Have You Driven a Diesel Lately?

Through the end of July, sales of diesel vehicles in the United States were up 38.5 percent compared to the same seven-month period in 2010. Not bad, considering that the experts say that most Americans still won't consider a "clean diesel" vehicle, or just plain don't understand them.

It's not that the public is rushing to diesel, like they have hybrids-aafter all, the 8,653 clean diesel vehicles sold in July only represents 0.82 percent of the total market--but, consumer interest seems to be on the rise.

Volkswagen is clearly leading the diesel charge. Sales of the segment leader Jetta TDI were 5,206 in July, bringing the diesel sedan's year-to-date total to 56,717. The Golf TDI didn't enjoy nearly the same level of demand (the Golf never does), but its sales of 966 units in July landed the hatchback in second place among all diesel vehicles. In third, with sales ringing in at 562 units, was the diesel-fueled BMW X5 xDrive35d.

VW is still selling the same Jetta Sportwagen it was in 2010. That car, which gets 32 mpg city/43 mpg highway and built on the last generation Jetta, is still very much in demand and selling without discounts. A Sportwagen based on the new Jetta is expected in 2012.

Volkswagen plans on adding to its diesel offerings with the all-new 2012 Passat sedan. VW expects that the Passat TDI may account for as much as half of all Passat sales.

"Diesel is a very misunderstood piece of technology in the U.S.," says AOL Autos Editor-in-Chief David Kiley. "Unfortunately, most people still associate diesel with the black exhaust belching out of tractor trailers...and that is just way out of date."

Clean diesel vehicles typically get between 25% and 35% better fuel economy than gasoline powered vehicles. Diesel fuel has been ringing up around 10% more at the pump, so the savings are still substantial.

Diesel versions of vehicles, like Jetta and Passat, cost more than the gasoline powered versions of the same model by around $2,500-$3,000. But diesel buyers site the durability of diesel engines, as well as the performance aspects of the engines, as being worth the premium, on top of the fuel economy.

U.S. automakers have been gun-shy about introducing diesel cars to the market, even while 50% of their sales in Europe are clean diesel. They sell diesel heavy-duty pickup trucks in the U.S., but they haven't seen demand for diesel passenger cars like they do in Europe.

But General Motors is planning to break the trend by introducing a diesel version of the Chevy Cruze for the 2013 model year in late 2012 in the U.S.

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