It's amazing how quickly myths can be established - and how long it takes to break them down.
Take diesel engines. The myth: they're sluggish, noisy, smelly, throw out smoke and are only good in big trucks. The reality: They now marry performance, fuel efficiency and cleanliness.
If you listen to the guys from BMW AG and DaimlerChrysler, as well as Renault SA and PSA Peugeot Citroen, diesel is probably the best environmental move we could make - until someone perfects the truly zero-emission power unit.
Over the past month I have talked to a lot people in Europe about upcoming technologies. Most of them agree that fuel cells and hydrogen are the likely saviors of the automobile in the long term - and they all agree that diesel can do it for the short term.
They want an end to the 'dirty diesel' myth that persists. The belief that diesel cars are inevitably dirty, smelly and might affect public health is based on 'experiences of old technology diesel and misleading information,' said Tod Evans, managing director of Peugeot in Britain.
Fact: Modern diesel cars emit 20 percent less greenhouse gas and 50 percent less hydrocarbon pollution than gasoline equivalents. The latest common-rail diesel technology is even more environmentally friendly, cutting exhaust emissions further.
What about harmful particulates? Those things give you cancer, don't they? Well, the Europeans are hitting that one with a big stick as well. Peugeot will launch the world's first diesel production car to be fitted with a particle filter next spring. The filter system, fitted to the new 607 executive sedan, destroys all of the microscopic fuel particles left over from the combustion process before they leave the exhaust pipe, eliminating the one remaining criticism of diesel cars.
BMW and Mercedes-Benz are proud of their diesel engine technology. BMW produces engines with the world's highest specific power output per liter, gasoline-engine-like refinement and fuel consumption of up to 60 miles per gallon.
Many are convinced, however, that hydrogen is the way forward. It is the most plentiful element on the planet, and burns in air to produce nothing more noxious than steam and a few elements. The trick is to extract hydrogen economically.
At Expo 2000 in Hannover, Germany, next spring, BMW will launch the world's first hydrogen-powered car, a 7-series powered by a V-12 engine.
But Europeans continue to develop the diesel. Peugeot has announced plans to step up production of a new generation of common-rail diesel engines to 2,000 a day at its Tremery plant in France in response to soaring European demand. Tremery, the largest diesel plant in the world, started production of the new engine just one year ago.
In France and Germany, where environmental concerns are often more acute than in the rest of Europe, the environmental efficiency of the new diesel technology is understood and appreciated. That's why their diesel car markets are growing, while others, such as Britain's, continues to decline.
European automakers agree that if we are going to stand any chance of hitting CO2 targets the world committed to at the Kyoto summit, then diesel has to play a major role.