Thanks to CAFE, Detroit three (finally) embrace diesels

Diesel vehicles have nearly a 50-percent market share in Europe, thanks to tax incentives and diesel-friendly legislation across the EU. Diesels are so passé there that you can buy a BMW 730d and no one will think it odd that your luxury car burns oil. Pull up in a diesel 7-Series in America and people would leer at you like you've alighted from an amphibious vehicle reeking of saltwater and dead trout.

But now, thanks to the oft-reported combo of newly-raised CAFE standards, not-so-newly-raised gas prices, and the 50-state diesel engine, GM, Ford, and Chrysler are about to dip more than a hesitant toe into the diesel game. Chrysler offers a diesel in the Grand Cherokee, but soon all three automakers will offer diesels in their best-selling lineups of light trucks -- the Dodge Ram 1500 is expected to offer a 50-state diesel after 2009. Light trucks are being used to lead the charge since those buyers stand to gain the most with the least amount of (perceived) sacrifice.

Diesels currently have 3.2-percent of the American market. Some estimates put them at 15-percent by 2015. That's a huge leap, and diesel still has plenty of hurdles. Diesels will come with a cost premium over gasoline-engined cars. That should be easy enough to conquer -- incentives and some quick cost and longevity calculations should convince people of the benefit. The real hurdle is the nagging issue of perception. The plan will probably be to attack that with a price that makes the proposition unbeatable. Said Chrysler's director of environmental affairs, "If it's priced right, we can sell diesel here. Diesel can give you an immediate poke in fuel economy -- 20 to 40 percent. Not many technologies can deliver that today."

[Source: Detroit News]

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