? The oil men have left the building and only weeks later Newsweek wakes up to the facts?

The piece opens and closes with the word from Volkswagen. The 2009 Jetta TDI is flying off the lot. VW put in the work to bring a clean diesel engine to the States and the gamble – rather, the investment – is paying off.

The vast majority of Americans have absolutely no clue how wonderful the new clean diesels are to drive. I’ve spent a considerable amount of time test driving clean diesel vehicles over the past year, at my own expense. (My research and coverage is not influenced by corporate overlords, though it is constrained by current economic conditions.)

The German automobile manufacturers absolutely have it right. Bringing fuel-efficient fun-to-drive clean diesels to America takes a lot of guts … and smarts.

16 thoughts on “An Anti-Diesel Conspiracy in America?”

  1. The problem Diesel has in the U.S. is during the 1980s, GM sold numerous shoddily built diesel powered cars that stayed in the shop all the time, had no resale value, and many dealers wouldn’t take them as trade ins. That has left a bad taste in mouth of the U.S. car buying public, so many even all these years later steer clear of diesel.

  2. @Peter P. – perhaps the problem isn’t diesel, rather your country’s environmental laws.

    @DaPriz – The Oldsmobile diesel engines of that era had very few fans for very good reason. Alas, that was then, this is now, and modern clean diesel engines are marvelous devices. America needs to look forward.

  3. EPA Energy impact score, adjusting for different fuel volumetric energy densities and comparing cars in perfectly the same conditions:

    2009 Toyota Prius (second gen., not the newest one)
    7.4 barrels of oil/year

    2009 VW Jetta TDI 6-speed manual:
    11.6 barrels of oil/year

    2009 VW Jetta TDI 6-speed DSG:
    11.9 barrels of oil/year

    Why aren’t you informing people about those VAST differences for the benefit of hybrids? Are you trying to mislead your readers? Is Volkswagen paying you or what?

  4. @nofuss – Interesting stuff you’re throwing out there. I’ve gone to great distances and expense to drive everything and report impartially. I’m not on anyone’s payroll or in anyone’s back pocket. Quite frankly, I’m offended that you would insinuate that.

    The technology is admirable in both the Prius and the Jetta. We need an immediate increase in the use of hybrid, diesel and NGV power trains to encourage domestic energy independence as we ultimately transition to a mix that contains both pure plug-in and extended-range electric drive vehicles.

    The current state of hybrid technology is not be all end all. We are clearly in a transitional phase.

  5. It is interesting to note how many folks have negative thoughts, or no thoughts at all, on the modern European diesels automobiles. That technology is simpler, proven, extremely durable, more cost effective and equal to or better than hybrid fuel economy. Majority of vechicles in Europe are diesel and there has to be a reason why. The answer is simple – they are a better machine. This is also easy to confirm. Fly to Europe, rent one for a few days and you will become informed and will yearn for the day we can enjoy such a choice here in the USA. Diesel is approximately one third more fuel efficient over it’s gasoline counterpart but with more torque and better driveability. Switching to diesel can reduce our oil imports for vechicles by at least a third and that hunck of change kept here at home would be quite a stimulant to OUR economy.

  6. Many thanks for your thoughtful comments, Graykat. Most Americans have no experience with modern clean diesel engines…this presents both a challenge and an opportunity.

  7. nofuss,
    I will not question your data on hybrid vs. vw jetta diesel but do have a comment or two. The hybrid has two power sources; gasoline and battery. It is inappropriate to neglect the costs and energy demands associated with the battery pack. There is the initial cost plus the disposal costs for batteries and I believe when these real costs are considered modern diesel technology will be considerably more favorable. I do admire the hybrid technology and think they make a real contribution in smaller vechicles but that is not cost based. Hybrid technology for suv’s, trucks and 4 X 4’s makes little or no sense at all when compared with diesel. Again, these facts are aptly demonstrated by the Europeans who have total choice in the various power technologies. We do not need to experiment and wonder as all we need to do is copy what millions have already discovered.

  8. My wife drive a 2006 Jetta TDI, it has a 6 speed auto trans. This car is awesome, you wouldn’t think it is a diesel when you are behind the wheel cruising at 65 mph. This is not the newer model, with the cleaner engine, but still I’m convinced that it is emiting far less than my 2 litre petrol engine. I’m convinced that Diesel is far superior to the hybrid technology. The reason why we don’t have Diesel here is because a gazoline engine require far more attention so more often in the shop, it means more money for the sefvice and parts network. So does the hybrid technology, far more gimmicks involve, so more money to spent on the long run. I see often VW with more than 500 000 km on their odometer still running very well.

  9. Agreed, we are in a transitional phase. Gassers are sucking the life out of the earth (or should I say man is), Diesels are a bit better and batteries are no where close to being truly commercially usable to the extent a diesel is…Yet. So what to do…? Use what you know is best at the moment while pushing forward toward the unknown. Its not about whats better or worse, or taking sides… Its using what you have, what you know to get the most out of it NOW. While never giving up on the possibilites…Pushing the limits of technology.

  10. Wow. Here I sit, attempting to buy my first new vehicle – a family car for myself, my wife and child-on-the-way. The Prius is not a viable option for us because of it’s terrible performance in snow. We like the look of small-ish wagons, but the mileage numbers are simply uninspired. I had settled on either a CR-V or Hyundai Elantra Touring, leaning towards the CR-V. My wife and I had bouts of “green guilt.” We drive as little as possible (I biked 4-5K miles this year, we drove about 10K combined) , and we try to live an eco-friendly lifestyle. I was having a tough time swallowing being an SUV owner. Giving up our 97 Corolla that gets 25MPG or so and getting a CR-V that is 13 years newer and gets nothing better. Were we not putting our money where our mouth was? I started to consider sub compacts. Could a honda fit work for an active family like us?

    Then I stumbled onto this article and the Jetta SportWagon TDI. Why have I never heard of this before? I’m heading straight to the dealer this afternoon to check this out. I’m combing the internet for information on what it’s like to own a Diesel car. Cost comparisons, convenience, eco factors. I’ve got a lot to learn!

    I’m stunned that I didn’t even know this was an option…

  11. Yes, and No. The USA as a whole is ambilalent about diesels. Americans crave value. The anti-diesel conspiracy is not held by the USA as whole. But rather That sh*thole state of California. They have been taken over by Socialists. CARB rules California not the people.

  12. Very, very interesting article.

    50 + MPG Diesel cars?

    Think what will happen when someone also adds diesel to a hybrid, + a turbo charger, + a smaller horsepower engine that caps out at 100 MPH to save diesel…

    Wow, I am getting ahead of myself.

    Might that be possible to make a car get 150 + MPG?

  13. I drive an 81 toyota diesel pickup. The only reason it has problems is because it’s lived a hard 30 years, and the only reason I keep it alive is because it’s still one of the most economical pickups in its class. It is outdated, slow, and does not have a turbo. I drive without regard for fuel economy and average 27-28 mpg with a truck rack. The same pickup in a gas version gets 22mpg (according to the manual which states mine at 29 mpg). If the price difference for diesel and regular fuel is an argument; it’s easy math.

  14. Well, volkswagen has an experimental vehicle that is a diesel hybrid. The Volkswagen XL1 (im not sure if i remember the name right or nor) has a .8 liter 2-cylinder diesel engine that produces 48 horsepower, and i don’t remember the specifications on the batteries or the electric engines, excpet the 0-60 time is in the 11sec. range. I believe that it is just a 2 seater, but it is said to get 261!! mpg.

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