VW Hoping for a Little Diesel Mania

April 3, 2008

It's the moment that old-school greenies and hardcore cheapskates alike have been waiting for: the second coming of the Volkswagen diesel engine. And it's coming at the end of the summer, VW execs reminded us at the Washington, D.C.-area press drive for the new Jetta Sportwagen.

Though we were driving gas-powered Sportwagens, Volkswagen confirmed more details of the coming Jetta TDIs. What's billed as the "cleanest diesel engine in the world" arrives late in the summer - August of this year, to be precise. As outfitted for U.S. cars, the TDI engine will turn in 140 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque, and will come teamed with a six-speed, dual-clutch DSG transmission. There won't be shift paddles, though, unlike DSGs in VW's Eos, for example.

With the increase in diesel prices, Volkswagen execs say the selling points for the engine will have to be a little more creative. They'll have to sell to people who can do math to see the benefit of a 50-mpg sedan, with diesel fuel running up to $1 a gallon more than unleaded, over a standard 25-mpg sedan. They'll also be selling the car's range, which could easily top 600 miles on a single tank of diesel. For some drivers that could be a solo stop at the pumps each month.

VW's also planned ahead for the future of diesel. The new TDI engine can run on 5-percent biodiesel out of the starting gates. And PR folks at the D.C. event say that their diesel's ready to run B20 biodiesel when the quality and consistency are there. You can't risk putting uneven-quality (or even older, high-sulfur) fuel into a new-technology diesel, after all.

The diesel could give Volkswagen back the cleaner, greener edge it needs to boost sales in the U.S. VW expects half the Jetta Sportwagens it sells will be diesel-powered, and up to 30 percent of its Jetta sedans to be purchased with the new engine. And as the company considers a U.S. production facility, it also says if it were to build a U.S. engine plant it likely would build diesels here.

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