What’s Behind America’s Aversion to Diesel Autos?

In Europe and the UK, diesel-powered autos account for more than half of the vehicles sold each year, yet American consumers seem to have a bias against diesel that many say is out-of-step with the technology.

Today’s diesel engines are far cleaner and far more efficient than in the past and the technology would appear to be a perfect fit for the average American motorist, and the fuel savings would go a long way toward achieving the Obama administration’s goal of a 54.5 mpg national average by 2025.

Although diesel engines have gained broad acceptance among America’s truck buyers, attitudes toward diesel technology in the U.S., overall, are about 20 years behind European consumers.  In the 1980s Europeans also viewed diesels as dirty, noisy and inconvenient. Just finding a service station that offered diesel fuel was difficult and the price differential made gasoline the more attractive choice.

Although diesel is still more expensive than gasoline, recent technological advancements have made diesel engines far more efficient than gasoline engines.  In fact, the average diesel engine is about 30% more efficient than gasoline engines, which means more miles per gallon, and fewer fill ups.

In addition to the higher per-gallon cost when compared to gasoline, today’s diesel engines with their complex turbos and injection systems, are more expensive to build than gasoline engines.  This drives up the sticker price and causes many Americans to opt for the cheaper gasoline option.  Strict U.S. emissions standards also require diesels to use costly onboard after-treatment systems which reduce the amount of NOx particulate that leaves the tailpipe.

Finally, many Americans seem to be overwhelmed by the options available to them, including gasoline, diesel, hybrid and battery-electric technologies. In recent months a number of automakers have announced they are exploring the possibility of offering hydrogen fuel cell- and natural gas-powered models.  When faced with so many options, consumers often choose the one that they’re most familiar with, even if that choice may not be the most efficient or economical in the long run.

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