Diesel passenger cars have not been as popular in America as they have in other countries around the world. While diesel engines for heavy duty work trucks, buses and long haul trucks are widely popular in the US, diesel passenger cars have not been. One explanation is that diesel fuel used to contain higher concentrations of sulfur that contributed to high levels of smog and pollution, which gave diesel cars a bad rap over the decades. Low sulfur diesel, or LDS has generally been replaced with a much cleaner-burning ultra low sulfur diesel (ULSD) at retail pumps nationwide, which uses 97% less sulfur than LDS. Emissions for diesel vehicles today are cleaner and more efficient than in decades past, but the stigma of smoky, smelly diesel car emissions have been hard to overcome.
Diesel typically has been more expensive to buy than regular gasoline. Even though one might spend less on fuel annually with a diesel car which gets better MPG over a gasoline engine, the price at the pump per gallon has been the tipping point for consumers.
Another reason for the unpopularity of diesel passenger cars is the performance factor. Diesel cars of the 1970s and 1980s were heavy, slow to accelerate and gave cumbersome feeling to drive. The fact that diesel engines have better MPG over gasoline engines wasn’t enough to justify the lack of acceleration and power. Thus drivers opted for the get-up-and-go of gasoline engines over diesel ones. Auto makers like Volkswagen and Audi, responding to demands for cars with increased fuel economy, have been stepping up their efforts to offer popular gasoline models with diesel counterparts. Popular diesel sedans like the Jetta TDI and the Audi A4 have been rising in popularity. Ford and Chevrolet have concentrated their diesel focus mainly on trucks, so there isn’t a presence of American diesel cars in the passenger vehicle arena.
Innovations in clean diesel cars have eliminated much of the old problems from the early days of diesel passenger cars. With the focus on fuel economy and the promise of independence from foreign oil, with the use of biodiesel, diesel passenger cars will be on the upswing in America.