Heightened awareness about global warming has prompted a growing number of automakers to promise diesel cars in Japan, but most in the industry expect growth to occur at snail's pace.

Diesel passenger cars have taken off in Europe where they now make up more than half of all new cars sold due to their superior fuel economy and efforts to lower carbon dioxide emissions.

But after a powerful smear campaign by Tokyo's popular governor in the 1990s deriding them as smelly, noisy and polluting, diesel cars all but disappeared from roads in Japan, the world's third-largest auto market.

Daimler AG's Mercedes-Benz is alone in offering a diesel car after Toyota Motor Corp halted production of the diesel Land Cruiser Prado model in July. Sales of the Mercedes E320 CDI are tiny, at around 170 a month. But over the past year, a number of Japanese carmakers -- traditionally laggards in the diesel arena -- have announced plans to launch clean-diesel cars at home, following a lead from the United States, where diesels are making a gradual comeback.

A notable nay-sayer is Toyota, pioneer of gasoline-electric hybrid vehicles. With nearly half the domestic car market, Toyota has the leverage to determine whether diesel cars will proliferate, or occupy no more than a niche.

Toyota is stepping up its clean-diesel development to compete more effectively in Europe, but shot down the idea for Japan.

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Will Diesel Cars Ever Take Root In Japan?

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