By Kerry Sanders Correspondent
NBC News
updated 4/14/2004 7:29:02 PM ET 2004-04-14T23:29:02

Lynne Standifird’s car gets 48 miles per gallon on the highway, but she’s not driving one of those new “high-tech” hybrid electrics.  Her car runs on diesel.

Lynne’s previous car was a gasoline-guzzling SUV Suburban, “I pay $1.59 a gallon for fuel, where it would be a $1.99 for gasoline. And I get 48 miles to the gallon with my diesel and I only got 12 miles per gallon with my Suburban.”

Truckers have long known diesel is usually cheaper than gas and gets more miles per gallon.

Twenty years ago, an attempt to popularize diesel cars in the United States failed.  Lynne knows.  She was driving one, “They were very loud... they rumbled.  You could smell the exhaust inside the car.”

Those problems left the impression diesels would never work.  But now some automakers are trying again, with new improved engines.

Daimler-Chrysler is featuring a Mercedes and a Jeep at the New York auto show this week.  Volkswagen already sells five diesel models, with two more to come.  These car makers are betting on diesel rather than hybrid-electric.

“It’s not seen as a sort of like a science experiment kind of a technology, it’s a very real world, long-proven technology,” according to Autoweek magazine’s Roger Hart.

Fueling manufacturers’ confidence is the fact 40 percent of cars in Europe run on diesel.

One problem in the U.S. with diesels is pollution.  Everywhere but California — where they have stricter standards — diesel burns dirtier than gasoline.

But by 2006 the United States government plans to require a cleaner burning diesel nationwide.

Once hard to find, drivers say diesel is now more readily available.  Still, Lynne Standifird occasionally finds herself at a truck stop.

Now, with more efficient engines, diesels may possibly be the shifting gears in what fuels America.

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