TCS Daily


OPEC's Enemy, Our Friend

By Brock Yates - May 7, 2002 12:00 AM

Still fretting about our dependence on imported oil? The profligate use of gas-sucking behemoths clogging our roads as endlessly decried by the nannies at the New York Times and other media magnificos?

Here is a solution. Not a perfect one, but one far superior to fantasies about electric cars, fuel cells and automobiles powered by everything from baking soda to animal flatulence.

We are talking diesels. As in an internal combustion engine that has been around since Rudolf Diesel developed the first one in 1895.

But wait a minute. Isn't that the engine that smokes like a berserk barbeque, smells bad and thumps like a trip-hammer inside the hoods of giant 18-wheelers, bulldozers and cross-town buses? Isn't that the engine that is essentially banned because it spews nasty little soot particles into our atmosphere and is therefore verboten in terms of EPA standards?

Not exactly. The modern diesel now powers over half of the passenger vehicles in Germany, which is not only its place of origin but the home of the nutball Green Movement.

The Germans lead the world in diesel technology and current Volkswagen, BMW and Mercedes-Benz diesel cars are as fast, silent and clean-burning as their gas-powered counterparts plying the autobahns of the Federal Republic.

Better yet, they are 25-50% more fuel efficient than comparable gas engine vehicles,

Worried about foreign oil blackmail? Here is a no-brainer solution to chop million of gallons a day off our petroleum importation.

But there is one major roadblock to this kind of energy independence. Not surprisingly, it is based in Washington, with a west coast ally located in Sacramento, California. Provisions of the Clean Air Act, called Tier II for automobile emissions, come into play in 2004. They impose Draconian rules for Oxides of Nitrogens, called NOx in the trade and particular matter (soot). It will be difficult for any diesel engine to meet these EPA rules. California is a hopeless case, in that its environmental nuts have banned the diesel altogether in passenger cars, regardless of the advanced technology.

Despite these impediments, a number of major car-makers are chugging ahead with diesels. Only Volkswagen currently offers US markets diesel in its new Beetle, Golf and Passat models. But Mercedes-Benz has announced plans to sell a diesel-powered version of its E-class sedan next year and DaimlerChrysler is on the verge of building a diesel-powered Liberty SUV as Ford toys with a diesel Focus compact.

Such vehicles are light years better than the diesel cars of yore. They feature turbocharged engines with advanced, computerized, fuel injection systems that produce silent, smooth operation virtually indiscernible from conventional internal combustion engines.

In order to bring these powerplants to market in serious quantities, American consumers will have to be convinced that they are vastly better than their outdated perceptions and that massive fuel economy savings await them.

The distribution and refining network is in place (as opposed to electrics or hydrogen-based fuel-cells) and the savings are waiting to be bankrolled by the nation.

It will take some revised thinking on the part of the government (although the EPA says modern diesels can be made to conform to the Tier II rules). Whether or not California wakes up, which is doubtful.

Thirty Percent savings. Right now.

Worried about OPEC? Fill up with Diesel.
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