German Clean Diesels Hit Detroit Auto Show

Hybrid and electric cars stole the limelight at the opening of the 2009 Detroit Auto Show, running January 17 to 25. But don’t believe for a second that petroleum-powered cars are dead. German carmakers are continuing their push for clean diesel, another technology competing for green car buyers. While not as squeaky clean as the electric-drive vehicles, the diesel timeline could mean more efficient models on the road sooner.

Volkswagen, the first company to bring back diesel to all 50 states last year with its Jetta TDI, introduced the Bluesport two-seat roadster, a new concept that VW insiders said could be on the market “in a couple of years or so” if it gets the green light from management. Similar to the Audi TT, the Bluesport puts more emphasis on fuel economy to go along with high performance. Power comes from a mid-engine 177-hp 4-cylinder clean diesel mated to a 6-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. VW claims fuel economy of 55 mpg.

Stefan Jacoby, VW of America CEO, said he expects that diesels will ultimately account for 30 percent of sales in its vehicle lines. He added that the company would expand the diesel line from the Jetta to a new larger model—about the size of a Camry or Accord. Jacoby also hinted at diesel-hybrid technology, probably with a stop-start system that could boost diesel efficiency by an additional 5 percent.

Mercedes-Benz introduced its new E-Class vehicles at a pre-show party offsite from Detroit’s Cobo Center. The E-Class will go on sale in the United States this summer, with a 50-state Bluetec diesel option coming next year. In Europe, new four-cylinder diesel engines powering the E220 CDI and the E200 CDI—perhaps with a micro-hybrid stop-start system—could push fuel economy close or beyond 50 miles to the gallon. Also rumored is a diesel-electric hybrid—the follow-on model to the Mercedes S400 gas-electric hybrid it will introduce later this year.

Audi A3 TDI

Audi A3 TDI

Audi also pledged to bring in a new diesel in 2010, the high-mileage A3 hatchback 2.0 TDI, while also showing an A7 Sportback car powered by the 3.0-liter TDI engine that will be featured in the Q7 SUV this year. The company said it was unlikely that the V10 diesel shown in its R8 sportscar would ever make it to the US.

Based on the showing in Detroit, German manufacturers appear to be leading the diesel charge. With a relatively smaller sales drop than either the American or the Japanese manufacturers, the Germans remain high on diesel’s potential in the US. The German auto industry association VDA announced a report during the Detroit Auto Show forecasting, “German brands will increase shares of US market—even as the market continues to contract” and “clean diesel will go on the offensive.” All diesel cheerleading aside, the impact of clean diesel may still be relatively modest, considering that German automakers represent only 10 percent of the overall US market.

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  • Shines

    Let’s see, the Prius costs about the same as the Jetta TDI but has more room, gets better fuel economy and on cheaper fuel.
    The Jetta may look better to some and probably drives better according to enthusiasts.
    The Honda Insight should get about the same fuel economy but on less expensive fuel as the Jetta, be about the same size and cost thousands less.
    And if VW expands into a larger line like a Camry or Ford Fusion size they will be in the same comparitive boat (costs the same but uses more expensive fuel). The Fusion is likely to be more reliable than the VW also. Still the diesel technology will help them keep their 10% share of the market. (IMHO)

  • CleanDiesel

    The explanation regarding the expantion and useful of the diesel line in the future has been explained very clearly based on the different manufactures.

  • Cal

    If you are looking purely at the mileage numbers, you can do a little better with the Prius than you can with the Jetta TDI. But if you’ve driven both cars, you’d know that the Jetta TDI is a far superior car over the Prius. The Jetta TDI could quite possibly be the best car ever made. 300-400K miles is not uncommon from these cars. Try getting that from a Prius. I am a Jetta TDI wagon owner and wouldn’t trade it for a Prius even if you threw in an extra $10K.

  • anon Imus

    OK Cal, how about a Prius, an extra $10k AND what’s behind door #2?

  • Bill in France

    Oh great; more noisy diesels….just what the world needs !!

  • John Rees

    I would be concerned with VW service if there is a problem. View my VW experience here:

  • David

    VW is going to have to overcome their atrocious repair record. Anyone who is doing spreadsheet-level comparisons of cars will come across reports like this :

    “Most Volkswagen models were rated far below average for reliability. The all-wheel drive Volkswagen Passat received the lowest reliability rating of any vehicle in the survey.”

    …which I found on CNNMoney with 10 seconds of google-aided searching.

    Note that last bit – lowest of *ANY VEHICLE* in the survey.

  • Cal

    Hmmm, door #2 I’m intrigued.

  • RKRB

    Yes, the Deutsche Diesels will get rave reviews from the pseudo-sophisticate go-fast automotive press, and lots of people will be talking about superior German engineering and fun and frolic, and the like. We’ve owned seven German cars so we know the lines.

    But my advice is: go for the extended warranty. Also, don’t lose your mechanics’ phone numbers, and don’t think you are buying a practical, hard-wired-durable efficiencymobile.

    But enough practicality. Fun they may be, their image is just so cool, and they use good grades of plastic on the interior. If they bring in an entertaining car like the convertible they should do well in this market.

  • Dom

    Why are you people debating the Prius and the Jetta?? This article mentions three cars, and oh, NONE of them are in the same league! The VW Bluesport is a small roadster that could get up to 55mpg, which probably be the first such vehicle in the US (no I’m not counting the Tesla because I don’t have a first-born to spare to buy it).
    The Mercedes-Benz E-Class is a large luxury sedan, their first 50-state diesel (and perhaps with a bit of hybrid tech), perhaps getting 40’s for even 50’s mpg. Pretty good for a large luxury sedan.
    The Audi A3 is a small luxury sports hatch, also probably getting 40-50mpg.
    I imagine these three cars do not sell to the same customers that would buy a Prius or a Jetta. Even if they do, the intended market for these vehicles is NOT the same. I don’t why people here always insist on comparing everything to a Prius like it’s the best-thing-since-sliced-bread do-everything vehicle with the only possible improvement being a built-in bread maker to make the bread to slice…

  • simon@aus

    I think that petrol cars age better than diesel cars: there’s nothing worse than getting stuck behind some old clapped out diesel going up a hill. Alright these cars are great now – what about down the line? Hybrids are better.

  • Shines

    This is so I think it may be appropriate to make comparisons between hybrids and non.
    I wanted to make the comparison because I have seen the quality and reliability of VWs go down over the years. I think its important for people to realize that although the Diesel is a reliable engine there is more to a vehicle than just the engine.
    The article referencesthe Jetta TDI…
    The people who are most likely to buy the roadster or the Mercedes are not likely to frequent this site anyway (IMO).

  • Susan

    To the people that frequent this site if you are truly interested in green cars, check out the European Ford Fiesta ECOnetic 1.6L TDCi turbodiesel. This car has a combined driving rating of 64 mpg. This car has received rave reviews, and numerous awards all over Europe. If you really want to look at the big ecological picture think about jets, trains, tractors, trucks, and any other diesel powered equipment. I believe clean diesel technology is a logical segue to Utopian vehicles and energy distribution. I don’t understand why there isn’t more interest in companies like Solazyme that are developing and producing renewable algae based biofuels.

  • Hans-Juergen

    My Car is an Audi A2 1.2TDI, Build 2001. I bought it 2 years ago to drive the 100 miles from my old home to my new workplace in Weissach. The Fuel Consumtion varies from 50mpg (pedal to the metall, vmax=111mph) to 80mpg (driving 70mph). Due to long 5th. gear it isn’t even noisy when going fast. Two month ago my brother changed his A2 1.2 TDI into a Prius because he needed a five-seater instead a four-seater. Even he is more cautious with the pedals than I am, his Prius is going only 45mpg max. !!!
    In Germany th ultimate Web page for fuel consumption of cars is the following:

    I dream there would be an Audi A2 1.2 TDI hybrid !!!

    My A2 has atomatic AC, seat heating, BOSE Sound system, Fog Lights and has a 350 liter trunk.


  • veek

    Thanks for your input.
    The site you mentioned seems to be a collection of individual self-reported user inputs, with all the good points and bad points of this method.
    Yes, the diesels seem to make great sense in Europe. However, in the US, the cost of diesel relative to gasoline is significantly high, although this too is subject to change. In the past, diesel fuel has often been cheaper than gasoline. When I look at the mileage of the Benz and BMW diesels, especially the SUV’s, I am disappointed, but they seem to do very well in Europe (I have driven in Europe and this is not just the difference in gallon size, etc.).
    I think the Europeans also have the better idea with regard to fuel taxes and the responsibilities of drivers, no doubt.
    In addition, as many people have pointed out on this and other sites, diesel engines themselves are likely to be durable (perhaps as durable as the hybrid systems), but in other areas of cost (like repair records and cost of repairs), the European makes have not done so well in the US (perhaps they are built better for the home markets).

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  • Collin

    I apologize to you, because your statements are outdated. You need to go test-drive a Clean Diesel vehicle. Then come back & comment with your experience. Clean Diesel vehicles do not emit odors or smoke. The exhaust pipe is squeaky clean. As for under-powered the new Clean Diesels have soooo much acceleration. I out accelerate other luxury vehicles uphill while I drive my TDI. I love my TDI.

  • Kim

    I am not sure if you know this or not but diesels are not the loud smelly vehicles they use to be. Diesels are not very loud at all anymore.