In America the diesel engine still has the bad reputation of being loud, noisy, offering not much dynamic power, and having a very bad emission behavior. Plus based on some unsuccessful introduction attempts decades ago the diesel engine is also believed to be very unreliable and to easily break down compared to a gasoline motor. Unfortunately the countrywide diesel image in America seems to have stopped with this negative experience.
Not many people seem to realize or followed the tremendous success story of the diesel engine in Europe over the past decades. Today’s turbocharged and direct fuel injected diesel engines don’t have to fear the comparison with any high end gasoline motor in terms of power, performance, quietness and comfort. Plus year of experience in Europe seem to have proven that a well engineered diesel engine is normally at least as reliable and rugged as its gasoline peers. Often diesel engines actually run many more miles over lifetime than a comparable gasoline motor.
So it is a pity that, in the U.S., people do not yet see the benefits and values of a diesel engine which could show their strengths, especially in the very common long-distance highway commutes.
Encouraged and supported by the recently released highly efficient “clean diesel” generations, like the BLUETEC concept from Mercedes, many European manufacturers are now trying again to enter the American market with their most recent diesel fleets. The efforts and improvements on emissions due to improved filter and exhaust technologies make the diesel comparably clean and environmentally friendly to gasoline cars—meeting the more stringent regulations of states like California. But still it will likely take quite some marketing efforts, promotion campaigns, and very credible advertisements to convince the population of diesel engine efficacy.
But if the U.S. market and car buyers indeed pick up the new trend and start valuing the benefits and the performance of modern European designed diesels, then suddenly North America could indeed become the next huge market for diesel cars. This on the other hand could lead to a major push back on the penetration ratio of HEVs in the market.
At least one big obstacle that can prevent the introduction and penetration of diesel engines in less developed/emerging countries should not be a problem for the U.S.—namely the availability of high-grade clean diesel fuel.
As will be explained later, modern diesel engines draw their performance out of a sophisticated motor control strategy that is based on high pressure fuel injectors. These highly precise masterpieces of electro-mechanical engineering can be contaminated or clogged by unsuitable fuel. So the availability of quality fuel and the corresponding infrastructure of fueling stations could become a major decision criterion whether a diesel engine may or may not be penetrating a country's market.
The HEV introduction and penetration in emerging countries like China or India is probably quite fast and not too much endangered by diesel since there are still some limits to a broad countrywide availability of clean fuel. These countries need environmentally friendly transportation means but the infrastructure and the availability of higher grade fuel seems to be problematic, especially when you look outside of the metropolitan areas. So countrywide improvements in the fuel supply chain would be needed, which now puts the diesel solution on par with electric vehicles—which themselves need major improvements in the electric supply infrastructure.
Coming back to the U.S., availability of clean diesel fuel is not an obstacle. This fact could give diesel an additional advantage vs the electrical infrastructure improvements that are required if the country wants to be ready for charging a major volume of plug-in hybrid or fully-electric vehicles. Therefore diesel seems to be a very logical and reasonable solution for our highway-driving nation. The diesel engine just needs to overcome the prejudice in the U.S. market.