2017 GMC Canyon Denali

Backers of diesel-fueled engines tout the hardy fuel for its frugal gas mileage, long-lasting engines, and versatile use. Pictuerd is the 2017 GMC Canyon Denali

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Diesel fuel dates back generations, yet has long carried a back seat in America to gasoline. The fuel took a further hit a few years ago when Volkswagen Group was caught tinkering with diesel emissions tests to make the results look more favorable.

Yet diesel remains a viable alternative for passenger cars, SUVs and pick-up trucks, as well as a big player in industrial equipment. In the U.S. last year, diesel equipment manufacturing accounted for 1.3 million jobs and generated $455 billion in economic activity, according to a new analysis from the Frederick, Maryland-based Diesel Technology Forum.

"Today’s diesel engines, both large and small, are more energy-efficient, powerful, reliable and cleaner than ever before," said Allen Schaeffer, the forum's executive director. "In 2016, American manufacturing facilities produced more than 740,000 heavy-duty diesel engines that can be found in everything from commercial trucks and buses, construction machines and agricultural equipment, to the largest application like locomotives, marine workboats and industrial engines," he said.

Diesel engines are workhorses that also can produce high fuel economy numbers. They're steadily burning cleaner fuel and don't make lots of noise as decades ago. "Today’s diesel engines, both large and small, are more energy-efficient, powerful, reliable and cleaner than ever before," Schaeffer said.

However, diesel fuel is more expensive than regular gas (although close to or even lower priced than premium) and somewhat harder to find at service stations.

Auto website Edmunds.com lists more than a dozen new diesel car, SUV and truck models from Jeep, Chevrolet, GMC, Ram, BMW, Jaguar, Land Rover and Mercedes-Benz. Fuel mileage ranges from 22 to 23 mpg combined city and highway for trucks to 23 to 29 mpg for SUVs and 34 to 36 mpg for passenger cars.

The diesel forum, in its analysis released this month, revealed that North Carolina leads all states in diesel engine production with nearly 300,000 engines produced. Other key states were Michigan, Ohio and New York, the report noted.

Meanwhile, the average wage in the diesel manufacturing industry exceeds the national average, paying workers about $78,000 per year, the forum pointed out.

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