Ford Motor is “seriously” studying plans to sell a diesel-powered Focus in North America within the next five years.

The company says that diesel technology has advanced in recent years to the point that the engines compare very favourably with petrol engines on many consumer-driven attributes, such as noise, performance and emissions. Today’s modern diesel is clean, quiet and nearly odourless.

“Ford strongly supports introducing cleaner, more fuel-efficient diesel vehicles in key markets around the world, including North America, when the time is right,” Ford chief operating officer Nick Scheele said.

While Ford believes diesels should be part of the North American product mix, the company is not seeking any changes in emissions standards to deliver diesel cars to North American buyers. Ford will provide diesel light vehicles only if a way is found to meet the EPA’s stringent Tier II emissions rules.

Achieving Tier II emissions standards requires further improvements in engine and fuel systems and exhaust aftertreatment technology. Low sulphur diesel fuel (15 parts per million or less), which will be available in the US in mid-2006, is a critical requirement for these emissions controls.

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A way to manage nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions, critical for Tier II compliance, also needs to be achieved. Among the solutions being studied is a NOx absorber type catalyst and a co-fuelling of diesel and urea, an ammonia-based compound, to reduce NOx emissions.

Ford is working to develop an aftertreatment technology that will reduce the issues surrounding particulate matter and health concerns.

“Ford understands that to be accepted as personal use vehicles in the US, diesels will need to overcome some remaining public and regulatory concerns, including noise, odour, smoke, potential toxic emissions and inconvenient fuelling locations,” says Ford Advanced Diesel Systems group corporate technical specialist Dick Baker.

Ford is testing a diesel Focus using the co-fuelling system as a way to achieve Tier II standards. This system uses a very efficient NOx reduction catalyst and a soot-trapping particulate filter. The catalyst uses the ammonia to remove NOx from the exhaust. The chemical urea, in a water solution, is a convenient way to provide ammonia and is automatically sprayed on to the catalyst as needed. The urea – stored on board in a small bottle, like windshield washer fluid – is odourless and non-flammable.

In addition, Ford is testing a small US fleet of Focus TDCi vehicles – as sold in Europe – to help build awareness and demonstrate improvements made in diesel technology.

Diesel technology offers advantages in fuel efficiency in the range of 25 to 30% over a petrol vehicle. This fuel economy improvement translates into a 20 to 25% reduction in CO2.