Americans are set to join the diesel revolution as new techniques transform traditionally noisy and dirty oil-burning engines into smooth, powerful and economic high technology machines, a report published by Automotive Industry Data (AID) claims.


The report, Schmidt’s Diesel Car Prospects, says that Americans, by 2010, will buy more than 2,000,000 diesel powered sport utility vehicles and pickup trucks and 400,000 diesel-powered passenger cars a year.


This will be up from a modest 230,000 or so diesel-powered SUVs and other light trucks, and some 50,000 cars a year in 2006.


Currently, diesel powered cars and light trucks account for a negligible 0.2% of United States sales. But, according to AID, this will soar to a market share of around 16% for diesels in 2010.


AID managing director, and report author Peter Schmidt, said Americans have been immune to the appeal of the high fuel economy promised by diesel, put off by unattractive engine clatter and worries about pollution.


Americans, unlike Europeans who pay nearly three times more for their fuel, have lacked an economic motive to buy efficient diesels.


A combination of factors may break that down.


Improved European technology has transformed diesel engines from rattling, soot-belching embarrassments into desirable, quiet and fast sport saloons sold by the likes of Germany’s BMW, Audi and Mercedes-Benz.


European versions of Chrysler’s hot-selling PT Cruiser are offered with a 2.2-litre Mercedes turbodiesel while diesel versions of the Austrian-built Chrysler Voyager minivan are also available.


Modern diesels also will be able to match or exceed government emissions regulations. New filter technology should end worries over carcinogenic particulate pollution.


Diesel engines can improve fuel economy by between 30 and 50% with similar or improved performance compared to a petrol engine.


Oil prices have been increasing lately, spurred on by worries about war in the Middle East and a US clash with Iraq.


And there is a patriotic motive too.


According to German diesel engine manufacturer Bosch, if US car buyers bought oil-burners at the same rate as Europeans – about 40% of car sales are now diesel in Europe – the US would save $9 billion a year on oil consumption, cut dependence on foreign oil and avoid spewing five million metric tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere each year.


Some Americans, taking up this environmental cause, have already started to quietly embrace diesel-powered cars.


According to AID research, Volkswagen has increased sales of diesel-powered cars in the US from just under 15,000 in 1999 to nearly 24,000 in 2001. That figure had already been passed by the end of September 2002.


According to the respected car buyers guide website, Edmunds.com, the more stringent emissions requirements compared to the rest of the world are one of the reason why car makers other than Volkswagen don’t sell diesel models in the US.


The website said VW was the sole contender since Mercedes-Benz dropped its oil-burning E-class in 2000.


Testing a Mexican-built 1.9-litre turbodiesel Jetta sedan last September, Edmunds.com said that California is currently the only state to offer low-sulphur diesel, and the fuel’s expected availability nation-wide by 2006 is expected to result in an increase of an average five cents a gallon price increase in return for the cleaner burning fuel.


Edmunds.com was not impressed with the diesel Jetta’s fuel economy when compared with the popular petrol-powered 1.8-litre turbocharged version.


The website said an average of 32 miles to the gallon. was better than the 24.9 mpg recorded for the comparably equipped 1.8T model it tested earlier but recommended the manual transmission option, rather than the automatic tested, if economy was a priority.


Santa Monica, Los Angeles-based Edmunds.com also noted: “While gas stations that sell diesel weren’t lacking during our daily commute, it was still an effort to look for the green diesel sign”.


AID says VW has achieved its diesel car sales boost with no advertising, and despite the fact that Americans currently needing to fill up their diesel cars have (mostly) to compete with gigantic tractor-trailers at truck filling stops.


The factors are in place for a diesel revolution, according to AID.


“While, in Europe at least, diesel technology is a trend from which there will be no turning back, AID believes that a similar transformation, still dismissed as unthinkable and implausible little more than 12 months ago, could conceivably be repeated on the other side of the Atlantic,” AID said. Companies like VW which lead the revolution in the US will do great business, it added.


 “If it turns out that way, and for some the writing is already on the wall, Europe’s carmakers, by virtue of being on the cutting edge of fast-moving diesel technology, stand to gain untold commercial rewards from the biggest diesel sales bonanza carmakers have ever seen,” AID claimed.