Ultra-low sulfur diesel (ULSD) went on sale in the United States on October 15, and automakers are hoping that diesel-powered cars become a phenomenon like hybrid vehicles. The new ULSD standard and interest in biodiesel as an alternative fuel source are likely to make diesel engines the next big thing. The standard requires new engine technology to be built into diesel vehicles. The cleaner fuel has automakers planning to increase production of diesel-powered cars and trucks in hope that buyers will reap the better mileage and environmental benefits.

Diesel-powered vehicles achieve better gas mileage and have fewer moving parts and greater longevity when compared to gasoline-powered vehicles. Their bad reputation can be attributed to the poor performance of diesel technology that hit the road following the energy crisis of the 1970s.

Diesel is traditionally used to power verhicles such as buses

Although diesel is traditionally used to power vehicles such as buses, automakers are developing smaller cars with diesel engines to use ULSD and biodesel. Credit: NREL/DOE, Leslie Eudy

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency states that ULSD is the most significant change in health policy since lead was removed from gasoline. ULSD has no more than 15 parts per million (ppm) of sulfur, although most refineries aim for less than 10 ppm to offset pipeline contamination. Up to 20 percent of pumps may contain diesel fuel meeting the old standard (500 ppm) through May 2010.

Chrysler Group plans to start selling the first diesel-powered full-size sport utility vehicle (SUV) in the United States when it markets the 2007 Jeep Grand Cherokee early next year. Honda has developed a new diesel engine that it plans to put in cars sold in the United States within two to three years. Furthermore, Volkswagen recently announced plans for the Tiguan, which will likely be the first compact SUV with a diesel engine on U.S. streets. General Motors Corporation plans to have a V-8 turbo-diesel engine in light-duty trucks available in all fifty states by 2010.

With the new fuel, diesel engines, which in the United States have traditionally powered large trucks, buses, trains, and boats, will be in more passenger cars rolling along highways and city streets. J.D. Power and Associates predicts that more than 10 percent of light vehicles sold in the United States in the next decade will be diesel, compared with just more than 3 percent in 2005.

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