Diesel engines make a lot of sense

I guess I'm no different from other people. I really like big trucks - sport-utilities and all those other big, bulky vehicles, whether they're extended cabs or four-door pickups.

They all seem to be designed as no-compromise vehicles for North America. We have long interstates and wide-open spaces, and we can get plenty of gasoline at low prices, so big trucks are well suited for where we live.

But I have to tell you: Our government had better get with the program. There are rules coming in the next few years that will make it impossible to develop and market a proper diesel engine for a U.S. passenger vehicle.

Here's the deal: California and Washington are creating tougher clean-air rules for 2004 to 2009. They mainly are trying to curtail smog and soot. While the California regulations effectively outlaw diesel engines, the federal version was supposed to be flexible enough to allow some diesels.

But automakers say the limits on diesels make any efforts to develop them impractical.

Right now, Volkswagen offers a couple of diesel-powered cars. But Mercedes doesn't anymore. And for trucks, you have to get high in gross vehicle weight before you see a great selection of diesels. Ford and Chrysler both offer truck engines from commercial truck manufacturers in their big pickups, and now General Motors has an Isuzu-derived diesel that everyone is happy with as well.

But it would make such good sense for the industry to develop diesels that could power just about everything above 5,000 pounds. All those Tahoes and Expeditions and Durangos could use a modern diesel. Diesels in those trucks would probably become popular quickly.

The modern diesel engine is nothing like the diesel of old.

I drove a big Mercedes in Europe recently with a modern, direct-injection diesel; you couldn't even tell it was

a diesel if you didn't look at the tachometer.

Aside from the fuel issue - diesel fuel still isn't always readily available - diesels make such good sense for trucks. And trucks make up half the U.S. vehicle market these days.

It's time for the EPA and the automobile industry to sit down and see whether there can't be some sort of compromise. The Greens in Europe are quite happy with the large percentage of diesels on the road, and a lot of environmentalists are happy with the diesel.

Let's hope we can find some way for the industry to start building more diesels for more trucks. It makes too much sense to ignore.

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