Last week I had the opportunity to attend a press information and driving event held by Volkswagen in California, near their Electronics Research Laboratory in Belmont. As noted with many other manufacturers at this year's NAIAS, the connected car is something that Volkswagen is also deeply involved in, and their decision to locate this facility in Silicon Valley is deliberately intended to support that aspect of their business.
At present, Volkswagen has several vehicles of particular interest. Among the vehicles I drove were the Touareg Hybrid, the Jetta Sportwagen TDI, and the E-Golf. (I'll have more coverage of the E-Golf in another article.) The Touareg is a 5-seat SUV with a parallel hybrid drivetrain (one electric motor with compact disengagement clutch mounted between V6 engine and transmission: 47 hp electric motor and 3.0 liter V6) with permanent all-wheel drive. It carries 174 pounds of nickel/metal hydride batteries, but this is a mild hybrid that mostly uses the electric motor to assist the conventional engine. The Touareg Hybrid gets mileage of 20 MPG city/24 MPG highway (as compared to 16 MPG city/23 MPG highway for the 3.6 liter conventional gas engine). That puts it in the middle of the pack among hybrid SUVs.
If cargo capacity were the reason to buy an SUV, you'd actually do beter with the Jetta Sportwagen TDI. Nearly 2,000 pounds lighter than the Touareg, the Sportwagen also seats five, but it has 2.9 more cubic feet of storage space with the rear seats down (66.9 cubic feet for Sportwagen versus 64 cubic feet for Touareg). The diesel Sportwagen gets almost double the mileage of the Touareg, as well, with 29 MPG city/39 MPG highway for the automatic transmission version (and as compared to the 24 MPG city/31 MPG highway for the 2.5 liter gasoline engine version). Manual transmissions are available for both models of Sportwagen.
As noted earlier, over 20% of Volkswagens sold in the US are diesels. Volkswagen officials indicated that smaller 1.8 liter and 1.4 liter diesel engines are forthcoming for more fuel-efficient vehicles in upcoming model years. Diesels also provide a 20% reduction in carbon emissions as compared to gasoline engines.
Volkswagen doesn't typically have the highest numbers compared with its competitors in terms of fuel efficiency, which may be why we don't find ourselves talking about them as often as we do with some other automakers. But the comapny has a corporate-wide commitment to reducing the environmental impacts of their business with their "Think Blue" strategy (choosing blue - as with the entire planet seen from space - rather than green to represent their breadth of vision). This includes long-term goals such as a 40% reduction in greenhouse gasses from production plants by 2020 and a fleet CO2 emissions target of below 120 grams per kilometer. The company also recently completed construction of the only LEED Platinum Certified automotive factory in the country with their new manufacturing facility in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
[Ed. Note: Volkswagen paid for the travel and lodging for my trip to SF where I gathered some of the information for this story.]
image credit: EcoGeek (pictured: L: Touareg, R: Jetta Sportwagen)
written by Larry Leichtman, April 05, 2012
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