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The Evolution of Diesel

The Past

  • In response to the 1970s OPEC crisis, GM hastily rolls out diesel engines.

  • Badly engineered diesel technology produces a horrid stench and a lot of noise.

  • Nitrogen-oxide (NOx) emissions cause dense smog in major cities.

  • Diesels get better mileage (25 mpg) but have low horsepower and feel puny.

The Present

  • Modern diesel engines achieve up to 40% better fuel efficiency than gas, with 20% lower CO2 emissions.

  • Mercedes's BlueTec technology—together with modern, low-sulfur diesel—removes virtually all smog-producing emissions.

  • High performance: 388 foot-pounds of torque take the E320 Benz, for example, from zero to 60 in 6.6 seconds.

  • "Diesel smell" is gone, and engines are quieter than gas-powered counterparts.

The Future

  • Biodiesel engines burn renewable fuel grown domestically, yet produce a stunning 800 hp.

  • Hydrogen-injection system cuts biodiesel use by 50%, doubling already killer mpgs.

  • Electric-hybrid technology brings fuel consumption still lower.

  • End result: an SUV-class vehicle that gets well over 100 mpg and pushes C02 emissions down 95% or even more.

A version of this article appeared in the November 2007 issue of Fast Company magazine.