Stupid Americans?
by David Cipolloni
 April 24, 2006

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2006 VW Jetta TDI above blew the Toyota Prius Hybrid (below) away in every measurable category.  50 mpg for the Diesel and just 42 for the Prius, despite what is advertised....and the VW is far more enjoyable to drive by a wide margin

Is it possible that Americans will finally learn what the rest of the world has known for many years, that diesel power is the most practical propulsion means for moving cars and trucks around public roadways? In a recent AutoWeek Magazine article pitting the new VW Jetta TDI (Turbo Direct Injection) with automatic, against the hybrid cars from Toyota and Honda, the VW left the gasoline hybrid techno-wizards scratching their heads.

This is something we, at AutoRacing1, have known for some time. One of our company cars is a manual gearbox TDI Golf that routinely returns highway mileage in the low 50ís under hard driving. While not a sportscar the Golf is very quiet and comfortable to drive, offering an improved ownership experience over the long term.

In the AutoWeek comparison the Honda Accord Hybrid achieved 33.9 mpg on the highway, while the Toyota Prius did a bit better at 42 mpg. While decent numbers they paled in comparison to the 49.9 mpg the VW Jetta attained. The ride quality of the Honda and Toyota are good, but, not in comparison to the VW. What if the VW TDI were morphed into a hybrid? Maybe then we could be looking at more attractive mileage numbers.

Now, before you diesel haters start sending nasty-grams about the emission output of diesel engines you need to consider a few things. First, the VW was running on B20, this is a mixture of 80% diesel and 20% Biodiesel. This mixture goes a long way in reducing much of the potent diesel exhaust emissions. And, by the end of the year the US should start using sulfur free diesel fuel, which also helps reduce exhaust emissions. This is something much of the world has already been doing.

Maybe it took Audi to prove that diesel engines are capable powerplants, and that various fuels can be developed to power these engines. In Europe there are many diesel powered cars that attain 70-80 mpg, and for good reason since fuel can easily top $5/gallon. While many of these cars cannot be imported into the US, due to crash worthiness, we need to look at how the rest of the world gets by on so much less fossil fuel.

Possibly some Americans need to read a little more, or possibly be a little more open-minded when they consider what constitutes a good car. From a safety standpoint alone we should look at diesel powered vehicles in a favorable light. Diesel fuel is less likely to burst into flames during a collision, and Biodiesel with its high flashpoint is even less likely to ever cause a fire during a crash.

If you should ever find yourself pinned in a crashed hybrid it may take some time to have you extricated. You see, firefighters are a little reluctant to apply the Jaws of Life to a car that may cause instant electrocution.  And don't let me start on the $7,500 replacement cost when your battery pack goes bad.

Without going into the engineering involved in comparing gasoline hybrids, to diesel powered vehicles, letís just say that our bet may be on the diesels. Without going into vehicle dynamics letís just take a look at diesel vs. gasoline. There is more heat energy available from diesel fuel for any given amount as compared to gasoline. A piston engine uses heat energy to force the piston down in the cylinder. More heat energy means more force. Do we really need to go into much more detail?

A diesel engine is one of the least complex internal combustion engines man has ever invented.  Compare that to a hybrid which has a gasoline engine, electric motor, $7,500 battery pack and enough computer wizardry to send men to the moon.

We need to ask ourselves how an old fashioned diesel engine could outperform a new high tech hybrid on technology overload. Is it possible the wrong type of internal combustion engine was used in the equation?

And this latest craze about E85 Ethanol (E85 = 85% Ethanol, 15% gasoline) will cause your car to immediately get 15 to 20% less fuel economy because E85 Ethanol has 15% to 20% less heat energy per gallon than gasoline - compared to diesel it's even worse.


Heat Energy/Gallon


138,000 BTU's per gallon


114 - 125,000 BTU's per gallon

Ethanol E85 blend

87,250 BTU's per gallon

Pure Ethanol

77,000 BTU's per gallon

Americans need to sign up at the gasoline detox center, and consider a different poison to power their passion.

Comments can be sent to the author at feedback@autoracing1.com.



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