Eric Mayne's Blog

The Diesel Diaries (Final Chapter)

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As the kms fly by and the Q7 TDI's range gracefully dwindles, I think of the handful of OEM execs and UAW officials who would be delighted to see me stranded roadside in some boggy hinterland.

Time for a 180.

The mission now is to make a round trip on a single tank of fuel.

Locked in at 80 km/h (50 mph), the gauges show about 450 km (280 mi) of range. Destination: 428 km (266 mi.)

Very tight, considering the home stretch consists of freeway driving at higher speeds. And refueling options are limited.

Solution: Ditch eldest daughter and new son-in-law to save weight.

Observation No.5: On seeing sudden departure of her sister and brother-in-law, youngest daughter discovers new appreciation for CSN and Springsteen.

Four hours later, the low-fuel light illuminates as range shows 120 km (75 mi.) Distance to Point A: 160 km (100 mi).

Because my wife appears uninterested in adventure at this stage, I surrender and make a pit stop in London, ON.

Throughout our trip, I've noticed diesel prices have been running in the range of $1.17 per liter -- about $0.05 cheaper than regular-grade gasolline. So I pull in to the first filling station I see, only to find no diesel pump.

No worries. There's one next-door.

I roll up to the pump, pull the trigger and only then discover the price of diesel is THE SAME as regular.

Clearly, the universe is conspiring against diesel technology in North America.

Diesel engines afford superior fuel economy (not to mention lively performance) at a time when cost of ownership is top of mind with consumers. But diesel fuel remains a wild card, in terms of price and availability.

And the outlook for positive change appears bleak.

In the U.S., the per-gallon price of diesel runs some $0.30 higher than gasoline, largely because low-sulfur requirements implemented in recent years have added to refining costs.

Secondly, "diesel will be the fastest growing global refined product this decade," warns Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst with the New Jersey-based Oil Price Information Service.

"When people talk about rising oil demand in China, for example, they should realize that China uses far more diesel than gasoline," he tells me in an e-mail.

So much for any hope of price moderation.

Against this backdrop, the Obama Admin.'s proposed CAFE rules -- however, well-intentioned -- essentially ignore the benefits of diesel technology. To-wit, Volkswagen's promise to bring regulators to their senses before the measure becomes law.

And CAFE, as we know, does nothing to create market pull, the best available force to inspire change in consumer behavior.

Europe harnessed this power by altering its fuel tax structure. As a resultt, lower prices for diesel fuel generated demand for diesel-powered vehicles, ultimately increasing the efficiency of the market's fleet and trimming consumption.

Could it be any simpler?

Wonder where my daughter and son-in-law are.

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