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Green Car of the Year: A Diesel?!

| Wednesday November 26th, 2008 | 8 Comments

VWJettaTDI09.jpgWhen you say the words “green car,” what comes to mind? Prius first, I suspect. One of the numerous electric cars popping up these days. And perhaps a hydrogen car. So would you be surprised to hear that the winner of last week’s Green Car of the Year award at the LA Auto Show was…a diesel? Volkswagen’s Jetta TDI.
If you’re from anywhere outside the US, probably not. Particularly in Europe, diesels comprise a large amount of the cars driven, and it’s with good reason: They get great mileage, and have low emissions.
Many in the US likely have an outdated perception of what a diesel car is like: Weak, loud, and a big polluter. Or you see big rig trucks on the road, belching dark exhaust clouds. That’s diesel, for many people.
The truth is, diesel powered cars have steadily improved, becoming agile, powerful, efficient, low emission vehicles, even known to beat hybrid mileage.


All this, without the need for complicated systems to run it that require specialized mechanics to fix it. And without using substances in the batteries of questionable sustainable credentials. Or in the case of lithium, without being a substance of which 50% of the world’s supply is in one country, Bolivia, which is hostile to foreign industry, and whose president, “…is keen to expand state control over its natural resources…
The VW Jetta TDI bested the BMW 335d (another diesel), Ford Fusion Hybrid, Saturn Vue 2 Mode Hybrid, and smart fourtwo. The diminutive smart fourtwo, I was surprised to learn, gets only 33 mpg city, 41 mpg highway. It did however score 9 out of 10 on the newly required global warming score. But it got 5 out of 10 for smog.
While time will tell if hydrogen fueled vehicles become a serious, ecologically benevolent player in the world of transportation, diesel vehicles, now able to be sold in all 50 states due to even better emissions than even a year ago, seem to be a great option to consider.
Readers: Which direction do you think we should pursue when it comes to greening cars? A single type, multiple types? Any you think we should avoid? Why?
Paul Smith is a sustainable business innovator, the founder of GreenSmith Consulting, and has an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio School of Management in San Francisco. His overarching talent is “bottom lining” complex ideas, in a way that is understandable and accessible to a variety of audiences, internal and external to a company.


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  • H Mitchell

    Another point worth making: mot only are do diesels beat hybrid mileage and emissions ratings, they’re also (in my personal opinion) a lot more fun to drive. I’ve always felt a little hesitant towards hybrids because they lack the “pep” of your typical car (just look at the dismal “fun” scores at the carfun footprint site) — granted, when the environment is at stake we have to look at what’s truly important, but this seems like a situation where we could have both the aesthetics AND the conservation if we’d just invest in the right technology (by the way, a metblog writer recently made this point much better than I)
    But, as far as directions go I don’t think we should count hybrids or EVs or any technology totally out. Let’s allow each one to develop and go from there.

  • http://www.greensmithconsulting.com Paul Smith

    Agreed. No single solution is it, but improvements could be made in each.

  • Dan

    Diesel plug-in hybrid?

  • Chris R. Ladner

    Lighter, lighter, lighter. See RMI’s information on vehicle weight and the use of carbon fiber. The manufacturers need to stop focusing all the attention on the drive mechanism and start focusing on the fact that 90-98% of the horsepower goes to moving the car, not moving the passenger.

  • http://www.greensmithconsulting.com Paul Smith

    Good point, well put.
    Have you heard of Faurecia? That’s exactly what they’re working on. Though I’d want more progress then they’re aiming for. But it’s a start. I met with them last week at the LA Auto Show. I wrote them at the end of the article here http://www.triplepundit.com/pages/la-auto-show-three-under-the-radar-ways.php

  • http://www.greensmithconsulting.com Paul Smith

    @Dan: I’ve long said if Subaru ever did that, I’d get it tomorrow!

  • Megan

    Yay! That’s my car. :)

  • http://www.greensmithconsulting.com Paul Smith

    @Megan: How do you like it? How’s the power? What’s your actual mileage been (if you know)