A US Department of Energy (DOE) report, ‘Future Potential of Hybrid and Diesel Powertrains in the US Light-Duty Vehicle Market’, forecasts growth of 4% to as much as 7% in light-duty diesel vehicles in the US market by 2012.

The findings were released by the DOE’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory at the ongoing Diesel Engine Emissions Reduction Conference in Coronado, California, this week.

“Since light-duty diesels currently account for only about 0.2% of the market today, this growth prediction is substantial,” said Allen Schaeffer, executive director of the diesel technology forum.

The study showed that more than half of petrol vehicle owners now believe diesels are more powerful and cleaner and about three-quarters consider them to be more fuel-efficient. Typically, diesel engines are 20 to 40% more efficient than comparable petrol engines. The study also favorably forecasts that diesel engines will meet more stringent 2007 (Tier II) emissions standards.

“When compared to forecasts for hybrid technology, the Oak Ridge study predicts an overly conservative estimate for diesel technology growth (4-7%), one that is at odds with other recent studies that predict more than double the market penetration (10-15%) in the same timeframe,” noted Schaeffer.

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This latest study joins a growing number of reports and projections on the near-term energy saving benefits of an increase in diesel cars, pick-ups and SUVs in the US. Previous studies by the DOE have found that a gradual 20% penetration of diesel vehicles by 2020 would save the US 350,000 barrels of oil each day.

While US diesel penetration is still not on a par with that in Europe, where diesels account for about 44% of all new vehicles, Americans now can choose from a larger number of diesel car and truck models than ever before (though some, such as the Mercedes E320 CDi, are not available in California, Maine, Massachusetts, New York and Vermont states due to their more stringent emissions regulations).