Audi Expects Big Gains for Diesels in US

Audi believes it can sell 20 to 25 percent of its vehicles in the United States with diesel powertrains. Johan de Nysschen, president of Audi of America, said yesterday the diesel version of the Audi Q7 crossover SUV, the company’s first diesel in the US, could represent as much as 35 percent of Q7 sales.

Audi Q7 TDI

The Q7 TDI is currently Audi’s only diesel in the US.

The executive was speaking about diesels at the 2009 Frankfurt Auto Show’s press roundtable—while on the showroom floor, Audi and automakers are shining spotlights on their electric concept cars. Electric and plug-in hybrid cars, which offer the opportunity for zero or near-zero tailpipe emissions, represent a more radical shift in technology—while diesel engines are about 25 to 40 percent more fuel-efficient than their gas counterparts.

Advanced fuel-efficient technologies—whether diesel, electric or hybrid—represent additional cost. “I think the problem is that we don’t really have an honest discussion,” said Audi CEO Rupert Stadler. “There is a very, very high level of investment [in diesel], and nobody today knows if the return will come.”

Audi A3 TDI />

We were able to achieve 43.7 mpg with the Audi A3 TDI, due in the US in early 2010.

Nonetheless, Audi and European carmakers are willing to make the necessary investments in diesel—and back it up with ad campaigns to promote diesel’s benefits. The car companies face an uphill battle in dispelling Americans’ view that diesel is noisy, dirty and expensive.

In June, Audi ads took over the home pages of Huffingtonpost.com, Slate.com, Politico.com and other progressive news sites with its diesel message. The campaign—“Diesel, It’s No Longer a Dirty Word”—features rusty oil drums rolling down streets, seemingly being repatriated onto tankers. According to Audi, if one-third of US drivers drove clean diesels, it would mean the US could “send back” 1.5 million barrels of imported oil per day.

Audi pro-diesel television commercial.

“We looked at it as a political campaign,” said Scott Keogh, chief marketing officer for Audi USA. “We wanted to make diesel a much bigger idea that people could rally around.” Koeogh is planning a follow-up campaign in the fall to promote the introduction of the Audi A3 TDI diesel hatchback.

BMW is promoting its 335d and X5 xDrive 35d diesel vehicles with similar pro-diesel campaigns. Last month, the company sponsored home page takeovers of the New York Times and MSN.com websites, and the season premiere of AMC’s “Mad Men.”


  • aaronz

    i believe that the us exports 1/3 of all diesel made in the us because there is so much demand for unleaded and diesel is one of the bye products

  • Dom

    Way to go Audi! I’m glad somebody is finally trying to dispel all the bad myths about diesel. Go TDIs!!

  • Scott Z

    Diesel is not a by-product of unleaded. as a matter of fact there is less refining of oil to make diesel then there is to make gas. The US never had much interest in making clean diesel cars so the thought of it being dirty kept diesel to a very niche market here in the US. Now the rest of the world has proven how clean it can be. I have high hopes for a hybrid diesel one day.

  • crookmatt

    The problem I see with diesel is not the technology itself, but that (with the exception of VW) only luxury car makers are offering diesel in the US. (Audi, BMW, Mercedes are all luxury, and therefore expensive cars). Sure if you are already buying a BMW, you may be able to justify the added up-front cost of a diesel 3 series based on fuel savings.

    But if I’m only in the market for a $20K car, there is no way I can justify buying a $45K car because it’s diesel. In order for diesel to gain ground in the US, it’s going to have to be offered, not only by VW, but also by the other mainstream US automakers, Ford, Honda, Toyota, etc.

    Frankly, it doesn’t seem like these car makers are interested in Diesel

  • ex-EV1 driver

    The only thing going with diesel does is to ensure that the problem goes to our kids and we can live fat, dumb, and greedy until the day we die.
    It only postpones the inevitable – but then again, I guess it is our right to let our children pay for our gluttony.

  • RKRB

    Cute commercial, but a bit misleading. It could actually do more harm than good.

    Audi should not associate oil import reduction with the fuel-guzzling SUV “co-starring” in the commercial. Fuel mileage for diesel luxury German cars — especially for Audi’s SUV’s — is really not all that good, if you look at EPA figures, and if everyone drove one we would need far more imported oil. If you are concerned about the environment or oil dependence, you can certainly do better (although VW’s Jetta TDI does get decent mileage). If people use the commercial to justify buying cars like Audi SUV’s (“Hey, I’ll just buy the diesel version, even if it uses lots of fuel”), the message of this commercial could do more harm than good.

    Diesel engines may save fuel costs and may be as durable as any other engine or hybrid system, but maintenance costs are also a significant factor for the individual owner, and here, the Audi/Merc/BMW/VW/Posrsche diesels may be poor “poster children” for low-cost vehicles. All are fine automobiles worthy of consideration, but do not expect them to be low-cost, low-maintenance vehicles, based on sources like COnsumer Reports (also talk with your mechanic). If you’ve been to Europe or Asia, you will notice many economical diesels, but they are not available in the US. If Honda or Ford introduce a US diesel car, this could change.

    FWIW, we had a Mercedes 190 Turbo diesel for many years. Fuel costs were good and the engine was quite solid, but for the last couple of years, the car wound up costing nearly as much in unscheduled maintenance as a new car payment. Despite conservative driving and by-the-book maintenance, the Mercedes needed frequent, expensive repairs. In the low fuel cost environment of the late ’90′s, it was very hard to get a trade and the car wound up bringing about as much as a Pontiac Grand Am of the same year (with a much higher initial cost).

    So … diesel fuel cost is only one aspect of car ownership. If you are looking at a diesel, also look at total ownership costs and absolute fuel mileage. If you can’t live without German engineering, a diesel version may be fine, but for low-cost, energy dependence, and environmental considerations, a hybrid may make more sense (although perhaps hybrids are not as exciting or as hedonistic as a German car).

  • Dom

    Actually, the good thing about diesel is the infrastructure is already in place unlike what is needed for other alternatives like plug-ins hybrids, natural gas, etc. All that is needed might be adjusting the oil refineries to favor diesel production a bit more. Besides, as others have noted, a diesel engine would make a great power plant for a plug-in hybrid like the Volt’s system.

    Some of the above posters noted that an Audi SUV isnt’ the best poster child for diesel, and they may be right. However, an Audi SUV with a TDI is much more efficient than the same SUV with a gasoline engine!! Sure, I wish Ford would bring the diesel version of their upcoming Fiesta to the US! That is THE version we should be getting, no the lousy gasoline version.

  • ex-EV1 driver

    Dom,
    It will actually cost a lot more money to put new diesel infrastructure in place in California (where little exists today) than to put electrical charging infrastructure in. It costs less than $10,000 to put in a public EV charger and generally between US$0 and US$5000 to add charging capability to an existing house. The main cost drive is digging a trench and putting copper wire in it.
    It will take about a million dollars to upgrade each ‘gas’ station in California to handle diesel. The major costs are digging a huge hole for a new tank, running plumbing, installing a new pump (which, by the way, requires just as much wiring as an EV charger).
    I guess this gets back to the Diesel PHEV (serial topology or EREV) being pretty good since you’ll only need to fill with diesel very rarely, thus reducing the need to increase the number of Diesel filling stations.

  • Erik

    RKRB – well, cant say as I didnt expect a post like this, this is a Hype-rid, forum afterall.

    Let me just hit a few points you brought up.

    Your first paragraph detailed your complaint with using an SUV to market fuel savings. While I agree, more people should trade in their SUV that they dont need for a smaller car, the fact is, they wont. Americans buy big cars, its a fact you cannot escape. The Diesel Q7 will hit 30mpg on the highway, which a few years ago was Honda Civic territory. All this while still producing 406lbft of torque, and putting out less emissions than a gasoline engine. If someone is looking at a 4.2L guzzoline engine Q7, and they have the 3.0L TDI as an alternative, you will indeed be lowering fuel consumption, so the ad is in no way misleading. An SUV buyer is not getting a Prius, sorry.

    The second article is simply a personal judgment call about buying a german car, and has nothing to do with the commercial, or the issue of the benifits/costs of diesel. Parts for these cars are more expensive here in the states, but labor rates are not any more than a chevy. both being roughly $100 per hour for labor. Disesls are also far less maintanence intensive than guzzoline engines, the rest of the car however, is the same. My bias is equally obvious, I dont find my german car at all expensive to maintain, and would never be caught dead driving a honda or japanese vehicle. They dont drive the same. Diesel gives enough torque to make the American driver happy, and german cars do perform better at speed. The prius is nice for an appliance that takes you to and from work which is all you “need”, but many Americans want something more than a blender to drive.

    Your personal experience with a diesel was pretty standard. Any vehicle that gets up there in years, and miles becomes expensive to maintain. its why people buy new cars. And the 190D by the time you traded it in, was a dog. underpowered, even by merc diesel standards. most people wanted the 300D, supply and demand. you had a car no one wanted, so it wasnt worth anything. Also, gas was cheap, so diesel wasnt a priority, the market changed, these all influence car prices. I have seen people trade in $50,000 cadillacs only a few years old, but because of the market, they were only worth $17,000.

    As to a hybrid being the answer, I would agree. but it dosnt have to be a slug or a comprimise, or an offense to the environment like modern hybrid vehicles. (look at the carbon footprint of BUILDING a hybrid car to look at its real environmental impact). but a series hybrid, with a diesel electric powerplant running at constant RPM, powering four hub mounted motors, giving performance, fuel economy, and no large battery pack which is a burdon on the environment, now THAT would be something.

    even electric cars, unless powered by green sources (currently very very unlikely) are burdons on the environment compaired to a diesel powerplant in a car. and diesel is already very common, most people just dont realize how common diesel is, if youre not looking for it, it just looks like a regular pump.

  • Dom

    ex-EV1 driver , I can’t speak for where you live, but I have been in quite a few places in the US, most of eastern US and as far west as Colorado… diesel availability isn’t a problem. It’s all over the place because of work trucks and delivery vans, and easily available on the interstates because of big rigs. We wouldn’t need hardly any additional infrastructure. Besides, when you can go 600-700 miles on a single tank (as with most VW TDIs), you don’t need a station on every corner. Same would be true with a diesel-based plug-in hybrid, and even more so.

  • RKRB

    Dom and Erik: Good posts!

    A German car, as I mentioned, can be worth considering and can be fun. The VW TDI and Audi’s upcoming A3 diesel are good examples of enjoyable and conservation-minded ones. But … as I mentioned, modern ones are not likely to be low cost or durable according to sources like Consumer Repairs (for many, that’s not a problem). Ask a few mechanics. Sorry to disagree, but not all older high-mileage cars are like our Benz diesel (ask Honda or even newer-model Ford owners). So … if you buy a Deutsche Diesel, even a VW or a BMW, BYW (Bring Your Wallet).

    Yes, Erik, the Audi diesel Q7 gets better mileage (17 city) than the Q7 V-8 (13 city) or even the Q7 V-6 (14 city, premium gas please, although some people will claim 30 mpg downhill with the engine off). The engines do put out less CO2 than their gas counterparts, but considerably more than the average vehicle. The diesel Q7 “Bloatmobile” has no environmental merit and cannot be justified on such grounds, despite what the misleading ad suggests, and if 1/3 of Americans bought a diesel Audi SUV, we’d need far more imported oil instead of sending it back. If Americans somehow justify buying these guzzlers anyway, or if you rationalize buying one for your kids’ safety, then see ex-EV1′s first post above. Mortgaging our kids’ future to the oil producers and our Asian creditors is clearly not in the interests of our kids, and that’s why a post like this is relevant even on a hybrid site.

  • Sundog

    Good to see at least a few auto companies following through on plans to bring diesel stateside.

    The Audi/VW group is making a big mistake not offering the A3 with a diesel quattro option as well. The front drive VW sportwagen is cheaper and much more useful, returning the same mpgs.

    Once again Audi shoots themselves in the foot with the A3. First, it didn’t offer quattro with the 2.0 engine (just the 3.2), which would help explain abysmal sales figures for the past few years.

  • rushi

    hate the audi commercials for fake representation. Diesel is another product made from oil barrels. such a bad gimmick of trying to sell another fossil fuel based fuel (diesel) as being a green car, there is no engineering going on at Audi-quarters only marketing