COMPARING 2009 JETTAS
21/29 mpg with gas*
29/40 mpg with diesel**
$4.29 cost to drive 25 miles with gas
$3.58 cost to drive 25 miles with diesel
$2,576 cost a year for gas
$2,150 cost a year for diesel
14.9 barrels of oil a year for gas
11.9 barrels of oil a year for diesel
8.0 tons of CO2 annually with gas
6.4 tons of CO2 annually with diesel
* Chattanooga regular gas cost a gallon, $3.95
** Chattanooga diesel cost a gallon, $4.73
With green leaves sprouting from the front wheel wells and spreading to the doors, a white “Clean Diesel” Jetta carrying dignitaries and officials around town last week carried the message of the future Volkswagen executives hope to write.
“We believe diesel will have a fair share beside other modern technology,” said Stefan Jacoby, president and CEO of Volkswagen of America, shortly after announcing plans for a $1 billion automobile assembly plant in Chattanooga that will produce a new midsized Volkswagen specifically for American consumers.
Volkswagen already is Europe’s leading diesel car company. When the new, as-yet-unnamed sedans roll off the Chattanooga assembly line in 2011, VW officials fully expect a portion of them to be diesel-powered, according to Steve Keyes, director of press and public relations for Volkswagen America in Herndon, Va.
Staff Photo by John Rawlston
Stefan Jacoby, right, president and CEO of Volkswagen Group of America Inc., steps out of a diesel-powered Jetta with Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen in front of the Hunter Museum of American Art last week.
Although at least 60 percent of Volkswagen automobiles sold in Europe are diesel-powered and 25 percent of all diesel engines worldwide are made by Volkswagen, whether diesels can catch on enough in America to make them an engine of choice for consumers here remains to be seen, company officials and analysts acknowledge.
“It’s hard to say right now” what portion of the cars will be completed with diesel engines, Mr. Keyes said. “We do know it’s a major fuel economy savings, and the environmental impact is less with diesel.”
He said the company likely will decide the diesel/gasoline/hybrid engine ratios in six months “especially with the fast tract we’re on.”
The decision will depend in part on what happens in coming months with the prices of gas and diesel. On Sunday gasoline nationally averaged $4.08 and diesel $4.83. In Tennessee, gas was $3.93 and diesel was $4.72.
Not diesel of old
As Mr. Jacoby talked about VW’s new car factory in his public appearances here last week, he touted the leaf-decorated TDI diesel Jetta he had driven with Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen to announce Chattanooga’s new plant and 2,000 jobs. He asked the governor: “How was it?”
“The car was fine,” quipped Gov. Bredesen, “But I wasn’t sure about having (as a driver) someone who is used to driving on the Autobahn.”
Later in the week, Hamilton County Mayor Claude Ramsey and Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield drove the Jetta to a Rotary Club meeting.
David Byrd, sales consultant at Village Volkswagen in Chattanooga, said the publicity is helpful because the new diesels are so different from the smoky, noisy models of the past that most people don’t realize diesel Volkswagens are not new here.
But they have been rare, he said.
“Volkswagen came out with the diesel TDI in 1995,” Mr. Byrd said. “On the 2008 model, we’d already sold 18 even in advance of getting any. There’s always been a shortage for the demand.”
New diesel engines are the most efficient of all internal combustion power systems, typically delivering 20 percent to 40 percent more miles per gallon and 10 percent to 20 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions than comparable gasoline vehicles, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,
“Most people, when I put them in a diesel Jetta, don’t know it’s a diesel unless I tell them or they read it on the outside of the car,” Mr. Byrd said.
Auto reviewers also call the new diesels fun.
Jason Cammisa of automobilemag.com said the diesel TDI Jetta “blows the gas engine away in torque. ... Off the line, even with air conditioning on and four people in the car, the Jetta TDI will spin its front wheels.”
A Web site operated by EPA and the Department of Energy, www.fueleconomy.gov, offers a more practical look at new diesels.
The interactive computation shows a simple comparison between vehicles, including the diesel and gasoline versions of a 2009 Volkswagen Jetta.
Despite Chattanooga’s 82-cents-a-gallon higher price tag for diesel, the localized comparison states the diesel model would travel 30 percent more miles on a gallon of fuel and save $426 annually on fuel costs here, while using nearly three fewer barrels of oil and emitting 1.6 less tons of greenhouse gas emissions each year.
Ron Graves, director of the Fuels, Engines and Emissions Research Center at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, said diesel fuel burns more completely, and therefore more efficiently, than gasoline.
“So from the energy security standpoint, it’s going to be a little bit better than a gasoline vehicle,” he said.
He cited a couple of developments in recent years that make viable VW’s interest in widening its diesel market to the U.S.
An after-treatment system (akin to a catalytic converter on gas cars) was refined to lower the diesel engine emissions.
And with Oak Ridge research help, diesel fuels were improved to lower the fuel sulfur content in all diesel sold in the U.S., Mr. Graves said.
From the consumer standpoint, he said, diesel also offers no extra learning curve. Consumers fill up at the same service stations, don’t have to learn recharging procedures and don’t face the eventual $10,000 cost of a hybrid battery.
He said he has noticed in recent years more pickup trucks are sporting diesel decals and emblems. Still, he said, most Americans seem “very stuck” on gasoline.
“I would certainly look very carefully at the next generation of diesel cars,” he said. “We’re really pleased to see Chattanooga land this big economic opportunity.”
Pam Sohn has been reporting or editing Chattanooga news for 25 years. A Walden’s Ridge native, she began her journalism career with a 10-year stint at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. She came to the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 1999 after working at the Chattanooga Times for 14 years. She has been a city editor, Sunday editor, wire editor, projects team leader and assistant lifestyle editor. As a reporter, she also has covered the police, ...