An overview of 2008 diesel cars, and what’s coming after that

Don’t miss our updated overview of 2009 diesel cars!

And don’t miss our updated 2010 diesel cars overview!

As diesel technology gets greener and greener automakers are starting to take notice. In Europe many cars are offered with a diesel power plant as an option, while here in the US we are still using diesel motors primarily in pickups, buses and trucks. As fuel prices rise and environmental concerns grow we are finally starting to see some of the manufacturers take notice.

The following is the rundown of the passenger cars that will be available in the USA in the 2008 model year. A re-occurring theme with many of the manufacturers I contacted seemed to be that while they do plan to offer at least one diesel, it won’t be until later in the year.



Don’t miss our previous post, an introduction to biodiesel.

bluetec

Mercedes Benz

The 2008 E320 BLUETEC Sedan

MSRP $52,675

Acceleration1 0 – 60 in 6.6 seconds.

Fuel economy

EPA estimate 23 mpg

Highway estimate 32 mpg

It seems like Mercedes Benz has always been into Diesels. The fabled W123 chassis diesels, such as the 300D and 300TD regularly break the million mile mark with surprisingly little maintenance. So it’s no surprise the E320 tops most of the reviewer’s lists for diesel Sedans sold in the US. Mercedes claims to be the only luxury sedan sold in the US for 2008 that is diesel equipped; and that’s true for the moment as BWM has not announced their entry into the diesel arena for the year. Since they are the only company that could provide me with detail, we’re going to cover them first.

The E320 uses Mercedes innovative Bluetec system for reducing NO2 emissions and soot which is normally the downside to diesels emissions-wise. Mercedes initially entered into an agreement with BMW, VW and Audi to share the technology in order to increase the diesel passenger car market in the US; BMW, VW, And Audi however have announced they will no longer be working with Mercedes on bluetec.

Mercedes states that their diesel cars are NOT legal for sale in California, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, or Vermont. A limited number will be available for lease in California.

The 2008 E320 BLUETEC does not meet the emissions requirements of California, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, or Vermont and is not available in these states.

In California, a limited number of Model Year 2007 E320 BLUETEC vehicles are available for a limited duration and mileage lease only. No purchase option available. Available only to qualified customers through Mercedes-Benz Financial at participating dealers. Not everyone will qualify. Subject to credit approval and inventory availability. See your authorized Mercedes-Benz dealer for complete details on this offer.

Unfortunately for those looking to run biodiesel you may also have to look elsewhere. The new Mercedes engines are only warrantied to run a maximum of B5 biodiesel. Many people have run higher without problems, but it’s a very expensive car to take a chance with.

Audi

An Audi representative stated that they did not have plans for a diesel equipped auto for the 2008 model year. They did say that there would be an offering in 2009, at least in the Q7 SUV.

BMW

Possibly Several Models

It’s hard to say why car companies do what they do. BMW has maintained that it will be releasing a diesel sedan in the US in 2008; but as of this date they have not so much as specified which vehicles will be available with this option. In Europe every BMW vehicle is available with a diesel motor as an option but these vehicles have not been available in the US. When I contacted BWM their representative stated that they wanted to make sure that any diesel they released would pass emissions standards for all 50 states, and that most likely the 3 and the 5 series BWM’s would be the ones offered with the diesel power plant. They stated that they hoped to have the cars available before mid-year.

The BMW diesels in Europe feature a catalytic converter and particle filter in order to reduce the NO2 emissions and soot. Unfortunately as BMW has not announced their 2008 diesel US lineup there is very little data on what engine (They make a 4, 6, and an 8 cylinder diesel). Therefore no emissions or mileage info.

Cadillac

While Cadillac does not have a diesel powered offering for 2008, they do have one planned for the 2009 CTS.

Chevrolet, Pontiac, Buick.

I spoke with a representative from GM who stated that diesel are mostly used in pickup trucks. She stated that they had no cars in the 2008 lineup that would be diesel equipped. I grew up in a GM household where buying a foreign car, or even a ford, was a right up there with treason and using beans in chili (this was Texas, afterall). I had the opportunity to own one of the diesel equipped autos that GM produced back in the 80’s and I’ve watched over the years GM shoot themselves in the foot by throwing out the baby with the proverbial bathwater.

GM had in 1985 a full sized luxury car (Pontiac,Olds, Buick, and Cadillac) that got anywhere between 26 and 30 miles per gallon out of a diesel v8 motor. These motors had problems, primarily with seals and leaking, but instead of fixing and improving on them they stopped production after a few years. It’s not enough to innovate, you have to follow through and capitalize on your innovations. And once you try something and fail you can’t just throw your hands up and let your competitors pick up the ball and run with it.

Chrysler

While they offer diesel options in several of their trucks and SUV’s, they have no diesel cars in the 2008 lineup.

Ford, Lincoln and Mercury

Not offering any diesel powered vehicles, other than trucks, in 2008. Sadly, Ford offered a diesel powered escort back in the 80’s that got a whopping 52 MPG! One does not have to look far to see why our auto industry is in trouble today.

Honda

A Honda representative stated that they had no information available at this time on a diesel powered Honda car for the US market. But we’ve read elsewhere and even seen a photo of an Accord that is being tested with new clean diesel technology here. 62 miles per gallon, and in the United States by 2010? We’ll see!

Toyota

While there has been a lot of speculation about a Toyota diesel car for 2008, there are none listed for their 2008 lineup.

Nissan

No Nissan diesel cars available for the 2008 model year.

Volkswagen

Volkswagen stated that they plan to offer a diesel version of the Jetta, the Jetta Wagon, and the Toureg some time in mid 2008. They stated that no specifications have been released at this time. Volkswagen until recently offered a diesel, and over the years they had diesel Rabbits, Jettas, Microbuses, and the new Beettle. They proudly proclaim their diesel heritage on their website.

Volvo

I spoke to a Volvo representative that stated that Volvo has no plans to offer a diesel automobile outside of Europe at this time.

So, there you have it. Of all the car manufacturers out there only Mercedes has any solid data on a diesel automobile for release in the United States for 2008. Many of these same manufacturers are offering full diesel lineups in Europe but because of tighter emissions standards here in the states we can’t get most of these cars imported.

Solar powered cars on the horizon?

Flickr photo courtesy of Rodrigo Walker Armijo.

The Christian Science Monitor writes about developments in technology that are bringing us closer to the possibility of solar powered cars!

The ranks of potential buyers for such cars are growing by leaps and bounds, say many car-industry analysts. But don’t look for them on normal streets just yet, they add quickly. Limitations of batteries and solar panels — though lessening — are still issues, among others.

Yet “fringe markets” — such as commuters within small towns, seniors in retirement villages, and users of industry fleets — are in a position to drive the first sales boomlet for such cars, analysts say.

Until then, Titus and other inventor-tinkerer types are offering a peek into the future of transportation in America – well before the major car companies.

“Garage tinkerers like Titus are the tip of an iceberg of innovation demonstrating the direction of the national, global trend,” says Steven Letendre, professor of business, economics, and environment at Green Mountain College in Poultney, Vt., who lectures widely on the future of electric and hybrid cars and solar energy.

In fact, their ideas are increasingly showing up in the mass-market innovations of larger car companies, Letendre and others say. America’s Ford Motor Co., Japan’s Mazda, and Europe’s Venturi Motors have all debuted prototypes at exhibitions with solar panels that boost electricity for internal lighting.

I did a quick search and found that the Solar Bug has a web site with more information about it. Check it out here. I was disappointed to find out that they don’t have any prices listed on the site. It says “Available 2008” on the front page though. This would be a perfect short commute car for taking to work.

Hybrids Still May Not Be Financially Viable.

A recent Wall Street Journal article reported on the economic benefits to be found in buying a hybrid and from the looks of things there really isn’t much of anything.  The article states that:

Americans get a tax break for buying hybrids — the starting amount varies by model — but the more hybrids an auto maker sells, the smaller the tax break becomes on any hybrid models from that maker. After a manufacturer sells its 60,000th hybrid, the tax break starts to phase out

Well, in perfect world we wouldn’t need a government subsidy in the form of a tax break to make it make sense to buy a hybrid; but just in case you live in the same imperfect world I live in every little bit helps.

It seems that although hybrids are marginally more economical to operate due to the increased fuel efficiency; the higher sticker price tends to absorb any savings and then some.   For example:

Toyota’s Prius, which gets a leading 46 mpg combined but no longer qualifies for the tax credit, costs over $7,000 more than the auto maker’s compact Corolla. It would take nearly 18 years to recoup the premium, or more than twice the time you might expect to own it

They go on with a helpful chart that lets us know how equally disadvantaged the other hybrids in the group are. 

If we are going to depend on our government to make up the difference; well I don’t personally think that is the horse we want to bet on.  Now what may be  a more realistic plan is to start requiring better mileage and less emissions to the point that manufacturing has to keep up  to stay in the game but then we wind up with straining our already battered auto industry and inadvertently encourage more people to stick with older more polluting vehicles as they can now no longer afford a new car. 

I think the realist position is that if hybrids are in fact the answer; we aren’t there yet technology-wise.  The general population has proven time and again that in order for something like this to work it has to not put them at a financial disadvantage.  I always hope to be proven wrong on this.

An introduction to Biodiesel

There is no such thing as a biodiesel conversion. Biodiesel Pump

I found that phrase scrawled across the wall of the bathroom of a bohemian college coffee house.  It wasn’t hard to track down the person responsible;  A biodiesel awareness group met there every week and I did a bit of asking around.  Like many people when I heard the word “Biodiesel” I thought of those guys I’d seen on TV who drove around picking up used grease from all the fast food restaurants and dumped it into specially modified cars with all kinds of line heaters and special filters and tanks and all manner of mad scientist add-ons.  Apparently I was mistaken, like most people, and it was time for an education.

The diesel engine was invented in the closing days of the 19th century to replace the steam engine in industrial applications.  They were designed to run of a variety of fuels from coal dust to peanut oil but until recently were primarily run off fossil fuels.  But the combination of rising fuel costs with environmental concerns, political concerns, and the availability of 80’s era diesel powered autos at prices that encourage experimentation has brought about some interesting fuel options.

The three major alternative fuels for consumer diesel engines are:

  • SVO: Standard vegetable oil. Just what it sounds like, you just run off of straight veggie oil like you use to cook with.

  • WVO: This is what most people incorrectly call biodiesel. Basically you take oil straight from a restaurant and filter it.

  • Biodiesel: This is plant based oil, usually soybean oil, which is processed to be used as a direct replacement for petroleum diesel.



SVO and WVO require modifications to be made to the vehicle in before it can reliably be used as a replacement for conventional diesel.  WVO has to be carefully filtered and there are contaminates that can escape filtering and can cause some rather severe damage to rather expensive parts.  In addition it tends to solidify so the fuel lines have to be heated to keep it flowing properly.  All in all it requires more dedication to do it right than most people are willing or able to provide.  It wasn’t for me in any case.

filling

Biodiesel is a different story entirely.  There only four things to keep in mind when switching your vehicle to biodiesel.

  • Biodiesel is a solvent: When you run your first tank full of biodiesel it will go to work dissolving all of the gunk built up in your fuel tank, your fuel lines, and your injectors over the years. While this is a good thing, for the most part, it means that your fuel filters are going to be catching a whole lot of debris the first few tanks. If you don’t know how to change your own filters, this can run into some labor costs, and even if you do your own maintenance it means carrying around a few tools and spare filters.

  • Rubber Lines: The rubber fuel lines used in old cars are susceptible to the same solvent problems that I mentioned above. Over time when exposed to biodiesel they may break down and begin to leak. You can either replace them all, or just keep an eye out for any seepage for a while. My vintage Mercedes has been running on biodiesel for some time now and has never had a problem with the lines. Other people report problems within a few miles. To be safe, perhaps it is best just to replace all the lines.

  • Efficiency: Biodiesel contains less energy than petroleum diesel. That means that you will get slightly worse mileage, and also you may notice a slight drop in power. Since a diesel already gets as much as 40 percent better mileage than a gas motor its not that big of an issue, and honestly; If I was looking for performance I wouldn’t be driving a diesel.

  • Availability: This can be a deal killer for many people. Some cities have multiple outlets where biodiesel is readily available. Some have none.

So checking off the above list, I had no problem with changing filters, lower mileage, loss of performance, or replacing fuel lines.  All that was left was to find the stuff.

price signA quick Google search revealed only one retailer in my city; and it revealed a different decision to make.  Biodiesel is sold in different blends with petroleum diesel.  When you see B20, that means the fuel contains twenty percent bio, and 80 percent petroleum.  With B100, you get all bio and no petroleum.  In reality, most B100 is really B99.9.  A small percentage of petroleum is blended in because our government in their infinite wisdom gives a tax break for petroleum with bio added, but not for just plain bio.  The end result is adding a tiny amount of petroleum to B100 results in a significant savings to the provider.  Most of the sources I consulted recommended starting out with something like B20; Once your system is all cleaned out and you’ve gone through a few filter changes then you switch over to the pure stuff.

Depending on the market for biodiesel in your area your first trip to the biodiesel fuel seller may result in a bit of a culture shock.  While many retailers are simply normal fuel stations (you have to get used to not calling them gas stations) with a  biodiesel pump on the island along side the regular gas pumps, the one in my city bore a closer resemblance to something out of a post apocalyptic action thriller.

DFW Biodiesel

Above ground tanks were scattered about a lot in a predominately industrial area with fuel trucks parked prominently displaying DFW Biodiesel on their tanks.  A small unoccupied booth sat between two functional but antique looking pumps.  Beside the empty booth a lone terminal stood with a credit card slot and a display.  From this out of place looking island of technology you swipe your card, select which pump you wish to use (B20 or B100), and then by following the faded instruction sheet you fuel your vehicle.  I personally found I didn’t really miss the aisles of soda, candy, and cell phone accessories.  In the entire time I have purchased fuel from them I have yet to see anyone working there, and that is ok with me.  There is a certain do it yourself mentality that comes with using biodiesel; it’s certainly not for everyone…not yet anyway.

So, why go with biodiesel?  First of all, the environment.  Biodiesel produces 60 percent less carbon dioxide than regular diesel, It’s non toxic , and best of all it is available most places right now.  At some point I sincerely hope to see the day that we are driving primarily electric vehicles using power produced by solar and wind but that’s not today, it’s not tomorrow, and it is not next year.  Your average working person can’t afford a new electric car but many people can afford an older diesel Mercedes or Volkswagen.  Sometimes you have to take what you can get until you can get what you want.

terminalSecond, biodiesel extends engine life because of its cleaning properties and its superior lubrication properties.  I can tell the difference by the sound my engine makes when I run regular diesel.  It runs much quieter on biodiesel.

Third, I have to admit there is political element.  To me we have a choice of purchasing fuel from countries with a very questionable human rights history, or purchasing our fuel from our own farmers.  While biodiesel will not replace petroleum in its entirety by any means, every drop of biodiesel we use is that much less we have to import with all the nastiness that goes along with it.  I don’t know how much of a difference it makes in the grand scheme of things, but doing something is better than nothing.

You will notice that the above does not include saving money.  You won’t save money by switching to biodiesel.  At the present time in my area it is priced a few cents less than regular diesel.  Given the extra distance I have to drive to get it and the decreased economy I’m not saving any money.  Occasionally depending on the price of oil Biodiesel will actually be a few cents more.  Some things are just worth doing because they are the right thing to do.

PZEV vehicles, and why you probably can’t get one in your state

Flickr photo courtesy of juancnuno.

I’ve been reading up on PZEV vehicles, ever since I saw a local advertisement for one here in Dallas.

What I didn’t realize until now is that you can’t buy PZEV cars in most states!

From the Green Car Advisor at Edmunds.com:

Vehicles with PZEV equipment are specially certified under California rules, which only six states now use. The total will jump to eleven in the next few years as Arizona, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Maryland join the green team.

The EPA doesn’t have a PZEV classification. And it  won’t simply recognize the California certification and let the cars be sold wherever there’s a market for them.

Nope, the Feds insist that if a carmaker wants to sell a vehicle all decked out in PZEV accoutrements, it must re-certify it under federal standards. That’s despite the fact, well worth repeating, that by attaining the California PZEV rating, a manufacturer already has demonstrated that the car is cleaner than anything required by EPA standards.

The Feds do provide one break, though.  Recognizing that a lot of people who live in one state might cross the border to buy in another, the EPA allows car dealers in states that share boundary lines with the “California Rule” states to sell PZEVs if the manufacturers will provide them. That brings to 15 the number of states in which PZEVs can be sold.

It also casts a shadow over the EPA’s insistence that it has to certify the cars itself.

“We try to be practical,” said EPA spokesman John Millett.

So, if you live in Nevada, Arizona or Idaho, for instance, your local Ford dealer can sell you a PZEV-rated Ford Focus, if he has one in stock or can get one from a California dealer.

Volvo spokesman Geno Effler said his company, which markets two PZEV models, even honors the 10-year emissions warranty in the nine states that share borders with the official PZEV states.

But if a dealership in  Kansas, gets its hands on a PZEV, heaven forfend!

There’s that fine of up to $27,000 for selling a California-certified PZEV car in any state that doesn’t use the California rules or doesn’t share borders with those that do.

But that didn’t explain why Subaru is selling one in Texas, until I found this article from the Dallas Morning News.

So why aren’t PZEVs in every showroom? The main reason, as you might guess, is cost. Although Subaru charges $200 for the option, some estimate that it costs as much as $1,500. If Subaru passed on the entire expense, it could hinder sales and slow the automaker’s compliance with ultra-low-emission laws.

Most PZEV builders don’t even offer them outside the hot-air – er, clean-air – states because they don’t want to multiply their losses. Subaru says it’s one of the few manufacturers that make PZEVs available everywhere.

Still, PZEV is one-tenth as expensive as hybrid hardware and technology. And if the cost were spread among a larger number of vehicles, it would probably drop further.

“That’s why test markets like Texas are important to us to see how much demand there is for PZEVs,” said Subaru spokeswoman Lisa Fleming.

So why are they only available in certain states? A columnist from MSN Autos spells it out.

Not only can’t you buy one, but the government says it’s currently illegal for automakers to sell these green cars outside of the special states. Under terms of the Clean Air Act—in the kind of delicious irony only our government can pull off—anyone (dealer, consumer, automaker) involved in an out-of-bounds PZEV sale could be subject to civil fines of up to $27,500. Volvo sent its dealers a memo alerting them to this fact, noting that its greenest S40 and V50 models were only for the special states.

So, just how green is a PZEV machine? Well, if you just cut your lawn with a gas mower, congratulations, you just put out more pollution in one hour than these cars do in 2,000 miles of driving. Grill a single juicy burger, and you’ve cooked up the same hydrocarbon emissions as a three-hour drive in a Ford Focus PZEV. As the California Air Resources Board has noted, the tailpipe emissions of these cars can be cleaner than the outside air in smoggy cities.

That’s amazing stuff. But what’s more amazing is how few people have a clue that the gas-powered, internal combustion engine could ever be this clean.

Naturally, no company wants to bring too much attention to a car that most people can’t buy, unless it’s Ferrari. And there’s the catch. PZEV models are already available from Toyota, Ford, Honda, GM, Subaru, Volvo and VW. They’re scrubbed-up versions of familiar models, from the VW Jettato the Subaru Outback. But chances are, you’ve never heard of them.

So now I’m looking to see if there is a list of PZEV vehicles that are nationally available. Does anyone know if there is such a thing as a nationally available PZEV car, and which makes and models they might be?