Fuels Forward--Diesel: The Other Transportation Fuel

Why so little love for diesel? And when will that change?

Samantha Oller, Senior Editor/Fuels, CSP

Blog: Why so little love for diesel? And when will that change?

OAKBROOK TERRACE, Ill. -- I was struck by a few things in the recent survey from NACS that gauges consumers’ interests in alternative-fueled vehicles (AFVs). For one, how many folks would seriously consider an AFV in the next decade, with 74% interested in buying a hybrid, 62% in a flex-fuel vehicle, 58% a fuel-cell-powered model and 58% in a battery electric vehicle. Fifty-three percent would consider a CNG-powered vehicle, although few light-duty models are available. (Click here to see the NACS survey results.)

The next thing that struck me: 38% of consumers would consider buying a diesel-powered vehicle over the next decade. (This figure rises to 50% if the purchase is being made in the next couple years.) These numbers seem incredibly low. Diesel is an established part of the infrastructure, and it offers a familiar fueling experience. While less than one-half of retail fuel sites offer diesel, this figure still represents 80,000-90,000 locations. Compare this to hydrogen fuel cell technology, which only has 10 fueling locations in the entire United States.

Are consumers simply unfamiliar with the state of development for these technologies and their infrastructure? Does diesel seem not as progressive as other gasoline alternatives? Or, it could just be a generational hurdle. At an educational session at the recent NACS Show, Ezra Finkin, policy director at the Diesel Technology Forum, suggested greater diesel adoption will come from younger people who have no “institutional memory of the 1970s and 1980s,” when diesel-powered vehicles were notoriously dirty and unreliable. He noted that 80% of Jetta Sportswagens sold are diesel models.

Driving some of these purchases: the increased fuel efficiency, with diesel-powered vehicles enjoying 20% to 40% greater fuel economy than gasoline-powered models, rivaling hybrids. Of course, that helps with diesel’s higher premium nowadays; while the United States is slow to pick up on the fuel, the rest of the world sure has embraced it.

What’s your take on diesel and its potential in the consumer market? Send me your thoughts to [email protected].