- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 19, 2004

For some strange reason, the perception of diesel power here in the United States differs greatly from that generally held by Europeans. Images that are most prevalent in our country include noise, sooty particles, unpleasant odor, and lack of performance.

To explain why diesel fuel is such a popular alternative to gasoline in Europe, it is considerably less expensive, particularly with fuel economy factored in, and it is in reality cleaner burning than gasoline, with fewer actual pollutants emitted, depending upon the level of aromatic compounds it contains.

Another factor adding to diesel fuel’s European popularity is that it is more readily available there. The cetane rating (gasoline’s higher-number octane opposite) is much more standardized and consistent in Europe than here, with the reduced risk of replenishing one’s tank with contaminants. Diesel-fueled engines generally offer greater low-end torque as well, which translates as more power.

So, why is it that five U.S. states, which purportedly are concerned with possible negative environmental effects, are restricting the import of new diesel vehicles?

Gasoline-burning vehicles are less fuel-efficient and produce higher emissions, meaning that increasing the use of diesel fuel now would minimize the negative environmental and economic impact incurred by gasoline-fueled vehicles.

It seems that two of the states that are holding out for the Utopian diesel solution before allowing their use would benefit substantially by focusing on more realistic standards and upon immediately improving quality standards — those two states are California and New York. Wake up guys, it’s a no-brainer. Other states sharing this “wait until 2007” or until everything is absolutely perfect, mentality are Maine, Massachusetts and Vermont.

Currently, the most widely used technology for diesel engines is common rail diesel, Injection (CDI) but Volkswagen, in combination with Bosch, has developed pumpe duse or turbo diesel injection (TDI), which produces up to 50 percent higher torque, an average of more than 30 percent better fuel economy and 20 percent to 25 percent reduced emissions. This could very well result in a $9 billion annual savings, a 28-mile-per-gallon CAFE rating and a CO2 greenhouse gas reduction of somewhere in the neighborhood of 5 million metric tons, according to Dr. Markus Parcher, vice president of diesel systems markets for Robert Bosch GMBH.

In a recent symposium and ride and drive hosted by Volkswagen, North American automotive journalists were afforded the opportunity to experience, first-hand, the fruits of TDI. The technology is currently found in the Volkswagen Passat sedan and wagon, and the VW Touareg TDI V-10. The latter is powered by a 5.0-liter V-10 with twin turbochargers that produces 310 horsepower and a whopping 553 foot-pounds of torque. The towing capacity, by the way, is 7,716 pounds, making it among the strongest SUVs in its class, as well as one of the fastest, moving from 0-60 mph in a mere 7.5 seconds. Top speed is 130 mph — electronically limited. All this comes with an EPA fuel efficiency rating of 17 mpg in city driving and 23 mpg on the highway. Don’t get your hopes up for obtaining one, however, as only 1,000 are being produced, with only 460 coming to the United States.

The Passat is less extreme in its capability, with a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder turbo diesel that produces 134 horses and 247 foot-pounds of torque. It won’t be as exclusive in its availability as the Touareg. I drove all three examples of the TDI application with the new pumpe duse unit injector technology during the program, and later tested a VW Passat TDI Wagon in GLS trim on my home turf.

The base price was set at $24,585. The five-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission, Cold Weather Package, Electronic Stabilization Program (ESP) and destination charge moved the total tag up to $26,840. In terms of its appearance, the vehicle is indistinguishable from a gasoline-powered version.

The TDI version of the VW Passat GLS Wagon does everything that its gasoline-powered sibling does, and equally well, in terms of ride quality and handling characteristics, which are all quite respectable. On the efficiency side of the equation however, the TDI excels in fuel economy and emissions reduction.

It is more discernible as a diesel than the Touareg — surprisingly, the four-cylinder issues more of a traditional sound than the V-10, which is actually quieter. The Passat Wagon’s audible level decreases at higher cruising speeds, becoming almost unnoticeable.

Volkswagen is the largest producer of diesel engines for passenger cars making three, four, five and 10-cylinder versions. With all the positive attributes of this latest diesel technology, it seems that the focus from regulatory factions should be on fuel quality and standardization along with distribution infrastructure, rather than vehicle manufacturers.

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