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driving it home

Mercedes-Benz E500 diesel

Diesel is fuelling a whopping 2.9 per cent of all the passenger vehicles on the road in Canada. Gasoline fuels 92.7 per cent of what's being driven by Canadians. Gasoline-electric hybrids? A measly 0.3 per cent, according to DesRosiers Automotive Consultants.

Diesel groupies should not be discouraged by the numbers, though. Dennis DesRosiers notes in his latest "Observations" that a flood of new diesel-powered vehicles is coming between now and 2016. Here's a sampling of what that means: during a recent trip to Quebec in a Mercedes-Benz E350 BlueTEC, DesRosiers say he averaged of 6.2 L/100 KM.

"Equally as impressive were the things it didn't do: smell bad, start hard or comport itself like anything other than the world-beating, kilometre-crushing torque monster it so clearly is," notes DesRosiers.

So what's coming? Audi, says DesRosiers, has pledged to offer a diesel option in every model by 2015.

"Rumblings have emerged from Mercedes-Benz regarding four-cylinder diesels being made available in its C- and GLK-Classes," he adds. "These will join six-cylinder models like the above-mentioned E350 BlueTEC (and a rumoured E-Class diesel hybrid) to increase M-B's CAFE rating."

Chevrolet has said it will offer a diesel version of the Cruze next year, Volkswagen already sells many models with the TDI diesel, and Mazda has promised to sell diesel vehicles in 2013.

The challenge for car makers is to offer affordable diesels that meet tough and gasoline-centric Tier 2 emissions standards.

"The nature of the diesel combustion cycle (lean burn, ultra-high compression ratio) lends itself to greenhouse gas reductions," notes DesRosiers. "The flip side of this is that diesels emit greater proportions of nitrous oxide and particulate matter than gasoline engines."

To clean up larger diesel engines, car makers add costly exhaust filters and urea injection systems. The added weight, maintenance and complexity of vehicles with these technologies are huge hurdles to overcome – though not insurmountable.

As DesRosiers points out, staggered emissions standards in Europe allow fuel-efficient diesels to compete effectively with gasoline-powered cars and even hybrids. The point is, if Europe and North America were to harmonize their fuel economy and emissions rules, everything sold over the pond would, at least from an emissions standpoint, be available for sale here.

That makes perfect sense. So why haven't politicians in Europe and North American harmonized standards? The cynic would say doing say makes too much sense. They are politicians, after all.

Ask your local MP.