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Drivers of SUVs saving big money with diesel engines

(ARA) - Half of all American vacationers on the road this year are driving gas guzzling SUVs and pickup trucks, according to a new survey on driving habits from research firm MarketFacts. These bigger vehicles burn high amounts of fuel, which not only puts a dent in drivers' wallets, but also increases the country's dependence on foreign oil. Ironically, the MarketFacts study shows that fuel economy is an important issue for SUV and pickup drivers.

According to automotive experts, standard gasoline engines can't efficiently handle the weight of the larger -- and very popular -- SUVs and pickup trucks. There is an alternative, however, for drivers of big vehicles to consider: diesel engines.

Diesel engines like the Power Stroke Diesel in Ford F-Series Super Duty pickups are specifically made to provide better mileage -- 30 percent in most cases -- and have more pulling power than gas engines, which is why they are especially popular among those hauling camping gear or towing boats, RVs and horse trailers.

"People love big trucks for a lot of great reasons, but running a gas engine in them is like trying to heat a hotel with a small home furnace. You're going to burn way too much fuel and you still won't get the power you really need," said Patrick Charbonneau, chief technical officer, Engine Group, International Truck and Engine Corporation. "Diesel engines produce more power than gasoline engines because diesel fuel itself has more energy. And today's diesel engines are electronically controlled to boost performance and fuel efficiency."

However, the study found that despite diesel's known benefits, many Americans are resistant because they still have a negative perception of these engines, recalling the noisy and odorous diesel engines of the '70s. Industry experts dispel these myths saying today's diesel engines are greatly improved -- running quietly and not producing odors or smoke.

Major automakers in the United States have taken an interest in diesel power predominantly because of the success of diesels in Europe. "Over 30 percent of the passenger cars in Europe are now diesel, and the main reason is fuel economy," said Charbonneau. "The Big Three know fuel economy is keenly important here in North America."

Currently in the United States, diesel engines are an option over the standard gasoline engines, adding a few thousand dollars to the cost of a new vehicle. Although buying a diesel engine is a higher monetary investment initially, automakers say diesel engines make up this cost difference within just three years from fuel savings alone. Diesel engines also add greater resale value to pickups and SUVs due to their longevity.

Industry insiders believe that in 20 years, 30 percent of the passenger cars, sport utilities and pickups in America will use diesel engines because of fuel efficiency and near zero emissions capabilities. According to the Department of Energy, if diesels reach even a percent of their potential penetration by 2020, the country could conserve as much as 700,000 barrels of fuel per day -- half the energy used daily by the state of California.

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