Back in the 1970s and 1980s, General Motors pretty well killed off any hope of Americans buying diesel-powered cars by releasing on to an unwitting public a series of noisy, smelly, black-smoke-belching, "exploding" monsters in cars such as the Oldsmobile. It was the perfect way to kill interest in the high-mileage technology while Europeans were turning to clean, reliable diesel cars in ever-greater numbers.
Now The General has suddenly changed its tune. GM vice-chairman Tom Stephens says the auto maker is planning to develop diesel-powered sedans for the North American market, although they are likely several years away.
Modern diesels are sophisticated machines that don't smoke or clatter but they cost $3,000-to-$4,000 more with all the add-on technology needed to make them acceptable to clean-air regulators. However, they deliver excellent fuel economy especially in highway driving. So far, German manufacturers have pretty well owned the diesel space, but with much higher fuel economy standards being mandated by governments for 2016, manufacturers like GM and Mazda are scrambling to get aboard.
Politics of ethanol
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has taken forever to decide whether to increase the ethanol content allowed in gasoline blends from 10 per cent (E10) to 15 per cent (E15). It hinted it will limit the use of E15 to vehicles made more recently than 2001 or perhaps even 2007. That has sent the ethanol industry into a spin and it has countered with another "scientific" study as decision day draws closer.
The Renewable Fuels Association commissioned a study by the automotive engineering firm Ricardo, Inc. It looked at vehicles going back to 1994 and concluded, perhaps not surprisingly, that E15 "should not adversely affect properly engineered vehicles nor should it cause them to perform in a sub-optimal manner when compared to their performance using E10 blends."
The idea that only the newest of vehicles would be approved for E15 caused a panic among both ethanol producers and service stations owners who wondered just how many different pumps they would need for all the different blends of ethanol and feared the confusion and wrath of motorists who filled up at the wrong one.
The industry's over-riding political argument seems centred on "national security" as ethanol producers ask voters where they want their dollars to go - to American farmers or oil dictators.
Politics more than science seems to be deciding this one.
Leaf Sold Out
Nissan reports that it has reached its goal of 20,000 U.S. pre-orders for the Leaf EV and has stopped taking new reservations. They should reopen next year after the first batch of all-electric cars hit the streets.
Meanwhile, Nissan has offered some protection for potential purchasers who fear they may be left stranded at the roadside if the battery - the one and only source of power in a Leaf - goes dead.
In Japan, they're selling a roadside protection plan for about 20 bucks a month that gives the driver a free tow truck ride to the nearest dealer if the juice runs out. Expect that "range anxiety" security blanket to be offered in the United States, too. We still don't know when the Leaf comes to Canada.
Electric Mini left this driver drained