Volkswagen's Message: Choose Diesel

By Kendra Marr
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 30, 2009

Clean diesel?

It's not an oxymoron. In fact, the days when diesel drivers cloaked the streets with clouds of black tailpipe smoke are gone, says Volkswagen.

In August, the German automaker introduced its TDI clean diesel technology into the U.S. market, which combined with low-sulfur diesel, aims to reduce sooty emissions by 95 percent.

This week, VW plans to use the Washington Auto Show to promote its diesel-powered cars as a fuel-efficient alternative to cars that run on gas. The company will be exhibiting its Jetta TDI Sport Wagon, which gets 30-mpg in the city, and 41-mpg on the highway, and the Volkswagen Touareg V6 TDI, which it claims is one of the cleanest and fuel-efficient SUVs on the market. People will also get a glimpse of its concept BlueSport, a two-door diesel roadster that gets 55 mpg.

"Minimum consumption and maximum fun to drive," said Martin Winterkorn, chairman of Volkswagen, unveiling the car at Detroit's auto show last month.

Nearly every major auto manufacturer has added diesel to its line-up of fuel efficient vehicles to keep up with Washington's rising fuel economy standards. Diesel costs more at the pump, but vehicles typically get 20 to 40 percent more miles to the gallon than a traditional gasoline engine, according to the Diesel Technology Forum.

Unlike in Europe, where more than half the cars run on diesel, its adoption in the United States has been stalled because of high tailpipe emissions. Now, advanced engines have solved that problem.

Already VW has made some strides in persuading Americans to adopt the fuel.

The Jetta TDI was recently named the 2009 Green Car of the Year by Green Car Journal.

Audi, also owned by Volkswagen, showcased the range and capabilities of clean diesel TDI models last year with a 4,800 coast-to-cast marathon. During one stage of the demonstration a car squeezed more than 50 mpg.

It's fitting that Stefan Jacoby, president and chief executive of Volkswagen of America, is the auto show's keynote speaker on Tuesday.

Last year the German automaker moved its U.S. headquarters from Auburn Hills, a Detroit suburb, to Herndon. The $100 million relocation brought 400 new jobs to Fairfax County. And the company said its workforce could expand if it reaches its goal of selling 1 million Volkswagens and Audis in the United States by 2018.

Jacoby said he wanted to move the company closer to its customers. In Detroit, cars and trucks from General Motors, Ford and Chrylser dominated the roads.

The company went on to make a $1 billion investment in a new plant in Chattanooga, Tenn. VW aims to build mid-size sedans for U.S. customers by 2011 and create 9,500 jobs.

"You know, people keep asking me, 'Why are you investing $1billion in a U.S. plant now, of all times?' " said Winterkorn. "My answer is simple and clear: The automobile will always be an essential part of the American way of life."

About 30 percent of the vehicles made at the Chattanooga plant will be powered by VW's TDI clean diesel technology.

VW hopes that "diesel" may no longer be a dirty word.

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