Prospects for diesel engine vehicles in the US light vehicle market are positive on the back of high gasoline prices and increased manufacturer interest in offering diesel options. That's one of the key findings of a research report published by just-auto.

But growth is unlikely to be spectacular, with hybrids retaining an important role as an alternative to gasoline in the US auto market mix. However, European manufacturers are the most likely to seize the diesel initiative, as they have market ready products, but much depends on pricing, the research suggests.

The report also says that 'diesel needs to be sexed up a bit' and notes that hybrids are seen as cutting edge in contrast with diesel technology, though that is beginning to change with developments such as Mercedes-Benz 'BlueTec'.

Year-on-year figures suggest that diesel registrations within the light duty segment rose by 30% in 2005. Move the accounting period back to 2000 and broaden the scope out to include light and medium duty vehicles, and the increase is over 80%, from just over 300,000 units to 543,777 last year. But stick with just the light duty segment, and the increase is one of 95%, from 22,543 units in 2000 to 44,031 in 2005.

The researchers note that there were very few light duty diesel models available to the domestic US car buyer during 2005; Mercedes-Benz offered the E320 CDI, Chrysler the Jeep Liberty. VW boasted the broadest diesel range with variants of the Golf, Jetta, Beetle, Passat and Touareg all being marketed through the US network.

Medium duty vehicles include diesel variants of the Chevrolet Silverado, Dodge Ram, GMC Sierra and Ford F Series range, while other vehicles included within the quoted figures include the diesel-powered Hummer and the Dodge Sprinter Van.

But diesel availability is changing. Mercedes-Benz is to start marketing the S-Class with a diesel option, and BMW has announced that it too is to test the waters during 2007, most probably with a diesel-powered X5 SUV. The upper end of the light duty market looks set to become well blessed for diesel choice, according to just-auto's research, with a consequential increase in market take-up.

The report also concludes that Ford and GM are unlikely to produce and legitimise a diesel product for the US mass market, despite the fact that both companies have ongoing diesel development projects.

Varying emissions regulations within the US have also made marketing a single diesel solution a problem for vehicle makers on cost grounds and has encouraged Toyota to go down the hybrid path.

Indeed, the report notes, much of the vehicle makers' marketing efforts in the US have centred on hybrid technology as an alternative to the gasoline incumbent.

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