How the debut of the 2014 Cruze Clean Turbo Diesel challenged one writer’s childhood memories
By Greg Barbera
On a recent trip to the gas station with my 13-year-old son, he inquired about the lone diesel pump on the island, like I myself did when I first got my driver’s license. As a child of the ’70s, the smell of diesel made me think of power—of planes, trains and automobiles. I took the opportunity to tell him stories about what diesel meant to me. After all, with the debut of the 2014 Cruze Clean Turbo Diesel, the first clean diesel car ever produced by a U.S. automaker, those associations with diesel are changing.
My father worked for the government and traveled a lot. Sometimes we would go to the airport to pick him up. And there was that smell—that distinct smell of diesel fuel (or at least what it used to smell like). He regaled us with his own stories about how when he was a child he collected the chunks of coal that fell off the trains passing by his Philadelphia neighborhood. It was legendary family lore. And lo and behold, when my brothers and I finally got to see the tracks of which he spoke, a big, burly train came by—and there was that smell again.
It had us in its cloud again when, on long family trips, my brother and I would send hand signals to drivers of tractor-trailers to honk their horns. Which they did…with a big belch of smoke.
Fast forward to when I first got my driver’s license. I’d stopped to gas up the family car, and I realized that diesel had its own pump. (A diesel pump usually stands alone.) Was this a subtle sign of its special place in automotive industry? I’d never paid much attention to fuel pumps before becoming a driver. But from that point on, I noticed all the billboards on the highway—now digital signs—advertising diesel fuel.
Later, I remember driving a box truck as a production assistant on a music video shoot and thinking about how sitting behind the wheel of this behemoth fulfilled some latent childhood dream. It was the biggest thing I could drive that didn’t require an additional license.
By the ’90s, I explained to my son, diesel trucks and vans had become popular in eco-friendly circles because their engines could be converted to run on alternative fuels like vegetable oil. Twenty years later, it’s like diesel has been reinvented. Today it’s cleaner, stronger and more efficient, making it a real everyman option: Cruze Clean Turbo Diesel emissions are below strict U.S. environmental standards, and the car is equipped with all sorts of technology to reduce noise and vibration in the car—two other things I’ve always associated with old diesel vehicles.
My son is going to have an entirely different experience with diesel than I had. A choice that’s forward-thinking, clean, conscientiousness? Now that’s a fuel that deserves a standalone pump.