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Is U.S. auto market, with its F-150, Chevy Silverado, diesel's safe haven?

Eric D. Lawrence, Detroit Free Press on

Published in Automotive News

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, "diesel-powered vehicles and equipment account for nearly half of all nitrogen oxides and more than two-thirds of all particulate matter emissions from U.S. transportation sources." The organization says particulate matter is an irritant, which can contribute to premature death.

The emissions scandal undercut much of the work that went into improving the image of the technology.

"Diesel was always kind of a dirty word, and they worked really hard to clean it up," Lindland said, noting that for VW, especially, the scandal damaged the company's competitive advantage.

"The word diesel (connotes) pollution, fair or unfair," Lindland said.

That belief is hitting diesel as well as gas both in Europe and in other key markets, such as China, where the push is on to boost electric vehicle adoption.

Mike Fiske, senior analyst for global powertrain for IHS, said during a presentation last year that the firm's analysts predict the end for diesel in Europe could come as early as 2035.

But he said that "diesel for America isn't going away."

Diesel certainly has its defenders.

Allen Schaeffer, executive director of the Diesel Technology Forum, a trade group, said diesel remains a viable technology for the same reasons it was before the VW scandal broke.

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"It provides consumers a proven fuel-efficient choice that doesn't force them to sacrifice vehicle type or performance. The greatest number of new market entrants are in the larger vehicle space -- medium- and full-size pickups and crossovers and SUVs. This makes sense because the larger vehicles are ones where the fuel efficiency opportunity for diesels is the greatest. It is also encouraging since these are the fastest-growing segments for vehicle sales as compared to cars," he said in response to a Free Press inquiry.

But diesel is certainly under stress, both from the change in attitudes and in advances in vehicle electrification. Lindland suggested, for instance, that if Tesla is successful in launching its electric semi, diesel's days are truly numbered.

In addition, a court case being watched this week in Germany could have serious implications for diesel's future in Europe. Reuters reports that Germany's federal administrative court -- "the court of last resort for such matters" -- will rule on whether cities in the country can ban what are considered heavily polluting cars.

The news service also noted that "Paris, Madrid, Mexico City and Athens have said they plan to ban diesel vehicles from city centers by 2025, while the mayor of Copenhagen wants to ban new diesel cars from entering the city as soon as next year. France and Britain will ban new petrol and diesel cars by 2040 in a shift to electric vehicles."

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