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Old 03-14-2002, 21:14   #1 (permalink)
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Ford unsure about diesel engines for U.S.

Ford unsure about when it will bring diesel engines to U.S. market


By RICHARD TRUETT
Automotive News

Even after emissions hurdles are overcome, Ford Motor Co. won't introduce diesel engines in North American cars and light trucks until they can be sold at a profit, said Nick Scheele, Ford's president of automotive operations.

"We could introduce diesels in North America," Scheele said. "Frankly, we are sitting on the fence. European diesels could find a home in North America, but we want a return on our capital greater than the cost of the capital. We won't invest in diesels until we are sure of a return."

Scheele made the comments during a panel discussion on the role of the diesel engine at the SAE World Congress last week.

Diesels can meet the tough federal Tier 2 emissions regulations. Three auto companies already have demonstrated they can met the standards, said panelist Jeffrey Holmstead, assistant administrator for air and radiation for the EPA. Tier 2 standards begin to take effect in 2004 and call for drastic cuts in oxides of nitrogen, or NOx, and particulate matter, or soot. Holmstead declined to name the companies that have met the standards.

Scheele doesn't think diesels could be sold profitably in cars and light trucks in North America until consumers overcome their outdated perceptions.

Technological improvements such as high-pressure common rail fuel injection and turbocharging have made the diesel a smooth, quiet and better performing engine. In some European countries diesels account for more than half of new-car sales.

Scheele said Ford might use the diesel-powered European Focus sedan to demonstrate to U.S. lawmakers and the public the progress the diesel has made in recent years. The car has a turbocharged 1.8-liter engine that delivers nearly 50 mpg.

Ford's plans for the diesel in North American vehicles may hinge on its ability to produce or source the engine here. Scheele said Ford is considering a plan to build diesels on the same line as gasoline engines in one of its U.S. plants.

Ford recently installed a new engine plant for its global inline four-cylinder in Dearborn, Mich.

Ford could also get a V-6 diesel from International Truck and Engine Corp. for a light truck.

Because diesel engines generally deliver a fuel-economy improvement of 25 percent or greater in fuel economy over gasoline engines, automakers have been considering them for North America. Only Volkswagen sells diesel-powered cars in the U.S. market, and in the light-vehicle market the Big 3 use diesels only in large pickups.

With the tougher EPA emissions regulations on the horizon and with California all but banning the diesel with its own set of regulations that requires diesels to run as cleanly as gasoline engines, automakers have been reluctant to commit to using the engine in North America.

GM says it has no plans for the diesel other than its current application in the heavy-duty Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups. The Chrysler group is considering a market test of the diesel in its Jeep Liberty sport-utility. A decision will be made by the end of the year.
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