Is the day of the European diesel dawning in America? Michael Shields, Special Correspondent, investigates...
President George Bush's call to wean the United States from its addiction to foreign oil may help European automakers market their diesel-powered cars to Americans, but it won't be a quick or easy sell.
Widespread misconceptions of diesels as dirty and loud, regulatory hurdles and diesel engines' extra cost will make it a challenge to pitch the vehicles in the US market, even though their fuel consumption beats petrol engines hands down.
It is that 30 per cent advantage on fuel economy that the Europeans, led by DaimlerChrysler, are counting on to convince Americans they can still afford to drive the big, heavy vehicles they love, even if fuel prices stay high for years.
One battleground will see diesel versus hybrid - the hybrid system combines a standard combustion engine with an electric motor and batteries to cut fuel consumption.
And DaimlerChrysler chief executive Dieter Zetsche has forecast that in five to ten years years diesel-powered vehicles would have a higher US market share than hybrids in private use, giving the Germans a leg up on Japanese rivals who lead on the dual system.
Mr Zetsche estimated that if 30 per cent of the vehicle fleet were powered by diesels, the United States could reduce fuel consumption enough to cut oil imports by the equivalent of what it buys each year from Saudi Arabia.
But diesel's image in the United States lags far behind reality, said Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas.
"The US consumer is very uneducated about diesel. There is still a mindset from the 1970s and 1980s that diesel is dirty, has poor performance, is loud and not reliable," he said.
Bob Lutz, head of product development for General Motors, believes he knows where the criticism started.
"We did some diesel engines about 20 years ago that were an absolute disgrace, and the American public has never forgotten it."
He said the industry was starting to get US customers to accept more diesel engines, but that it needed a change in tax policy so that diesel would not cost more than petrol.
Another problem is meeting tough new standards for nitrogen oxide, a polluting gas that diesels emit more copiously because they run at higher temperatures than petrol engines. Daimler-Chrysler says technology using additives to cut nitrogen oxide emissions will soon let it meet environmental standards in all American states.
The other issue is cost: diesel engines can cost around $2,000 (£1,140) more than a petrol engine, Mr Jonas noted.
Switching from petrol to diesel in Europe typically pays for the extra cost in around 18 months due to the higher price of petrol. It would take more than twice as long in America.