New VW Diesel May Push Demand for High-Mileage Alternative

The Detroit Bureau

Volk­swa­gen of Amer­i­ca plans to bring its newest clean diesel engine to North Amer­i­ca lat­er this year, a move that could add even more momen­tum to the revival of the high-mileage tech­nol­o­gy.

VW has been one of the biggest pro­po­nents of the new diesel tech­nol­o­gy begin­ning to show up in a grow­ing array of auto­mo­tive appli­ca­tions – with mak­ers as diverse as Chevro­let, Jeep, Maz­da and Mer­cedes-Benz adding new “oil-burn­ers” to their line-up.

VW’s lat­est diesel, known inter­nal­ly as the EA288 engine, was unveiled this week dur­ing a con­fer­ence in Detroit. Accord­ing to Dou­glas Sko­rup­s­ki, VWoA” man­ag­er of tech­ni­cal strat­e­gy, it will pow­er the 2015 Golf, Bee­tle, Bee­tle Con­vert­ible, Pas­sat, and Jet­ta mod­els, all of which are set to arrive in deal­er show­rooms dur­ing the sec­ond half of 2014.

“The Volk­swa­gen Group is a leader in clean diesel tech­nol­o­gy,” pro­claimed Sko­rup­s­ki. “With the intro­duc­tion of the new EA288 engine, we are excit­ed that our fam­i­ly of TDI Clean Diesel vehi­cles is con­tin­u­ing to improve.”

VW could use a help­ing hand. The mak­er has been strug­gling to reverse a year-long sales decline. But while over­all demand is down, it has also expe­ri­enced a surge in diesel deliv­er­ies, fuel­ing an even big­ger bet that the tech­nol­o­gy can its for­tunes in the U.S. mar­ket.

While empha­siz­ing fuel econ­o­my through­out their adver­tis­ing and mar­ket­ing cam­paigns, none of the Asian man­u­fac­tur­ers have brought diesel engines to the U.S. The extra cost of the nec­es­sary emis­sions con­trol sys­tems, along with the high­er pump price for diesel fuel, are the rea­sons most often cit­ed by the Asian car­mak­ers for hold­ing off.

The excep­tion is Maz­da, which sev­er­al years ago announced plans to sell a diesel-pow­ered ver­sion of the Mazda6 sedan in the U.S. But that project has repeat­ed­ly been delayed. After test­ing the Sky­Ac­tiv diesel ver­sion, exec­u­tives con­clud­ed the diesel pow­ered Maz­da 6 sim­ply didn’t deliv­er the kind of sporty dri­ving char­ac­ter­is­tics cus­tomers have come to expect from the brand.

Com­pa­ny offi­cials say they still plan to add the diesel but are like­ly to make some sig­nif­i­cant changes. The orig­i­nal ver­sion was able to avoid the need for AddBlue, the chem­i­cal addi­tive that is used by most mod­ern diesels to com­ply with U.S. emis­sions stan­dards. But the trade-off was low­er per­for­mance. Maz­da sources tell TheDetroitBureau.com that the even­tu­al U.S. diesel will like­ly have to use the addi­tive to bal­ance emis­sions with clas­sic Maz­da “zoom-zoom” per­for­mance.

Chrysler, mean­while, is mov­ing ahead with plans for diesel-pow­ered truck mod­els. It can bare­ly keep up with demand for the new Ram 1500 diesel. But Ser­gio Mar­chionne, chief exec­u­tive offi­cer of Fiat Chrysler Auto­mo­biles, said last week it is dif­fi­cult to jus­ti­fy putting a diesel engine in one of the company’s pas­sen­ger cars.

“It doesn’t make eco­nom­ic sense,” Mar­chionne cau­tioned, not­ing that when the expense of the nec­es­sary emis­sion treat­ment sys­tem is fac­tored into the equa­tion, the cost of a diesel engine becomes pro­hib­i­tive.

It doesn’t help that diesel fuel prices con­tin­ue to run as much as $1 more per gal­lon than reg­u­lar unlead­ed gaso­line, a price that wipes up much of the mileage advan­tage the fuel offers. But diesel also does have an advan­tage over cost­lier hybrid tech­nolo­gies that don’t deliv­er as much per­for­mance.

Despite such con­cerns, Volk­swa­gen and its Audi sib­ling con­tin­ue to add more diesel mod­els and last year deliv­ered col­lec­tive sales of 105,899 TDI Clean Diesel vehi­cles. It was the first time Volk­swa­gen of Amer­i­ca topped the 100,000 sales mile­stone in a cal­en­dar year – a fig­ure rep­re­sent­ing near­ly 75% of total diesel sales for pas­sen­ger cars and SUVs in the Unit­ed States in 2013.

Volk­swa­gen and Audi cur­rent­ly offer 12 dif­fer­ent TDI Clean Diesel pow­ered mod­els in the Unit­ed States. Audi plans to add anoth­er mod­el for 2015 on top of the three it launched this year.

The new EA288 engine will even­tu­al­ly replace all the 2.0-liter TDI Clean Diesel engines cur­rent­ly fit­ted in Audi and Volk­swa­gen mod­els. It is a tur­bocharged, com­mon-rail, direct-injec­tion four-cylin­der engine mak­ing 150 horsepower—an increase of 10 hp over the cur­rent engine—and 236 pound-feet of torque.

A num­ber of changes have been made to fur­ther reduce emis­sions, includ­ing: use of a com­plex exhaust gas recir­cu­la­tion sys­tem; inte­gra­tion of the inter­cool­er with the intake man­i­fold, which also improves throt­tle response; and pack­ag­ing the exhaust after-treat­ment com­po­nents clos­er to the engine.

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