Your next car could run on diesel

In the U.S., diesel fuel is often viewed as industrial: a dirty, smelly fuel used mostly in large vehicles like trucks and buses, or to power locomotives, construction and agricultural equipment and emergency generators.

But according to a new report by the Fuels Institute, a think tank founded by the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS), diesel-powered vehicles will start muscling market away share from gasoline vehicles over the next decade.

And in a recent Fuels Institute poll of over 2,000 people, 41 percent said they were very likely or somewhat likely to consider buying a diesel-powered vehicle within the next three years, compared to 31 percent of respondents a year earlier.

On the flip side, the number of consumers who said they were "not at all likely to consider a diesel vehicle" dropped significantly, from 41 percent to 25 percent.

"It is clear that forecasts support a bright future and consumer views of diesel are improving," John Eichberger, the Fuels Institute's executive director, said in a statement.

Diesel is petroleum distillate that that's oilier than gasoline and, in fact, is closely related to heating oil. It also delivers better fuel economy than gasoline, with diesel engines about one-third more fuel-efficient than similar gas engines, according to the Department of Energy (DOE).

Traditional diesel was also high in sulfur, which is harmful to both harmful to humans and the environment. But the development of ultra-low sulfur diesel (ULSD), which cut diesel's sulfur content by 97 percent, as well as government regulations requiring its use in many vehicles have contributed to cleaning up both diesel and its reputation.

And more automakers are coming out with attractive diesel-powered models. In addition to Volkswagen (VLKAY), which has done very well its diesel versions of the Jetta and Passat, now others such as BMW, Mercedes and General Motors (GM) all offer cars that run on diesel fuel.

While BMW and Mercedes are targeting higher-end buyers, GM is aiming for a different crowd with Chevy's diesel Cruze compact. And of course, all of the Detroit Three offer several models of diesel-powered pickup trucks.

Ten years ago, diesel prices were often below the average price of regular gas at the pump. The DOE says since 2004, rising international demand for diesel -- as well as higher excise taxes -- has made it more expensive in the U.S. But diesel prices in the U.S. are expected to peak next year, thanks in part to more fuel-efficient vehicles and the rising use of natural gas to power heavy trucks.

NACS also notes that, while prices for diesel fuel were on average 11.6 percent higher than gasoline, diesel has about 15.5 percent more "energy content" than a standard E10 gasoline, which means "diesel delivers more energy per consumer fuel dollar which could translate into more miles per dollar spent."

The number of U.S. gas stations carrying diesel fuel is also expected to increase.

Back in July Edmunds.com reported that U.S. sales of clean-diesel vehicles were up 25 percent during the first half of 2014, compared to that same time period a year earlier.

"Sustained and mostly double-digit increases in sales each month over a four-year period prove that U.S. consumers are embracing the benefits of clean diesel technology and its proven, high fuel efficiency, great driving performance, and long-term value," Allen Schaeffer, executive director of the Diesel Technology Forum, told the website.

As Eichberger of the Fuels Institute put it, diesel's future "will rest on the ability of the auto and fuel retailing industries to educate consumer segments about the overall economic impact of diesel on their budgets."