Special Coverage

Greater L.A. Auto Show

LOS ANGELES – Volkswagen of America Inc. reiterates its status as the clean-diesel advocate with the unveiling of several new vehicles at the Los Angeles auto show here.

While a street-legal, sport-tuned variant of the Jetta TDI Cup racecar and the ’09 Touareg V-6 TDI cross/utility vehicle, which goes on sale early next year for about $43,000 (about $2,500 more than the gasoline V-6 version) highlight the newest practical applications for diesel engines, the auto maker’s purpose-built Red Bull Race Touareg TDI Trophy Truck steals the show and epitomizes diesel power.

Blessed with a 550-hp 5.5L V-12 turodiesel, lightweight body and custom-made tube chassis capable of traversing off-road trails at speeds upwards of 130 mph (209 km/h), the race truck will attempt to finish – and win overall – the grueling Baja 1000 desert race this weekend in Ensenada, Mexico.

Like the Jetta TDI Cup race series that launched earlier this year and is gearing up for a more-extensive 2009 season, the Baja effort represents the next challenge as the auto maker extends its diesel presence into additional motorsports venues, says Norbert Krause, VWA director-engineering and environmental office.

In addition, the torturous off-road race down the Baja peninsula helps with the development of production vehicles, he says, such as component-durability testing, suspension refinement and the examination of new engineering concepts.

Meanwhile, the auto maker “is not backing down one inch with plans to grow business in the U.S.,” says VWA President and CEO Stefan Jacoby, citing VW’s efforts to build a new assembly plant in Chattanooga, TN, and its launch of five new vehicles in 2008, including the Jetta TDI, Tiguan CUV and Passat CC sedan.

Despite the severely depressed new-vehicle market, VW’s sales mostly have been flat in the U.S., he says.

Contributing to that respectable performance is the new Jetta TDI sedan and Sportwagen, more than 8,000 of which already have been delivered to customers, says Wolfgang Hatz, VW Group head of product development. The auto maker is continuing to develop its Tiguan and Touran HyMotion fuel-cell-vehicle concepts as its eyes a future in zero-emissions transportation, he adds.

Similarly, Audi of America Inc. is upbeat on the prospects of clean diesels as it prepares for next year’s launch of the Q7 V-6 TDI CUV, which recently achieved a fuel-economy average of 33 mpg (7.1 L/100 km) during the auto maker’s coast-to-coast, 4,800-mile (7,725-km) TDI Mileage Marathon to promote the powertrain technology, says Executive Vice President Johan de Nysschen.

“Diesel is the engine of independence for America,” he says of clean diesel’s immediate ability to reduce foreign oil imports and help lower vehicle emissions.

“I believe 2009 will be the breakthrough year for TDI in the U.S., with the Q7 proving that size and efficiency are not a contradiction,” adds Audi AG management-board member Peter Schwarzenbauer, noting the auto maker remains on track to reach its record sales goal of delivering 1 million vehicles globally in 2008.

msutton@wardsauto.com