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VW test drives clean diesel in U.S.

Alisa Roth Sep 16, 2009

VW test drives clean diesel in U.S.

Alisa Roth Sep 16, 2009


Kai Ryssdal: There’s a big auto show over in Frankfurt, Germany, this week. It is smaller than in years past. But there are still plenty of cars there and a lot of talk about the future.

Volkswagen is talking about bringing its high-end offering, the Phaeton, back to the States, possibly with a clean diesel engine this time. But are Americans ready for diesel in any form? Marketplace’s Alisa Roth took that idea for a test drive.

ALISA ROTH: Quick: what comes to mind when you hear the word diesel?

Mike Omotoso is with J.D. Power. He says if you’re like most Americans, you’re either plugging your ears. Or holding your nose.

MIKE Omotoso: There’s still a lingering prejudice against diesel in the U.S. because the diesel vehicles that were offered in the 70s and 80s were loud and dirty and unreliable.

The German carmakers would like you to reconsider. Audi and BMW are running ads for diesels here. And VW’s diesel Jetta has been selling well in the U.S.

Omotoso says the Germans’ new diesel technology is fuel efficient. And clean. He says in some cases, it can compete with hybrids and other alternative options.

Still, fewer than 1 percent of passenger cars sold in the U.S. run on diesel. Omotoso says that will change.

Omotoso: We expect the diesel market to grow over the next several years.

But just about every carmaker, besides the Germans, has delayed or canceled plans for new diesels for the U.S. market

Jeff Jowett tracks the auto business for the consultant firm CSM Worldwide. He says one reason is the fuel costs so much more than regular gasoline.

JEFF JOWETT: And when you combine that with inherently the cost of a diesel engine, it’s more expensive than that of a gasoline engine, and you then you add the additional cost of the after treatment to clean the emissions. The business case just wasn’t there for a lot of manufacturers.

Some fuel companies may be rooting for the Germans to succeed. Last year, Exxon announced it’s expanding fuel production in the U.S. to make it more widely available here.

I’m Alisa Roth for Marketplace.

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