AAA last week put clean diesel engines on its list of the top new vehicle technologies designed to increase performance, reduce environmental impacts and improve safety. While they're referring to passenger cars, this is good news for trucking's image, as well.

AAA said in its announcement, "While diesel engines have been around for decades, the days of smelly, noisy, smoke-belching and rough-running diesels are gone. Modern diesel engines are clean, quiet, refined and powerful. They also are economical, often providing a 30 percent boost in fuel economy with a corresponding decline in carbon dioxide emissions compared to gasoline engines offering comparable performance. Some top performers in this area include Volkswagen models with TDI diesel engines, and Mercedes-Benz vehicles with BlueTEC diesel power plants."

Allen Schaeffer, executive director of the Diesel Technology Forum, a nonprofit association that represents diesel engine, vehicle and equipment manufacturers and fuel refiners, praised the move: "AAA is a respected authority for motorists and they recognize the many diverse needs of drivers in every part of the country. That clean diesel was included on this list of innovative technologies highlights how clean diesel fits the needs of today's and tomorrow's drivers. New ddiesel automobiles are extremely fuel efficient, typically getting 20 to 40 percent more miles to the gallon than a comparable gasoline engine.

He pointed out that a recently released Carnegie Mellon Tepper School of Business study highlighted that despite the slightly higher purchase price associated with diesel-engine vehicles, they are a better value compared to vehicles with gasoline engines because of their lower operating costs and higher resale value over time.

Schaeffer said the U.S. auto market provides "huge potential" for increased diesel auto sales. While almost 50 percent of all new autos sold in Europe are diesel-powered, slightly more than 3.3 percent of U.S. cars, lights trucks and vans in operation are diesels, according to R.L. Polk and Company 2011.

"However, the new clean diesel engines and technology is getting the attention of the American public and diesel sales are beginning to increase in the U.S. by impressive numbers. Sales of clean diesel cars increased by 37 percent in 2010, while hybrid sales fell about 6 percent in the same period. Month over month sales of all clean diesel cars was up 14 percent in December over November 2009, and 18.6 percent over December 2009. The new February 2011 diesel sales statistics reflect this continued increase in U.S. sales.

"With this growing interest in diesel cars and trucks, petroleum refiners and marketers are responding by making clean diesel fuel more accessible than ever before, with now more than half of all service stations having diesel fuel available, up from only 42 percent just five years ago. Coupled with the ability to also use bio and renewable diesel fuels, consumers are finding diesel power an easier technology of choice."

He also points out that because of clean diesel's efficiency advantage over gasoline engines, an increase in diesel car usage would help reduce America's petroleum consumption. According to officials at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, America could save up to 1.4 million barrels of oil per day - an amount equivalent to the oil we currently import from Saudi Arabia - if a third of U.S. cars, pickups and SUVs were diesel-powered.