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 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.