NYT: As VW Pushed To Be No.1, Ambitions Fueled A Scandal – Best Article On The Subject Yet


Diesel emissions? I don’t see any emissions.  (Martin Winterkorn photo by Marijan Murat)

I don’t usually do this, but if anyone feels like they don’t yet have a very comprehensive picture of the VW scandal, and what fueled it, the NYT has an excellent article on the subject this morning.

And in another bit of obnoxious “I told you so” hindsight, I remembered a short post I did at TTAC when the new 2009 TDI Jetta came out, the first of the VW “clean” diesels.  Its EPA numbers were very disappointing, but then that all makes sense now: 

On May 21, 2008, VW released the EPA mileage numbers for the new 2009 Jetta TDI. My headline was: “VW’s TDI Prius Killer DOA”. (ttac.com)

Expectations for VW’s 60 mpg TDI “Prius killer” were high. And VW threw plenty of (diesel) fuel on the heated passions of oil burner fans. Press materials just a few weeks ago predicted EPA city mileage numbers “in the 40’s” and highway mileage “as high as 60mpg.” The EPA has released the numbers and they…suck. We’re talking 29/40 for the DSG version; 30/40 for the stick. Combined mileage: 34 mpg. The Prius’ 46mpg combined mileage is a whopping 35 percent higher. Diesel fuel is running 20 percent higher than unleaded. Annual fuel costs for the two (15k miles): Jetta TDI: $2010; Prius: $1,240. Don’t say I didn’t tell you so. But I’ll repeat the key part: to comply with US emissions regs, diesels lose five percentage points off their efficiency advantage over gas engines. (emphasis added by me. Of course diesel engine don’t lose that extra 5% efficiency when the emission system is disabled. )  Throw in a global diesel fuel shortage, and its diesel RIP. No word yet on how much VW will charge for the TDI option. 


Those very modest EPA number of course make sense now, inasmuch as the diesels were actually running clean during the testing cycle. For years, VW TDI fans brushed off the low EPA numbers by saying that these cars did much better in the real world than on the EPA tests. Of course, those were anecdotal accounts; in objective tests, the VW TDIs generally matched their EPA numbers failry closely. But even that’s unusual, as every other car sol in the US gets worse mileage in objective real-world tests than the EPA numbers. That alone should have been a tip-off.