ALL over Europe, sales of diesel fuelled cars are still booming - up nearly 20 per cent in 1998 - everywhere, that is, except in the UK.

At three and a half million, one in four new cars in Europe is diesel-powered. In 1998 sales rose 33 per cent in Spain, 27 per cent in Italy and 25 per cent in Germany while in Austria and Belgium over half the new cars are diesel.

So why is the UK lagging behind? The image of diesel in the UK has taken a public hammering as some observers have declared them to be noisy, dirty and smelly. These views are based on a historic reputation, perpetrated by older or poorly maintained diesel vehicles, which bears no resemblance to the reality offered by the modern, clean diesel engine.

Many people do not appreciate all the advantages that modern diesels have over petrol engined cars, not least that they are inherently more efficient and economical; helping to preserve our planet's precious resources.

Cubbin and North, of Bebington, advises: put a gallon of diesel into a 110 HP Xantia HDi and you can cover 50 miles in normal motoring. That is a fuel cost of 6.5p per mile.

Put a gallon of fuel in a petrol car of similar power and you'll travel a little over 30 miles and your fuel cost shoots up to 9.8p per mile, over 50 per cent higher.

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