EarthTalk: Why doesn't U.S. have high-mileage diesel cars, like Europe?

Dear EarthTalk: I don't understand why there are many European diesel cars with very high mileage ratings that are not available in the U.S. Can you enlighten? (John Healy, Fairfield, Conn.)

Different countries do have differing standards in regard to how much pollution and diesel automobile engines are allowed to emit, but the reason you see so fewer diesel cars in the U.S. is more of a choice by automakers than the product of a decree by regulators on either side of the Atlantic.

Since the advent of the automobile age in the U.S., gasoline has been king of the road; today, upwards of 95 percent of passenger cars and light trucks on American roads are gas-powered. And the federal government has done its part to keep it that way, taxing diesel at a rate about 25 percent higher than gasoline. A recent assessment by the American Petroleum Institute, an oil industry trade group, found that federal taxes accounted for 24.4 cents per gallon of diesel but only 18.4 cents per gallon of gasoline.

In Europe, where in many regions about half of the cars on the road run on diesel, these tax incentives are flip-flopped, with diesel drivers reaping the economic benefits accordingly.

But according to Jonathan Welsh, who writes the "Me and My Car" Q&A column for The Wall Street Journal, interest in diesels -- which typically offer better fuel efficiency than gas-powered cars -- has gained significant momentum in the U.S. in recent years given the uptick in gasoline prices. The popularity of diesels also surged, albeit briefly, in the mid-1970s after the U.S. suffered its first "oil shock" that sent gas prices through the roof. But gas prices settled down and so did American fervor for diesels at that point.

Today, though, with so much emphasis on going green, diesel cars -- some of which boast similar fuel efficiency numbers as hybrids -- are on the comeback trail in the U.S. Recently passed regulations require sold in the U.S. today to have ultra low emissions, which appeals to those concerned about their carbon footprints and other environmental impacts. Also, the increased availability of carbon-neutral biodiesel -- a form of diesel fuel made from agricultural wastes that can be used in place of regular diesel fuel without any engine modifications -- is convincing a whole new generation of American drivers to consider diesel-powered cars. Right now only Volkswagen, Mercedes and Jeep sell diesel-powered cars in the U.S., but Ford, Nissan and others plan to launch American versions of diesel models already successful in Europe within the next year.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Coalition for Advanced Diesel Cars, a trade group that represents several as well as parts and fuel suppliers, would like to see the U.S. government increase incentives for American drivers to choose diesel-powered engines by leveling the fuel taxation field _ so gasoline and diesel could be competing fairly at the pump -- and by boosting tax breaks on the purchase of new, more fuel efficient diesel vehicles. One hurdle is the relative lack of filling stations across the U.S. with diesel pumps, but as such vehicles become more popular, filling stations that don't already offer them can relatively easily add a diesel pump or two.


On the Net: American Petroleum Institute, ; U.S. Coalition for Advanced Cars, .


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Apr 27, 2009
Dear EarthTalk: I don't understand why there are many European diesel cars with very high mileage ratings that are not available in the U.S. Can you enlighten?

RE: because US is controlled by greed. The only thing that matters is making the rich, richer. Automakers are allied with oil companies, therefore the more fuel a car uses, the richer the oil companies get and that is it.

Just to mention another side effect that is also profitable (in the short term). The more fuel is used, the sicker people will be, and therefore the more pharmaceuticals would be consumed! great! isn't that smart?

Apr 27, 2009
High mileage diesels are small and light. Yanks, rightly, don't want them. Also an imperial gallon is substatialy larger than an american gallon, so seems more ecconomic.Best to compare in litres. In the UK, diesel is taxed more than petrol. In the UK, both are taxed more than almost anywere else! About 70% of the cost is tax.

Apr 28, 2009
"High mileage diesels are small and light"

Hmm, not so, infact, your more likely to see larger vehicles using diesel engines due to the larger amount of torque at lower revs compared to a petrol (Gasoline) engines. They typically have higher BHP hence more power at full throttle for the same size of engine. Here in the UK, almost all 4x4's and large people carrying vehicles use diesel engines. Take a nissan Xtrail for example (a bit on the small scale, but the only one I'm throughly familure with), it has a slower and poorer MPG on the petrol as it does on the diesel, both 2L models.

Also, you can get almost any car in either a diesel or petrol, be it a top of the range 5litre Landrover, a 3litre Audi A6 or a standard Renault 1.4 Magane.

Although in the UK the tax is higher than in the US on both fuels, it serves to limit the size of cars and hence the amount of fuel we burn (also, nice sized of cheque for the tresury). But Diesel will give you about a third to another half (half in smaller motors) extra miles per gallon compared to petrol, yet it costs only about 10% more per litre. So your still making a saving per mile. An extra benifit, is that road tax is far far cheaper for diesels than it is for petrol motors. Some are even road tax free. I don't know what or even if the US has an equivelent.

A downside is some manufactures charge extra for a diesel engine. But they have a business agenda due to servicing differences between petrols and deisels. The savings over time on tax, MPG and the convienence more miles before filling the tank would soon make up for it.

I'll be changing my motor shortly, and it's a diesel I'm looking to get.

Apr 28, 2009
Here's another "footballers favourtite" Range Rover Sport.

Click on engine and performance


Between the 4.2 Turbocharged petrol V8 and the 3.6 Turbo Diesel V8, the fuel consumptions massively different and the much larger torque for those towing. Although theirs a 10MPH difference in top speed, and 1.4s difference to get to 60, I think this is a tradeoff many people would be willing to accept. And this is with a slightly larger petrol engine (the MPG difference is still significant taking this into account). If both engines were the same size, I believe the Diesel would offer similar performance, still with a better MPG and greater torque with benifits from above also.

Apr 28, 2009
"diesel fuel sold in the U.S. today to have ultra low emissions"

Someone doesn't understand what emissions are, do they?

The diesel sold in the US is Ultra Low Sulfur, although still not by European standards.

We don't have small diesel cars here because all of the "safety" features that are required. It just isn't worth while to add thousands of dollars and hundreds of kilos of unneeded junk to a small car.

Apr 28, 2009
Here is the US, diesel is taxed higher than passenger cars primarily because politicians are far braver about raising taxes on businesses than on individuals - mostly, diesels are the realm of 18 wheelers, construction vehicles, and other commercial properties. Were we to see the diesel tax lowered, at least on the federal side of things, that would be a large incentive for more individuals to opt for the diesel version of their next car or truck.

As for those who say "US is greedy", "automakers are evil", "oil companies are evil", "pharmaceutical companies are evil"... well geez you are being overly simplistic (and a smidge paranoid). How do you expect anyone to respect your opinions if you get all ranty like that?

Apr 28, 2009

Also, diesel engines are far dirtier than unleaded by particulate emissions alone. About 5 to 1.

Ummmmm ,but there are particulate filters,do check them out.I drive a Citroen Picasso 2 Lt HDI[primarily because of the high driving position, due to having back problems I need the high seat] but goodness me it gives 55 miles per UK gallon so i can't fault it [except that it is not a Subaru Forester 2.5 XTs :) ] and right now diesel fuel is about 25c [Euro ] cheaper than gas around here.When I was younger I worked on diesels that would burn almost anything ,we will see that time again

Apr 28, 2009
You are going off at a tangent. These are not high mpg engines,and we are not comparing petrol to diesel. Small cars are advertised at 60 to 80ish mpg. In order to do that they are small and light, the only way to get the greater ecconomy. This makes them less safe and comfortable. I will stick to my old Lexus GS300, comfortable, quickish and doing my bit to help warm the planet (but even this is doubtful). It also runs on fuel produced by CO2 and solar energy--oil based PETROL!
BTW I cannot stand diesels! never have. But that is just me. My own personal bias.

Apr 29, 2009
lets take another look at the Picasso, not my first choice of motor nor am I trying to advertise for Citroen but it is a useful beast and maybe a guide as to where things might go.It seats 5 adults in comfort,has a high roof-line,as good a drivers view as a 4X4 and the engine is clean and frugal.55mpUKg and running costs other than fuel are much the same as its petrol fueled brother.This engine will run on veggie oil and as bio-diesel from non-food plants such as jethropa come on line I can see a place for such engines in the future

Apr 29, 2009
Above and beyond that, I've never had an issue with diesel with the exception of cold climates. I had a diesel mercedez and every winter there were always a few days that I had to call in due to frozen fuel, (I opted away from the block warmer and all the other cold weather gear, if it's that cold, I'm working from home). Now that I can't afford the luxury of being without a vehicle for extended periods of time diesel becomes a less attractive option.

Yeah it doesnt get very cold in Northern Europe or Scandinavia or Alaska. What ever will all those diesel drivers do?

How lame. As if modern cars and modern technology have not found out a ways to over come this. Take your head out of the crappy 70's and early 80's diesel way of thinking.

Apr 30, 2009

I was under the impression from your initial post that you were of the opinion that only small and light vehicles offered significantly greater MPG compared to petrol engines. Hence your reason why Americans wouldn't want them.

The point of my post was just to hightlight that, like here in europe, it is possible for almost any size and model of car to run on a diesel engine and still reap the benefits of the diesel engine. So there would be very little reason for Americans to dislike diesel motors (if they were available) for the reasons you mentioned, as regardless of the size of motor they drive, replacing it with a diesel engine in a vehicle of the same size would still gives you more MPG than a petrol. If, that is, the cost of diesel fuel it not too much more than petrol that it ofsets the benefit.

Oh, Velanarris and JeanPierreSarti,

Diesel sold at the pumps has had additives for a long while now to prevent freezing in cold climates. This is an old problem that isn't as applicable today as it once was. I live in Scotland, and it can get pretty cold here in winters. I've yet to see a frozen tank of diesel.

And btw, just out of curiosity, why was my initial posts downrated to 2/5 stars? for whoever did rate it?

May 01, 2009

There was basically nothing wrong with your comments. The article was about High Mileage Diesels, not about the ecconomy of diesels over petrol engines. There are fairly high mileage petrol engined modern cars, although size for size, not as ecconomic as diesels. The only way to get really high mileage is for the vehicle to be smaller and/or lighter, thus compromising comfort and safety (you can notice the difference in ecconomy with extra passengers). Most people who can afford to run a "better" car, will do so. It is easier to do so in the USA because fuel is cheaper than in the Evil Union. Small, light cars are OK if you have not been used to luxury. While I still have a choice, I know which I will choose.

May 02, 2009
Fact: Diesel has about 25% more energy than gasoline.

Therefore, as a general rule, a diesel engine should deliver about 25% more miles per gallon. The main difference is in how the engine works (as someone pointed out early on) - diesels tend to have more low-end torque and gasoline engine deliver more horsepower. That is why (almost without exception), exotic sports cars are gasoline powered. This also explains why large trucks (semi, tractors etc) are diesel.

I think the real problem in the U.S.A. is a chicken-egg problem. The car manufacturers are reluctant to make diesel cars because they think that people won't buy them. And of course all one has to do is look at how "responsive" U.S. automakers have been to consumers to know how out of touch with the real market they are.

May 03, 2009
California outlawed diesels using emissions regulations for a long time. With catalytic converters and highly refined diesel fuel they appear to be making a comeback.

May 03, 2009
In order to do that they are small and light, the only way to get the greater ecconomy. This makes them less safe and comfortable.

Heavier cars aren't significantly safer, they just transfer risk from the owner of heavy cars to the owner of a light car. If everyone has a heavy car nobody is made any safer.

May 03, 2009
Fact: Diesel has about 25% more energy than gasoline.

Therefore, as a general rule, a diesel engine should deliver about 25% more miles per gallon. The main difference is in how the engine works (as someone pointed out early on)

Yes, this is correct. The diesel engine is simpler in the sense that it doesn't have spark plugs. The diesel engines work at higher compression ratios and higher combustion temperatures. This results in higher energy output from the diesel engines.

As someone pointed out, diesel is also a less refined product than gasoline meaning that more diesel can be extracted per barrel of crude.

I believe the reason for the lack of diesel cars in the US is mostly about perception. The US public don't realize how far diesel engines has come in the last 10 years in terms of sooth emissions and engine agility.

In Europe diesels have been hot for many years, some of the diesels are outcompeting even the hybrids in CO2 emissions and they are safe. The perception that small cars are unsafe is another american misconception that shows how backwards the US industry is and helps to explain why the once proud car companies are going belly up.

May 03, 2009
I am open to correction ,but I do believe that the Skoda Fabia vRS diesel has faster acceleration than most BMW's in the overtaking bracket of 40-70 mph and yet gives 52 MPG [44 mpg US ]It has more torque than the basic Porche offerings.I am of course a big fan of oil burners having had the pleasure of looking after one big enough to drive an old type Mini down the cylinders !

May 04, 2009
Why doesn't U.S. have high-mileage diesel cars, like Europe?

In part because of the policies, attitudes and opportunities that briefly showed themselves in the "United States v. National City Lines Inc." case. Effectively the result of this case was an admonishment to use more subtle business practises in the pursuit of profit.

An equivalent cooperative regime continues to exist between government, business and consumer with each one feeling the lessor partner. Hence the continual grasping for more power and control.

If the world's economy where truly global people would be free to purchase products and services from anywhere that best fitted their individual needs.

May 04, 2009
because if you steal more than 50% of the wealth from people and then put it in subsidy for something inefficient, and they are not smart enough to do a fair accounting, they think that these are more efficient, when they are less efficient. care to check out the wear and tear profiles? care to compare how far they go with starting and stopping compared to the US in which they can drive straight for days and with nary a stop but for sleep. such spans are not as common in europe or the UK.

to travel from london to dublin is 293 miles give or take. (roughly akin to driving between ny city and washington dc) for me to travel to my parents from ny to kentucky is 653 miles and takes 16 hours of straight highway driving.

if you were transporting goods between ny and los angeles califormia with a brit or european truck how would it do on the 2462 mile one way journey?

I guess if they decide to go from london to tel aviv they might get close to the size of common distances in the US.

in the US, like in KY, we have mountains, blue ridge mountains, the adirondacks, the colorado rockies. and the hills are steep enough that trucks need runaway ramps since they run out of air brakes going down them..

Petrol cars produce less noise and vibration than the diesel car engines

Petrol engines are comparatively lighter than the diesel engines but yet diesel ones give more torque which makes them better for towing.

Diesel engine makes the driving more heavy and uneasy as compared to the petrol engine. Diesel engine makes the steering wheel heavy and thus the driving needs an extra pressure.

this last one is key.. if your making ltos of short trips (under 500 miles), the wear and tear on you is less..

its not so easy to just copy somethign efficient in one area to another.

its the same old crappy everything is equal and relative, and facts be damned as they always get int eh way of our utopia... (ever thoguht that you get in the way of utopia by believing utopia is made up of this kind of crap?)

check out the subsidies and the market games they play with the costs..

COST comparisons are a rotten way to determine efficincy...

the more socialist they are the less this can be used as any measure since the less REAL the number is and the more it reflects political whim and theft proceed redistribution.

May 06, 2009
Europe has by far more adverse driving and road conditions than the US. Similar hauls distance wise cross 6 to 8 mountain ranges in Europe, where in the US the majority of the haul is plains land..

then you missed my point about the trucks having to have runaway ramps... ever do a haul?

your wrong as to the majority of US land... your facts are from the left. meaning that they are convenient but generally wrong.

Montanna... a plains state... you would say that it was flat, right?

well ny highest point is 5,000 feet.
montanas highest point is 12,700 feet.

kansas highest point is 4000 feet.

idaho highest point 12,660

you are so wrong beacuse your extrapolating from fantasy you believe is factual.

the left is so completely poisoned this way. reminds me of having debates with refugees from the soviet union... they had all the right facts too... but for a world that never existed.

you ahve all the right facts too...but for some other world. one in which the view of the US and its territories is factual, not extrapolated from non facts they were told.

nebraska highest point is 5,400 feet.

by the way smarty... (who decided to poison the well of knowlege by speaking up!)

the lowest places are new jersey, florida, lousiana, missisipi, and rhode island

want to know what they all have in common.. they are all low down at sea level...

that is, the flatest parts are around the edges where the country meets the water.

and your scale is off.

I said you would ahve to drvie from the UK to nearly south africa to reach a drive that is the same as the distance traveled in america.

Europe has by far more adverse driving and road conditions than the US.

really? well, let me point out that a truck driver starting in mexico can go from tropical, to desert, to mountain range, to flatland, to shoreline, and end the journey driving through 3 feet of snow.

and that is a normal winter traverse from california to ny... so how do you support your claim?

ever seen baja california? nevada, and las vegas? how about texas? what about montana snow? you ship from baja to california and your equipment better be able to handle 120 in the shade, and 30 below in a day or so.

Similar hauls distance wise cross 6 to 8 mountain ranges in Europe

no way..

again, this is false... open up a map.. and then look at that little scale bar..

the distance between latvia and spain is

the distance as i noted between ny and california is over 1000 miles more!!!!

so what similar haul is it?

to go 1000 miles more north and your in alaska
to go 1000 miles more south, and your in the ocean.

so, where did you get your inforamtion from?

May 06, 2009
Now how many [mountain ranges] do you cross driving that same distance ANYWHERE in the US?

If you are going coast to coast you are likely to cross the Appalachian & Allegheny Ranges in the east, the Boston Mountains in the south, and the Rockies (which is actually a collection of about a dozen separate ranges) in the west. The United States has its share of mountain ranges, as well as quite hilly terrain in areas where there aren't ranges per se.

As for "flat states", there are parts of states that are relatively quite flat, however I've driven thru most of the contiguous states and I can verify that what a region's geography lacks for in elevation changes, it tends to make up for with strong, incessent wind!

May 07, 2009
to travel from london to dublin is 293 miles give or take. (roughly akin to driving between ny city and washington dc)

Bet that would be a nice drive to do.

May 07, 2009
Best roll up the windows and over inflate the tires - the London to Dublin ride is likely to be a bit... moist. (directs you to the google maps directions).

At least on the NY to DC route you stay nice and dry!

May 07, 2009
the London to Dublin ride is likely to be a bit... moist.


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