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Diesel is cleaning up its act; will you?
Posted March 24, 2006

This past weekend a truly historical event in sports history took place. The only problem is almost no mainstream media outlets gave it even a cursory mention and, frankly, I’m not surprised.

In case you’re still wondering what sporting milestone I’m yammering about (And trust me, I know you are.), I’ll tell you: Last Saturday, Audi won the 12 Hours of Sebring sports car race in Florida with a diesel-powered racecar. Yes, you read right: Diesel-powered racecar.

But Tom, you squeal, diesels are slow, loud, smoky and stinky. Well yes, children, the diesel engines found in most big rigs, farm tractors, buses, bulldozers and curmudgeonly college newspaper editorial directors’ vintage Mercedes-Benzes are all of those things. But thanks to modern fuel injection, computer and emissions control technology, the Audi R10 that won Sebring was the quietest car in the field, didn’t smoke, didn’t stink and, oh yeah, hauled severe ass. Of course, that last one is no surprise since it has more than 650 horsepower and enough torque (811+ foot-pounds, to be exact) to tow the second and third place finishers without breaking a sweat.

So why, exactly, didn’t the American press jump on this remarkable feat like Tom Cruise on furniture? Well, I hate to break it to you, kids, but it’s pretty obvious that, at least in terms of automotive technology, the fourth estate really does have an agenda.

In fact, I’d be willing to bet a sizable mountain of cash that if Toyota or Honda had brought a gas-electric hybrid number to the same race, it would have caused at least a minor feeding frenzy, even if it had qualified last and blown up on the pace lap. I think it’s pretty safe to assume that the media and 99.999 percent of American citizens, automotively ignorant in equal measure, have drank the hybrid Kool Aid, despite hybrids’ unproven reliability and decidedly under-achieving fuel economy.

Adding more fuel to the fires of misconception and prejudice is the smear campaign headed by the Union of Concerned Scientists, the posse of oft foaming-at-the-mouth environmental watchdogs that has repeatedly gone on record as saying that diesel engines will never, ever be as clean as their gasoline cousins and as a result should be banned worldwide. Period. That argument doesn’t seem very credible when you consider that DaimlerChrysler and who knows how many other automakers will, in the next couple of years, start offering diesel cars and trucks that meet even the California Air Resource Board’s obscenely strict emissions standards. Then consider that science, by its very nature, seems to be changing and evolving faster than textbook companies can roll out their so-overpriced-it-should-warrant-congressional-hearings “updated” editions. Suddenly these folks don’t seem very concerned with science. Maybe they should just change their name to Union of Biased and Clueless Egomaniacs. Sure, it doesn’t roll off the tongue, but at least it’d be more accurate.

For those of you that haven’t stopped reading by now, you’re probably thinking I could write a book on all this. Well, maybe someday I will. But in the meantime, I just want to make people stop and realize that maybe, just maybe, they’re not as open minded as they’d like to believe. And when it comes to finding ways to curb our “oil addiction” without having to give up performance, space and style, any mind that isn’t open is worthless.

Tom Anderson, a junior journalism major, is editorial director of the Campus Times. He can be reached by e-mail at