Overall, diesel cars have become more popular in the past decades. In July 2010 in the UK, more diesel cars were sold than gas cars for the first time!
Similarly, in Australia the number of diesel powered cars in 2009 was 80% higher than in 2004. The number of diesel cars there are still fairly low though, about 1 in every 21 cars.
One article I could find out diesel popularity in the US was written back in 2002, but it shows that diesels hit their peak in the early 1980s. However, this article only goes by number of models available, rather than number of cars sold. In 1984 there were 119 models available. As of 2002 there were about 25. As of 2010 there are about 30 models available.
In the past, the sale of diesel cars was found to be based more on expected fuel cost savings. The sale of diesel cars in 1976 was less than 1% of total cars sold, then rose to 6% in 1981, and fell back down to less than 1% in 1985 again. Studies have shown that the rises and falls were due to perceived savings and quality of engines.
I think fuel economy has a lot to do with the increasing popularity of diesel vehicles. Until recently diesel cars in the U.S. were considered too noisy and smoke ridden to be widely popular. With the improvements in technology and design we are now able to drive diesels that have zero emissions and are as quiet as their gasoline counterparts. The old stereotypes are cast aside and people are focusing more on “bang for the buck” than anything else (in the auto world anyway). In most places diesel fuel is the most expensive option, but in some cases you may be doubling or even tripling your fuel economy.
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