TCS Daily

Devoted to Diesel

By Brock Yates - November 1, 2002 12:00 AM

Wait a minute, let me get this straight: Dr. Alan Lloyd embraces diesel engines? Not the same Dr. Alan Lloyd who chairs the California Air Resources Board; the Savaranola who thinks the internal combustion engine is a Satanic device designed to destroy humanity? What next, Fidel Castro joins the Wall Street Journal editorial board? Osama Bin Ladin becomes a Chippendale?

You may recall that Dr. Lloyd has been the environmental tough guy who has demanded that at least 10 percent of all passenger vehicles in the Golden State produce zero exhaust emissions in the name of smog reduction and the battle against global warming.

But now, in an amazing epiphany, Dr. Lloyd has decided that the once-despised diesel has potential both in terms of saving fossil fuels (and therefore, cleaning up the atmosphere) and getting him off the hook with his zero-emissions mandate.

This zero-tolerance gig was a knotty problem, in that electric vehicles are a bad joke because (1) they are overweight, underpowered and impractical and (2) demand even more electricity from California's already famished power grid than normal gas-powered vehicles. Hybrid gas-electrics have limited potential due to cost and power potential while the much vaunted, egregiously expensive fuel cell is perhaps 10 years away, if ever.

What made the situation double trouble for Dr. Lloyd and the CARB crew was the fact that better than one-third of all German passenger cars are diesel powered, with more on the way. Recall that Germany is the father of the Green Movement, which begs the question, if the nutball Greenies from Bavaria will embrace diesels, why not their counterparts from the Left Coast?

The fact is BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen are manufacturing state-of-the-art diesels in Germany. Smooth, powerful, and clean burning; they are the antithesis of the traditional smoky, tooth-jarring, pollutant-spewing oil-burners of yore.

Of course now that California had knotted itself in a mass of anti-pollution regulations, with more on the way, opening the door to diesels will take time and artful political jockeying by Dr. Lloyd. He has already infuriated the Greenies around the state over his embracing the diesel, despite the obvious fact that a diesel engine will consume about 20% less fuel than its gasoline counterpart. New anti-smog rules are set to become effective in 2004 and 2007, aimed at reducing carbon-dioxide emissions that are believed to contribute to global warming (presuming of course, that the new trendiness in meteorology that now divines a new ice age doesn't take precedent). Diesels will help that cause instantly and easily.

The major automakers are headed to court to fight those draconian new rules and the legal wrangling over whether CARB is out of its league in overriding Federal emission safe guards is bound to make legions of lawyers rich and the public ever more confused about the issue.

But the basic fact is this: Diesels make sense for passenger cars. To make them truly effective, new low-sulfur fuels of the kind used in Europe must be available. They are expected to reach the market by 2006, which will in the meantime give the manufacturers three years to solve the remaining problem of meeting new California standards requiring a 77 percent reduction in Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) emissions and an 88 percent cut in particulates (soot) that come from diesel exhaust.

There is little question that if CARB opens the door to diesels that the industry will respond to the new rules. Up to now the rigid hatred of diesels by the CARB board had discouraged any research by the automakers. Now, with Mr. Lloyd's new policy, one can expect a full-tilt effort by the industry to develop new, advanced diesels.

Ford Motor Company is already demonstrating a low emission diesel Focus compact and Volkswagen, the only company now offering a diesel-powered passenger car in the U.S., is leading a charge to improve their products, as is BMW, and Mercedes-Benz, which until recently offered excellent diesel-powered sedans and wagons in this market.

Twenty percent reduction in fuel consumption. With it comes a similar cut in emissions and dependence on foreign oil, These are instant benefits offered by the diesel engine. Congratulations to Dr. Lloyd. Now if the environmental fanatics in California (where 20% of all domestic motor vehicles are sold) will employ some good sense and pragmatism, perhaps we as a nation can begin to make some advances toward a more efficient transportation mix, as opposed to the chimerical, pie-in-the sky solutions being bandied about by those who understand little or nothing about automotive realities.



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