Diesels Make Strong Presence at LA Auto Show

The brand-new Volkswagen Jetta TDI diesel took the Green Car of the Year award at the 2008 Los Angeles Auto Show. The Jetta TDI won based on its high fuel efficiency numbers—41 mpg on the highway and 30 in the city—and its price point of $21,900. The high-mpg and low cost gave the Jetta TDI the upper hand—“market significance” is a key criterion for the award—as it bested the more expensive BMW 335d (also an oil-burner,) as well as the Ford Fusion Hybrid, Saturn Vue Two-Mode Hybrid, and the diminutive Smart car.

The Jetta TDI may not need the publicity boost that comes from an award, since VW has said it is virtually sold out at all dealerships. According to the company, many dealers have started to form waiting lists.

Joining the Jetta at the show on the VW stand was the Touareg V6 TDI, with fuel economy numbers of 17/25 mpg. The Touareg TDI, priced at $42,800, goes on sale in January 2009. BMW introduced two clean diesels in Los Angeles—the 335d sedan mentioned above, and the X5 xDrive35d SUV. The 335d goes on sale in December with the X5 following in January. BMW gave strong hints that it would be bringing more diesel models to the US in the coming years.

At the Audi stand, a quartet of diesels from the recent Mileage Marathon were showcased, highlighted by an A3 2.0-liter diesel that turned in a high of 50.6 mpg during the cross-country driving program. The US-spec version of that model is rated at 39 mpg. A version of the A3 is likely to join the Audi US fleet in fall of 2009, joining the Q7 3.0L TDI that goes on sale in January and a future A4 3.0L TDI.

Mercedes-Benz showcased its three diesel SUVs currently on the market: the ML320, R320 and GL320. In addition, the company introduced the Fascination concept coupe, powered by a supercharged 2.2-liter 4-cylinder BlueTEC diesel that puts out 204 horsepower. With fourth generation common rail diesel technology that raises injection pressures, the engine demonstrates how a 4-cylinder diesel could replace the standard V-6 in its class. The concept is also seen as a glimpse into the styling of an upcoming E-class coupe.

Even though they didn’t hold a press conference and haven’t said much about the promise of diesel, General Motors displayed its Opel Flexstreme. The Opel, a European answer to the Chevy Volt, is a plug-in series hybrid electric vehicle that uses a small diesel engine to recharge batteries—only after the fully charged vehicle has run for 40 miles on electricity without help from petroleum of any kind.

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  • Skeptic

    41 highway? Don’t think that’s enough to warrant me paying a 50% or better premium for Diesel fuel.

  • Anonymous

    My 2001 Jetta TDI gets better mileage than the new one? Aren’t we supposed to be going the other direction? I am keeping my old one.

  • Picky McPicky

    What’s the cost benefit of diesel? Diesel is more expensive at the pump…does the fuel efficiency outweight the extra costs or is it a wash…if it’s a wash…what’s the point of diesel?

  • Neil


    I think the reason the old Jetta gets better mileage than the new one is a result of the new Jetta having to meet emissions standards in all 50 states. Your old Jetta could not be sold in California and a handful of other states. So good for you for getting good mileage, but your older Jetta emits out too much particulate matter and NOx (Nitrogen oxide) according to a number of state governments. I know the new Jetta has special filters and a complex burn system to trap pollutants and then burn them in stages.

    Maybe the new Jetta weighs more or has other factors (more HP?) that lower the mileage vs. the older Jettas – maybe someone on this forum will speak up on those factors.


  • Zachb157

    The new Volkswagen Jetta TDI gets better mileage than 41 MPG. Check out this article on the mileage this couple got from there Jetta tour around the country 58.82 MPG. http://www.mpgomatic.com/2008/09/28/vw-jetta-tdi-sets-new-world-record-5882-mpg/.
    I dont know why this writer doesn’t even mention this couple because they set a record a couple of months ago, yet he mentions Audi’s Mileage Marathon. Makes you think who these people are writing for and why. Anyway check out the article and the site a really good site about Diesels and hybrids.

  • Anonymous

    Where’s Bryce?

  • KMCoates

    Diesel (and fuel economy) Math: The American tendency to measure fuel economy in miles per gallon is the culprit. If we look at fuel consumption (gallons per mile) the way the Europeans do the diesel advantage becomes clear. There’s a widget on the home page of the Diesel Technology Forum (www.dieselforum.org) that can translate all of this — plug in the fuel costs and fuel economy difference between two vehicles and it shows the savings. As a rough metric, with gas at $2/gallon diesel would have to cost 60 cents/gal more to offset the typical fuel economy savings of a diesel engine (30% better than gas). See http://www.hybridcars.com/decision/why-americans-get-mileage-all-wrong-0620.html

  • Picky McPicky

    Thanks author…good stuff!

  • Shines

    Sorry Author looking a fuel consumption in gallons per mile doesn’t make anything any clearer. I found your statement confusing. Someone simply needs to do the calculations – either way.
    I went to Fuel economy.gov and compared a standard Camry 4cyl with the jetta TD. It lists cost to drive 25 miles and also lists the price per galon of diesel and gasoline.
    From what you say I think you’re saying: the diesel engine ends up matching the ice a ta difference of about 60 cents per galon. Unfortunately diesel is about 72 cents a gal more than gasoline on average these days. So the jetta fuel costs are higher.
    This doesn’t even compare the Diesel to hybrids…

  • Shines

    Here are the 2 sites I used to compare and verify fuel prices…


  • Adrian

    Hey Everyone,

    I double checked the website at:


    … and it turns out that the Jetta TDI would (on average) cost almost twice as much to fuel up annually than a Toytota prius. However, an important thing to remember is that the Prius is a hybrid, were as the TDI is a regular car with a diesel engine that is not asisted by an electric motor.

    Also, I thought this would be fun to note: As well all know, gas and diesel has gone down in price dramatically. Some of you gripe about paying around $3.00 (about a dollar more per gallon) than gas, almost as a deterrent from buying diesel.

    …I recently moved to Texas here from California a few months ago, and to have to pay the current price of diesel compared to what used to be $4.20 a gallon ( of regular) gas there… well, seems pretty cheap, especially knowing that diesel there at the time was ….(gasp!) …… more than $5 dollars a gallon.


  • john iv

    Everyone seems to compare the Prius to the TDI. When are we going to get a TDI Prius? Or other hybrid-diesel? I know the cost will be higher with the hybrid-diesel, but it seems that the fuel economy would out way that. Not to mention other environmental issues. Just a thought.

  • Bryce

    bryce is here……

    : )

  • RTH

    I’m far from an expert on these matters, but why do these articles touting the high mileage of new diesels never mention that it’s basically unfair to compare MPG estimates for gas engines vs diesels. A better comparison would be miles per gallon of crude oil used to make the fuel.

    According to the Union for Concerned Scientists web site, it takes more crude oil to make a gallon of diesel fuel than it does to make a gallon of gas (and diesel has a higher energy content per gallon as a result). UCS recommends deflating the MPG estimates for diesels by 20% in order to compare them with gas-powered cars on the more realistic basis of the amount of crude oil each uses.

    Doing that for the new diesel Jetta mentioned above reduces its 41/30 MPG estimate to about 33/24, which is certainly an improvement over gas Jettas but is also far from Prius territory.

    I should add that I have nothing against diesels (in fact, I am sorely tempted by the diesel Jetta wagon), but I never see these factors mentioned in discussions of diesel mileage.

    If I’m way off-base here, somebody please correct me.

  • Bryce

    you are right though. In a barrel of crude, about 40 gallons of gas can be milked out. Out of a barrel of crude, about 20 gallons of diesel can be pulled out. However, I don’t think necesarily that the whole barrel of crude is wasted if you do diesel, in fact rather, both crude and diesel are filtered out of the crude along with other combustibles like Butane, Propane, and the like. So, I think in that sense, it doesn’t matter.

    Someone, please correct me if I am wrong.

  • sean t

    Nothing is wasted if you do diesel or gas, but the point is the total value of a whole barrel of crude oil if you extract diesel against the same thing for gas. In brief, what matters is the total value of the products and sub products.
    I think the other products are different from extracting gas and diesel so I guess you have to balance how much crude oil should be used for diesel or gas.

  • Dom

    Go VW!! I’m happy to see the clean diesel finally getting some real recognition. What the diesel nay-sayers fail to realize is that hybrids aren’t always the best fit for a given application, and the same goes for diesel. They both have strengths and weaknesses. Also, the article doesn’t mention it, but the VW Jetta TDI Sportswagen is the ONLY wagon available that gets 40+ mpg. Go VW!!

    On a different note, that Opel sounds very interesting.

  • wxman

    I’ll acknowledge that I have no special expertise in petroleum refining, but it’s counter-intuitive that more diesel couldn’t be produced from a barrel of crude than gasoline, especially the “heavy” crudes (which apparently are becoming increasingly more common).

    According to several references I’ve run across (e.g., http://www.theoildrum.com/node/2174 ), nearly 80% of “heavy” crude is middle distillate (i.e., diesel) or heavier. Naturally-occurring (“straight-run”) gasoline actually makes up a very small percentage of crude oil (MUCH less than straight-run middle distillate), especially for “heavy” crude oils, so obviously most gasoline comes from “cracking” heavier components of crude oil. Why can’t the cracking process be controlled so that only middle distillate is produced? It would seem that well over half of a barrel of crude potentially could be refined into diesel rather than gasoline (just reduce the intensity of the “cracking” process).

    That appears not to be the case since otherwise refiners should be falling all over themselves to produce more diesel, since it is selling at a much greater profit than gasoline right now. Does anyone have any insight into this conundrum?

  • Paul Beerkens

    I would like to place one order for a Opel Flextreme please.

  • Jakub Kudlacz

    Diesel is 35% more fuel efficient, more powerful and it costs 25% more. Also keep in mind, that economies of scale are at work here. More diesels on the market cheaper the fuel.

    Also Diesel engines will outlast your gasoline engine anytime, so you can drive that car so much longer.

  • Jason

    Using the nationwide average price for diesel versus the average price for 87 octane gasoline, I would save money with the VW Jetta over the current average mpg of my 2004 Toyota Tacoma. So, even with diesel prices being higher, I would spend less money at the gas pump by driving the Jetta. If you are really interested in what the cost benefit of diesel over gasoline is, then I suggest doing a little research and some math and figuring it out relative to a vehicle you are driving now. Also, where I live, diesel is not even close to 50% more expensive then gasoline, fwiw.

  • Shines

    OK I noticed the size of the Jetta is compact.
    So the vehicles to compare it to would be the Corolla and Ford Focus. The Jetta is more fuel efficient than either, but the fuel cost difference ends up in favor of the Focus and Corolla.

    As far as how much diesel is in a barrel of crude – depends.
    The light sweet crude that the US mostly buys is I believe about 20% diesel and 40% gasoline. This means that simply cracking the oil (splitting it into its basic compounds (the least expensive way to extract the compounds in it)) will yield a lot more gasoline. However, refineries can chemically alter the oil to produce more diesel, but that costs more.

    Then there’s the government taxing diesel more because it is used mostly by big rigs which put more wear and tear on the roads…

  • Bryce

    People also seem to forget that Diesels come with an added cost of purchase for the diesel engine. Once you add that to the higher fuel costs, then I would expect it is a net loss relative to a gas engine. I like diesel, but mostly for commercial applications that use the engines to their full potential and life cycle. A regular commuter doesn’t really use the engine to its max, where its cost efficiencies would be found.