The European automotive market may seem to have almost nothing to do with trucking here in the U.S., but if your business relies on continued access to reliable, fuel-efficient trucks, Europe's carmakers are your new best friends.
Two different research studies have recently identified particulates in diesel engine emissions as health risks and contributors to global warming. Some have raised questions about the validity of the studies, but when it comes to emotional issues like clean air, those questions are likely to be swept aside by the reaction of the general public.
We've already begun to hear calls for outright bans on the diesel engine from environmental groups. After all, what does the mass of car buyers have to lose with such a ban since only 1% of light vehicles sold in the U.S. are powered by diesel engines?
Across the Atlantic, however, diesel is far more than a generic name for big trucks. Some 40% of all cars on European roads are powered by diesel engines, which makes it highly unlikely that the public would tolerate any type of ban or even restriction.
Instead, the focus for the European auto makers is to clean up diesel emissions with new technology that promises to remove as much as 99.9% of the particulates. In fact, one company says its particulate filter for light-duty diesel engines results in exhaust that's even cleaner than the ambient air in most cities.
European drivers love their diesels for one reason — they're much cheaper to run since they're far more fuel efficient than gasoline engines and governments have encouraged the use of the more efficient engines with much lower taxes on diesel fuel. And that encouragement is only getting stronger. The European Union is currently at work on a vehicle tax based on carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, which is understood to be the major contributor to global warming. Diesels, by the very nature of their relatively high efficiency, are quite low in CO2 emissions. In England, which already has a CO2 tax, drivers can save thousands on registration fees by choosing a diesel engine.
With a huge mass market for diesels, equipment makers are working hard to reduce objectionable emissions from those engines. Stringent particulate and NOx requirements take effect in 2005 across Europe, and it appears that the industry will have a number of technologies ready to meet them, including technologies for heavy-duty trucks.
In large part, those efforts are being helped by the promise of a mass market for low-sulfur diesel, a market that makes it economically attractive to refine and distribute what would be a limited-market fuel here in the U.S.
Europe's love of diesel cars has one major benefit for America's trucking industry — it will foster a new general image of diesel as a clean fuel that's a better environmental choice than gasoline. Such an image, combined with the new technologies generated by mass-market interest, can only help ensure that fleets here will continue to have efficient, cost-effective power to run their businesses.
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