Honda's 2.2-liter i-CTDi diesel engine

Reaction mechanism for the NOx catalytic converter
The next-generation U.S. market Accord will ditch its hybrid powertrain for a clean diesel

When it comes to building ultra-efficient cars for the U.S. auto market, most manufacturers are going in one of two directions. You have some that go the compact route with small 4-cylinder engines and those who choose hybrid technology which can be found in compact and mid-sized sedans.

A third alternative, diesel, has floundered for the past two decades in U.S. passenger cars. Volkswagen -- which in the past offered diesel versions of its Passat, New Beetle, Golf and Jetta in the U.S. -- has no diesel passenger cars for the 2007 model year due to tighter emissions regulations. In fact, the only new car available with a diesel engine in the United States is the Mercedes E320 BlueTec -- but that vehicle starts at a heart-stopping $51,550 USD.

Honda looks to change things, however, with its next generation Accord family sedan. Honda's Accord has been one of the best selling cars in the U.S. for the past 20 years. The Accord nameplate has been built around a reputation for excellent resale value, great build quality, top-notch reliability, and respectable fuel economy.

Honda first tried to further improve the Accord’s image for "greenness" and fuel economy with the Accord Hybrid. That vehicle used a 253HP 3.0 liter V6 engine paired with Honda's Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) hybrid system. Honda promised performance greater than that of a normal V6-powered Accord but with fuel economy closer to that of a 4-cylinder Accord. Honda's mileage claims never quite panned out with buyers of the vehicles and sales of the hybrid never really took off.

Honda sold just 439 of its mid-sized Accord Hybrids in May 2007 (hybrids represented roughly 1.4 percent of all Accord sales). In comparison, Toyota’s Prius (also classified as a mid-sized vehicle) and Camry Hybrid racked up sales of 24,009 units and 6,853 units respectively for May 2007.

This time around, however, Honda will use diesel power instead of hybrid technology for its Accord, which has been redesigned for the 2008 model year. According to the Japanese Nikkei newspaper, the new Accord will have the option of a new Tier 2 Bin 5 diesel engine for the 2009 model year. Honda showcased the engine back in September 2006 and promised that it be used in U.S. passenger cars within three years. Honda's 2.2-liter i-CTDi uses a revolutionary catalytic converter filled with ammonia to "detoxify" NOx produced by the engine and convert it to nitrogen.

Honda isn’t the only manufacturer working on Tier 2 Bin 5 diesel engines for the U.S. car market. Volkswagen will come off its 2007 diesel slump with a new TDI engine in 2008 and even performance-oriented Nissan is looking to get into the diesel game in 2010 with its Maxima.

Honda’s position in the American auto market, however, makes its introduction of diesel passenger sedans a huge turning point for diesel in America and could go a long way to changing American opinion on diesel-powered cars.

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