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Inside Politics

'Clean diesel technology' showcased

Group urges lawmakers to back White House plan for tax credits

From Paul Courson

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Proponents of diesel-powered cars drove to Capitol Hill Thursday hoping to distance themselves from a questionable image that the engines and vehicles have had with consumers in the past.

During a fuel price crunch in the 1980s, Oldsmobile tried using a gasoline engine as the basis for a more thrifty diesel design. But the engine suffered a high failure rate, and consumers complained so loudly that General Motors offered a gasoline replacement engine.

Twenty years later, in the grips of another fuel price crunch, supporters of diesel technology hope consumers will consider developments in diesel engines for cars, minivans and sport utility vehicles.

"These engines are designed from the ground up" for diesel, said Allen Schaeffer, the head of the Diesel Technology Forum, noting the fuel is still the economical choice for long-haul trucks and heavy industrial equipment.

Allowing reporters to test-drive cars that ranged from a Jeep wagon to a Mercedes sedan, Schaeffer said the attraction is that "we don't see any exhaust emissions coming out the tailpipe, and we have a very quick start off the line."

None of the vehicles had the telltale dirty rear panel -- soiled with an oily, sooty film from diesel exhaust -- yet all had the characteristic rattling sound of a diesel engine.

"If you put a diesel beside a gasoline, it's really not that much difference," Schaeffer said. "The consumer is only going to notice the difference where it counts -- and that's at the pump. They're going to be spending less on fuel, about 30 percent less, with a diesel as compared to a gasoline model."

The group hopes to persuade congressional lawmakers to support White House plans for tax incentives to encourage people to buy diesel-powered vehicles.

President Bush told a business group Wednesday that anti-pollution measures for diesel "will remove more than 90 percent of the sulfur in diesel fuel by 2010."

The president called for expanding his existing tax credit proposal, which currently applies to hybrid and fuel-cell vehicles, to include those using new clean diesel technology.

"Clean diesel technology will allow consumers to travel much farther on each gallon of fuel, without the smoke and pollution of past diesel engines," he said.

While typical gasoline engines ignite fuel using spark plugs, diesel engines -- patented in 1893 by German engineer Rudolf Diesel -- do so with compression, according to the forum.

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