Audi Promotes Diesel Engines Over Hybrids

Q7tdi While all the hype may surround hybrids, plug-ins and electric vehicles, Audi has chosen to push clean-diesel engines as an efficient alternative to standard gasoline-powered cars. You’ve probably already seen the ads for the diesel Q7 SUV that the automaker introduced earlier this year, and Audi will also roll out a diesel A3 wagon in late 2009. In campaigns for both cars, the automaker wants to emphasize that diesel vehicles cut oil use substantially.

According to Audi, if a third of Americans drove diesel cars, daily imported oil use would fall by 1.5 million barrels, because diesel engines are 30% more fuel-efficient than gas-powered models. It also points out that roughly half of Europe’s cars are diesels. Right now, diesels make up 3% of U.S. sales, while hybrids account for 2.4%, according to J.D. Power and Associates.

While both types of cars certainly have a lot of room to grow, there are some key issues Audi will not bring up in its drive to sell diesel cars. For instance, while it’s true that some clean-diesel vehicles qualify for tax credits, so do some hybrids. Audi’s point is that the technology for diesel vehicles is here right now, but again, the same can be said of your standard hybrid.

A Q7 will set you back at least $43,500, while the non-diesel 2009 A3 starts at nearly $27,000. The cheapest diesel on the U.S. market is the Volkswagen Jetta TDI, which starts at just over $22,000 and has an EPA rating of 30/41 mpg city/highway (the Honda Insight and Toyota Prius hybrids both cost less and are more fuel efficient).

Finally, the price of diesel is more volatile than that of gasoline. Although diesel has fallen significantly in cost since last year, now hovering a few cents below gas, all the refining capacity for diesel remains in Europe. That means that during a fuel crunch like we saw last summer, all those diesel European cars will have first dibs on diesel, which will send U.S. prices soaring.

This means that while diesel engines can be more efficient, there’s no guarantee they will be less expensive. In other words, it’s not that Audi’s diesel campaign is incorrect, it’s just that presenting diesel as an oil-saving panacea is slightly misleading.

Audi Pushes Diesel as Oil-Saving Option (Detroit News)

Comments 

I still don't understand why no one's made a diesel hybrid yet. Yeah, it'd be kinda pricey, but I think the prospect of being able to regularly attain 75+ MPG would be a very enticing thing to today's consumer.

UK Diesel Driver

Diesel Hybrids are being developed. Peugeot / Citroen have been looking at one for a while now. The main problem is that petrol engines are a much better match for electric engines. Especially if the run on the Atkinson cycle (leaner burn, less low down power).

Petrol engines tend to be high revving and not have much low down torque. Electric motors have max torque from virtually 0 rpm. They therefore complement each other well. Diesel already has this low down torque and therefore benefits a lot less.

I am also unconvinced by the milage figures quoted for hybrids. My employer runs mostly diesel vehicles and a few hybrids, but they found hybrids to be less efficient on motorways then diesel.

In cities they might be more efficient, but in most UK cities you are better of with a Smart anyway as parking is so much easier...

Oh, I would be interested in seeing a real life test between a Golf (Rabbit) 1.4 supercharger and turbo engine and a Prius. With automatic start and stop functions these engines should be gaining on hybrids...

JohnQPublic

Diesels will be less fuel-efficient in the U.S. than in Europe because of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's mandated pollution control devices. While you can get almost 50mpg hwy in a Jetta TDI in Europe, a U.S.-specifications Jetti TDI will only do 41mpg.

For North America, hybrids are the way to go. I'd stick with a diesel in Europe though.

Another factor to consider is that a full hybrid like the Prius also saves you money in maintenance-- virtually no brake maintenance because they use electrical regenerative braking, vs. 20,000-mile brake pad changes in diesel cars with automatic transmissions. The Prius also needs less maintenance in its transmission because it has just one single planetary gearset, vs. multispeed transmissions in diesels which requires fluid changes every couple of years.

For some people, the low-maintenance requirement is a time- and hassle-saver-- nobody likes taking the car to the mechanic.

Both have their advantages depending on the country. If I'm in North America, hybrids win. In Europe, diesels win.

Juan

$22,750 is base price for 2010 Prius. It is not less expensive than Jetta TDI. Also, no tax credit for Prius and $1300 credit for TDI.

phil

each type, hybrid and diesel have their benefit and problem points. if you live in a city, drive short distances through stop and go traffic to and from work each day, a hybrid will do better until you have to replace your battery pack. if you are an over the road salesman, diesels are the better choice. the problem in america now is that the german automakers who have diesels by the drove have chosen to bring in only very small (jetta/audia3) diesels, or very big suv expensive rigs. the salesman's dream is the passat/audia4 station wagon so equipment fits and mileage is great, and they won't bring that vehicle into the u.s. sounds like a conspiracy of stupid management to me. adults want a bigger car than a jetta, and they can afford the upcharge of the tdi. in st louis, one dealer is offering $5k off jetta tdis as long as you don't want the wagon. seems a case of poor market analysis to me. i looked at the vw taureg with the tdi, and it was $50k. too rich for a salesmans car.

Bob Wilson

The Prius base model is cheaper than the Jetta TDI with an equivalent automatic transmission. Automatic is standard on the Prius.

Bob Wilson

Hybrit

UK Diesel Driver is spreading misinformation. Journalists testing the 2010 Prius, including some of the Cars.com crew, had no problem achieving more than 70 mpg - one made it into the 90s. The documented world record mileage for the last generation Prius was more than 100 mpg for an entire tank of gas. Even the new mild hybrid Honda Insight reportedly gets close to 50 mpg in the real world. I'm tired of hearing about what Europeans drive - WE DON'T WANT DIESEL CARS IN AMERICA, unless they run on locally produced biodiesel. Consumer Reports could only squeeze 23 mpg average out of a Jetta TDI and they don't recommend that people buy it. Diesel hybrids will never make it to market. The engine is heavier than a gasoline engine and when you add the weight of the batteries it becomes impractical. Diesel engines cannot tolerate the constant stop/start cycles of a hybrid without plugging their particulate filters (diesel engines produce huge amounts of particulates on start-up). Diesel is suited only to trucks, tractors and heavy equipment that run constantly and at low rpms. It's a backward technology for cars and unnecessary when you consider the fantastic hybrids on the market and plug-in hybrids on the horizon.

Mark

Excellent blog post, Stephen. You've convinced me that hybrids are the superior technology. Thank you.

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