2008: a year of decision for us all

BMW335d. The above photo is from CNET"s gallery of diesel cars at the Detroit Auto Show.


BMW335d. The above photo is from CNET"s gallery of diesel cars at the Detroit Auto Show. Click here to see whole line-up.

It was the greenest auto show ever in that brown town of Detroit. According to Auto Alliance we have here at the Detroit motor show: 34 flex fuel vehicles from 8 manufacturers, 1 hydrogen vehicle from BMW, 24 hybrids from 9 manufacturers, 10 diesels from 4 manufacturers. The Auto Channel folks then go on to discuss many of these new cars. How these fare in the American market in 2008 could determine how quickly the country gets to that 35 MPG mandate now set for 2020. Could consumer choice actually lead to more fuel efficiency than the government regs require? It can happen. I lived through a serious drought in Calfornia years ago and the water agencies asked for a 25% reduction in water use. Folks responded with many water-saving ideas and actions, cutting water use far more than they had been asked to. I think the average American driver is past ready to save on fuel, if only because of the relatively higher cost.

I know there's going to be a national election, and once again you have to decide whom to back in the World Series, and there'll be an Olympics somewhere that'll require at least temporary focus. But one of the more crucial decisions we Americans will make this year: the fate of new diesel tech in our autos. Biodiesel use is increasing elsewhere and newer diesel tech is far more efficient than gasoline. Will the U.S. go diesel along with much of Europe? Save money on fuel and maintenance? Or will we hang back and guzzle more gasoline than ever?

Last summer I got to interview the head of the Diesel Technology Forum. Watching the Detroit Auto Show, Executive Director Allen Schaeffer had this comment, "In Detroit, January usually means gray skies. But this January the predominant color is green, since the 2008 North American International Auto Show was seeking to answer the big question 'Which shades of green auto technology are going to be ‘in style’ for the future?'

"We saw that clean diesel is near the front of the pack. This year, twelve auto manufacturers will make at least thirteen firm diesel model introductions and announcements, along with unveiling four future diesel concepts, in half a dozen market segments.

"[I saw] nearly twenty diesel vehicles on display at the Detroit auto show -- not too shabby for a 100-year-old technology. It’s easy to see why diesel embodies the true meaning of the color green: cleaning up the emissions has brought diesel into harmony with the environment. Harmony means an effective balance of competing attributes: fuel efficiency, low emissions, performance, outstanding driving experience, and value for investment. By eliminating all the things consumers never liked about diesel (slow, smelly and smoky) and replacing those with things they will like (fast, clean and fun), diesel is a fresh alternative for the future.

"Diesel is also green because it saves greenbacks in the long run – it pays you back over time in higher resale values, less fuel consumption and greater performance."

Here are the manufacturers bringing diesel cars into US market: Audi, BMW, Chrysler, GM, Honda, Kia, Land Rover, Mercedes Benz, Mitsubishi, Saturn, Subaru, Toyota and Volkswagen. Should be something there in almost any price range for new car buyers. Most diesels will cost more green in the beginning than a comparable gas hawg, but you save the green over time and you're greener in your daily transportation as well. It remains to be seen how much green you can mix with the red, white and blue.