Will the US Go for Diesel Cars?

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 2/11/2008 04:04:00 AM
Here in Europe, diesel automobiles outsell those that run on gasoline. Not only are they more economical, but they offer torquey motors that attract auto enthusiasts. Now, the question is whether American prejudices against diesel can be surmounted as top German marques such as Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and Audi take their diesel-powered luxury offerings on an Atlantic crossing. From the BBC:

In a country where the "filthy fuel" is generally reviled, most would not even consider buying a diesel-powered family vehicle.

And yet, in spite of such extreme distrust in - or disgust with - diesel, European auto makers are preparing a massive onslaught of diesel-powered models that they say will help cut fuel bills and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 25%.

This year, for the first time, diesel-powered cars that meet the emissions regulations in all 50 states will arrive in the US, says Stefan Krause, BMW's executive director in charge of sales and marketing, in an interview with BBC News.

"If you point out the environmental friendliness of these cars and if you point out that it's more cost effective than petrol, then high performance diesels will be accepted," he predicts.

Dieter Zetsche, chief executive of Daimler, which owns Mercedes-Benz, agrees.

"We are very bullish about the prospects for diesel in this country," he tells BBC News.

Consequently, a growing number of industry observers agree with the claims made by manufacturers of diesel-powered cars: "Diesels can produce enormous improvements in the short-term," according to Paul Ingrassia, author of Comeback: The Fall and Rise of the American Automobile Industry.

The emergence of so-called "clean diesel" has taken Europe by storm and now outsells petrol pretty much across the board.

Diesel now accounts for more than half of all new cars sold in Europe, and only a quarter of luxury car buyers in Europe choose petrol engines, though this is largely because of tax rules that favour diesel.

In the US, meanwhile, diesel has yet to rise above a single-digit market share in any segment, though there are early signs that wealthy drivers, who are more likely to choose cars made by non-US manufacturers, are keen to embrace the fuel.

"Where we offer diesel it accounts for 20% of sales," observes Daimler's Mr Zetsche.

"Mercedes is now going for more and more diesel in the US," he adds, and so are its main European rivals, Audi and BMW.