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Diesel Cars Making a Comeback

Drivers looking for alternatives to high gasoline prices are increasingly turning their attention to hybrids and so-called "smart cars". But as VOA's Mil Arcega reports some are taking a look back at older technologies and finding a new generation of cleaner, more efficient diesel cars.

Thirty years ago they were the noisy, smelly alternative to the fuel crisis of the 1970s. But with gasoline prices once again hitting new highs, auto engineers, such as Don Hillebrand, are hard at work -- cleaning up the diesel engine's dirty reputation.

"Literally, they're 98 percent cleaner. I mean, what used to be a bucket of emissions is now a drop," says Hillebrand.

The selling point was fuel efficiency for new car owner Chris Hynes. "The car is paying for itself. I believe the money I am saving in the fuel is going toward the payments for the car."

Hynes says he now spends $200 less per month and gets 30 extra miles per gallon since trading in his gas-powered pick-up truck. Diesel's fuel economy is about 30 percent better than gasoline-powered vehicles.

At a Volkswagen dealership in Chicago, Chris Willuweit says demand has tripled. "Anybody and everybody is looking at diesels now," says the salesman.

Auto analyst Anthony Pratt at JD Power & Associates says that's one reason why automakers have shifted diesel car production into high gear. "Currently, diesel penetration in the U.S. is right around three and a half percent. We anticipate that demand to increase to approximately 12 percent by 2015."

But some environmental groups question the future of diesel power. Brendan Bell of the Sierra Club calls it a waste of time and money. "Do we invest in a new generation technology, which is hybrid technology, or do we look backwards and go to diesel vehicles?" he asks.

Despite recent improvements, the new diesel engines still don't meet emission standards in five U.S. states, including California and New York. But automakers say they expect to reach full compliance by the end of the decade.