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Blowing Sunshine

Looking for the few good pieces of car world news that are floating around

By Novella Carpenter

Like many of you, I stayed up all night watching the election returns. Dan Rather's brilliant turns of phrase--"His lead is thinner than turnip soup" and "Are your fingernails sweating yet?"--are sure testament to the anchorman's study of euphemisms that denote a close presidential race. And close it was, but with Kerry conceding on Wednesday, it was all over. For progressives like myself, I contemplated my future: Mexico. No, no, that wouldn't help. So then I thought: France. But my sister's husband, a Frenchman, pointed out that it doesn't matter where you go. Everyone who lives on planet Earth will be affected by the Bush presidency--that, really, there is no escape.

The only answer then is to stay and fight for what you believe in and look for the few good pieces of news that are floating around. Since I'm a car columnist, I thought I'd look at a few good things that are going on in the car world.

For me, the big thing to look forward to is the arrival of low-sulfur diesel in the United States in 2006. It is well known that diesel engines last longer and have 30 percent better fuel efficiency than gasoline-powered engines. But the smell, smoke and sulfur emissions that contribute to acid rain and smog have kept many people away from diesels. Though it is nothing new--low-sulfur diesel has been available in Europe for years--a federal mandate to switch over to low-sulfur will be a boon to diesel enthusiasts (including biodiesel fans). In the past, special catalytic converters that reduce NOx could not be attached to engines using the low-grade, high-sulfur fuel available in the United States, because the sulfur corroded the attachment. With low-sulfur diesel available, the way is cleared for these attachments to be used, which will create near-zero particulates, making them 90 percent cleaner than current models.

Another piece of good news could be found in Consumer Reports' exclusive preview of what's new in 2005 for cars, with special emphasis on fuel savers like hybrids, diesels and alternative-fuel cars. Next year, three new full hybrids will be released--the Lexus RX400h, the Toyota Highland and the Toyota Sienna--and one diesel semihybrid, the Dodge Ram, will debut. By 2006, two popular gas cars--the Toyota Camry and the Nissan Altima--will be released as hybrids. Fast-forward to 2007, and you've got the the GMC Yukon, the Chevy Tahoe and other monoliths joining the hybrid bandwagon. Though hybrids are merely a fancy way to get better fuel efficiency, we need more drivers focusing on fuel consumption and ways we can reduce our dependency on foreign oil.

Good news arriving via email: Responding to a column I wrote a year and a half ago, a reader wrote in to tell me about an increase in biodiesel use in our national parks. Now, more than 23 park areas are using B20 (20 percent

biodiesel; 80 percent dinodiesel) to run their equipment, and they are not mandating that the oil used to make the biodiesel be virgin. Hallelujah! My reader told me he works for the Channel Islands National Park, where they specifically purchase biodiesel made from waste veggie oil, as did Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Yea! If our National Parks keep using biodiesel, they'll set a precedent for other governmental agencies to go veggie oil!

Finally, the cutest Euro car ever, the Smart car, will become available in the United States by 2006. Instead of releasing the small two-seater version, the ForTwo, the plan is to debut the FourMore, a model that seats four people and blends the Euro city car with an American SUV. The FourMores are made by DaimlerChrysler and will be a solid choice for people who are looking for good design and great fuel economy. The cars are also almost completely recyclable and have a wee little four-cylinder engine that gets kicking gas mileage.

Arrgh, FourMore, that reminds me--no, no, we've got to stay positive, we've got to look forward to something, anything, otherwise it's going to be a long, cold four years.

Novella's here for you, go ahead and cry on her shoulder: [email protected]

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From the November 10-17, 2004 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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