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The Axis of Diesel

Mercedes, GM and even Honda, are betting on a new breed of green diesels. The goal? To leave hybrids in the dust.

Published: 06-Oct-2006

As night fell over the 24 Hours of LeMans this summer, spectators at France's prestigious endurance race detected a pattern. While competitors entered the pits to refuel, a sleek pair of Audi R10s kept stealing laps around the 13.7-kilometer track. Already the fastest cars on the course, and eerily quiet thanks to a unique emissions filter, the Audis were also proving the most fuel-efficient. When the checkered flag flew, the Audi had made history as the first diesel car to win a major international race.

Diesel isn't just changing LeMans. Thanks to technological breakthroughs, at least six automakers - starting with Mercedes on Oct. 16, Jeep in early 2007, and eventually even hybrid pioneer Honda - will be launching a fleet of New Age diesels. They promise to boost fuel economy by 25% to 40%, with huge torque and turbochargers to deliver the power American drivers crave.

Though initial models won't pass air-quality standards in five states (California and New York among them), Mercedes has announced three 2008 SUVs that will achieve 50-state standards. Honda (Charts), VW, and GM (Charts) are close behind. How big is the market? J.D. Power estimates that diesel sales will triple to 9% of the U.S. market by 2013, compared with a projected hybrid share of 5%.

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