A new breed of clean diesel cars leave hybrids in the dust.

A new breed of clean diesel cars leave hybrids in the dust.

I guess I am one of those “fringe Volkswagen fanatics.”

I will admit that my primary motivation for running a Diesel has always been thrift. I can’t help it, I’m cheap. When I bought my VW Jetta TDI in 2002 I chose it because:

  • it was a Diesel powered car
  • it was priced low because it had been languishing on the dealer lot for 8 months

The latter issue we pushed even further by bargaining down. In the end, we paid about $17,000 for the car… INCLUDING Tax, Lic, etc. Nobody wanted Diesels back then. Except me I guess. I recall reading that VW sales people would bring people on test drives of TDIs and never mention that they were fueled with Diesel. The “D-word” was never used. Other than at idle, with the windows down, you can’t really tell anyway. They have wrapped the engine in so much sound dampening material that the usual Diesel (high compression) clatter is negligible.

Now, it seems everyone wants one. Demand has literally DOUBLED the prices. Check out this list from an email to the Seattle Bio-Diesel users mailing list from a VW Dealer:

Selling price: $31,144 plus tax (8.3%) and license.

Selling price: $31,623 plus tax (8.3%) and license.

Selling price: $31,994 plus tax (8.3%) and license.

Thankfully we have our small (two) fleet of Diesel powered daily drivers, and won’t be looking for replacements until the supply/demand curve flattens out a little. But if anything, this little exercise in economics should pique the interest of the car makers, who have been dragging their feet on selling Diesels in the USA for the past 20 years while the Euopean driver has the Diesel choice in EVERY CAR THEY BUY. yep, even from the US-based brands such as Ford & GM. Go figure.

Audi R10 success means more restrictions in ALMS – Autoblog

Audi R10 success means more restrictions in ALMS – Autoblog

“A couple of years ago the thought of a diesel-powered race car would’ve made all but the most die-hard diesel fans laugh out loud. Today, however, Audi is dominating the American Le Mans Series with its pair of diesel-powered R10 racers. Their domination is so thorough, in fact, that ALMS organizers have decided to grant their competition concessions so they can keep up. “

Oh well, we knew it was coming. Let’s hope the oil burners stay out in front anyway.

Finally, a carmaker with BALLS

I’m a casual reader of a few auto “trade blogs”… one of which is “The Truth About Cars“. In a post yesterday they related how Audi is considering a TDI engine for the TT, and not just any TT mind you, the TT ROADSTER. Whoo hoo! FINALLY. I have been saying for years that some car maker needs to grow some cajones and drop a TDI into a sports car… and not just any sports car either, but an open topped one.

When I say that, people think I’m nuts. They think Diesel must equal slow, noisy, and smelly. They obviously haven’t driven a TDI powered car. They obviously weren’t watching the Audi R10 kick ass last month at Le Mans. They obviously don’t have a clue.

I love this quote concerning the oil-burning R10:

The R10’s performance at Le Mans was so convincing that race organizers are now deciding how to level the field, so that gasoline powered cars can compete.

Ha! I love it. Now give me my ultimate sports/commuter.

A 4-cylinder, TDI driven two seater, with a ragtop. I can burn my leftover french fry grease based fuel, and smell like a rolling burger joint while I soak up rays and get 60 MPG. Life would be good. I LOVE my VW Jetta TDI, but gawditisboring… the most dull-yet-functional design… it sits there, looking very germanic, and very … um… practical. Yawn. As Paul Wigton Sr once famously said: “Life is too short to drive a boring car.”

I only have two issues with the Audi and the TT. One is price… Audi’s are basically expensive VWs. They carry a huge (100-200%) price premiums over an equivalent Volkswagen. For example, the Audi A4 is basically Auto Union’s take on the Jetta. The TT is, (hold your breath) built on the New Beetle chassis. For some odd reason I bet Audi charges a premium price for the TTTDI. We’ll see.

My second issue is weight. The TT is a very small car, but the damn thing weighs a LOT. The lightest is 3131lbs, the heaviest is almost 3500lbs! Yep, a full ton and a half of “road hugging mass” Mein Gott! Put that thing on a diet! Look at the Lotus Elise, now THAT car is begging for a TDI engine transplant… 1600lbs + TDI engine = a REAL open topped sports car with fuel economy that would make a Prius look like a Hummer. The TT tugging around over twice the weight would likely perform about as well as the Jetta… maybe worse. 45-50MPG tops would be my guess.

But, if they build it, I will come (and lay my money down)… I have to put my money where my mouth is. So unless Lotus can deliver an oil-burning Elise first, look for me in a TT.


(Photo linked from the Audi USA website)

Finally… result of my mileage test.

Several weeks ago I drove our rarely used pickup truck to work. It is a Dodge RAM 1500, so it makes a reasonable substitute for your average SUV; lumbering brick-shaped, V8 powered, gas-guzzling Detroit stupidity. Fine for hauling lumber, hay, and horses (what we use it for really) but about the worst vehicle imaginable for commuting. Oddly enough I see plenty of them, and like machinery on my daily commute. I drove to work, around the area a bit, and back home, and ended up spending a LOT of money in gasoline to do it. Mind you, my commute is long… probably over 2x what the average american commuter drives. The pickup managed a truly terrible 11 MPG and that was with me driving it very conservatively… staying under 2000 RPM, using the cruise control, mostly obeying the speed limit, smooth starts, etc. You can read about it here, but here’s the executive summary: “I did not run the tank dry, but just down to half. When I refilled the half-empty tank last night, it cost me $54.10(!) and I had only run it 165 miles. Just over 11 MPG.

I’m sorry but that is truly dismal.

As many of you know, I drive a Diesel powered car. It is a 2002 VW Jetta TDI. I love it. Sits four comfortably, has a huge trunk (you could hide dead bodies in there… several of them!), it is in no way slow… turning a respectable 0-60 in 11 seconds and can comfortably cruise at Autobahn speeds – it can make, and hold “a ton” for hours on end. Best of all, it will get in excess of 45 MPG while running that 100 MPH. I decided to test my patience and driving ability and see what sort of mileage I could wring out of it by REALLY watching my habits. Again, keeping the revs low, using the cruise where possible, measured starts, mostly staying within the speed limits, etc. So for the latter half of last week, and into today, I drove like a sedated Volvo owner. It was in no way an ideal test… I ran into traffic jams, had the A/C on at times, dealt with Seattle’s inevitable stop-and-go, I lost my discipline a few times and went 80 MPH, etc. My wife and kid also drove the car a little bit, so I have no idea what happened during those miles.

I was also running on a 50% mix of my home-brew fuel… which means I’m running on the cheap. Keep in mind I paid less than $12 to run the following distance:

458.2 miles

7.8 gallons (just over half a tank in the Jetta)

That means I pulled off 58.74 MPG!

OK, so somebody tell me why the hell Americans choose to drive big honkin glorified station wagons tarted up to look like trucks that get less than 20 MPG when they COULD be driving vehicles that can more than DOUBLE that figure?

I have some photos of my odometer and gas gauge on my cell phone, as soon as I can grab them from the phone and upload them, I’ll post them here.

Buying a new car & You’ll never believe what I saw!

Got home from work yesterday afternoon (left work early… one of the small benefits of being “the boss” I guess. But given the distance of my commute, it is a wash) so I could drive my wife to pick up her new car. Well, it isn’t a car really, and I had nothing to do with her choice, other than her choice of fuel. She picked a Jeep Liberty, with the 2.8 liter common rail Diesel. It will be her second oil-burner; she drove a Volvo 440TD when we lived in the UK. I had been looking for an older Mercedes S-class or E-class Diesel for her, but the prices for used oil-burners has gone nuts. Plus her accountant filled her in on the rules our wonderful IRS has dreamed up and her choices suddenly became very limited.

You see she is self-employed (an attorney) and works out of our home. She doesn’t really need a car at all, except to go to court, or other work related things. She wanted to have a car specifically for her business and have it be owned by the business, paid for by the business, and therefore deductible as a business expense. The IRS though says you can’t do that with a Car. But you CAN do it with a “Truck”. Sigh… no wonder there are so many SUVs on the road!

She did want a Diesel though, as she’s seen the massive drop in fuel costs since I started making my own for the TDI Jetta. The primary thing that attracted to me to my wife when I met her was the fact that she’s CHEAP. (OK, so it was the secondary thing, but over time it has become the primary thing! =)

Her choices of Diesel “truck/SUV” were limited to gargantuan pickups, heavily armored urban assault vehicles, or the “cute” Liberty. She chose the latter.

She’s a diminutive woman, and on the surface very shy and quiet, but lurking just below is a litigator that can strike fear into the heart of any mortal. She jealously guards her bottom-line, and fearlessly attacks any weakness shown by opposites in negotiation. I let her do all the car buying in this family as she is my secret weapon against car salesmen. It is a joy to watch her tear them apart. In this purchase however, I was not around, I just drove her to the dealer to pick it up. Naturally, we took the E-type. I mean, how better to add insult to injury? =)

Being a Friday afternoon in the Puget Sound area, I chose to stay off the main routes for our trip south to Monroe (a town NE of Seattle), and chose instead my tried and true “back road” that I used to take to work when my office was in Bothell (another town NE of Seattle). The “back road” is a joyful, twisty set of two-lanes that meander along the base of the Cascade Foothills from where I live east of Arlington, through Granite Falls, Lake Roesinger and ending in Monroe. The first half follows the south fork of the Stilliguamish river, the second half just follows some wonderful hilly bits down to the Snohomish river. Even though it was a Friday afternoon during “rush hour”, we only passed two cars the whole trip. Meanwhile, just downhill to the west thousands of cars were struggling along the choked I-5 and SR-9 routes. With the wife in the car I didn’t really do the usual “drive it like I stole it” but she still had to hang on to her hair & hat and did dive for the grab handle and close her eyes a few times. Mission Accomplished. =)

I drop her off at the dealer, get my first look at her new “car”, and head back north for some more spirited driving on the return trip. The road through Monroe, US2 was choked with cars, as it was around 6 pm, but once off on my “back road” it was all clear.

It was actually wonderful. Open road. The sun on it’s odd Solstice tangent course towards the northern horizon, snow dappled mountains glimpsed between tall Douglas firs and Western Red Cedars, the roar of Sir William’s Sixth Symphony echoing off it all. I had forgotten my radar detector but had thrown caution out of the cockpit, this road was all mine for the moment. I recall seeing a speed limit sign and glancing down to see the needle indicating over 2x. The car was even more confident than I, handling every curve like a dream and eating every straight away like a cop on a Krispy Kreme. I did have to slow to pass two cars, but both happened to be near passing zones. THREE times cars going the opposite direction flashed the lights and gave me the thumbs up. The last of these was a guy in a T-bucket hot rod basically out for the same ride. I guess this secret was is no longer secret.

As I neared the end of my journey, out of the corner of my eye I saw, and recognized a shape. A lithe, unique shape. An unmistakable shape. My whole head turned, then the Wilwoods brought the 65E to a sudden, straight stop, and I popped the car into reverse and pulled into a driveway.

Right here, before my eyes, in Arlington Heights, Washington of all places, is *another* Jaguar E-type!

It is an unrestored, series 1.5 2+2, in Beige (unique to 1968 I think). I look it over, grab a few photos with my cell phone (one of the rare moments without my real camera close at hand!), knock on their door (no answer), and finally write a note on my business card and leave it on the passenger-side window of the car with my phone number. I drive away dumbfounded. I never would have imagined seeing another E-type out here in the woods. The wife’s new Jeep will fit in quite well, but I always feel the oddball behind the wheel of the E surrounded by jacked up pickups and gigantic SUVs around here. I hope to meet the owner soon.

The wife’s old New Beetle goes on eBay soon. Off to give it a wash!

Diesels Dominate Le Mans Qualifying! And I begin to quantify how dumb Americans are (and not just about Diesel.)

Who says you can’t go fast, cheap? Have a look at this!

Can’t wait to catch some coverage on speed channel over the weekend. Le Mans has always been the place where the vision of future car development is seen. My 60’s E-type was the direct descendant of the Le Mans winning D-type of the 50’s. So by the teens we’ll all be driving fast, yet economical and eco-friendly veggie oil-burning cars perhaps?

Oh wait, I already am! The future is now! 🙂

Speaking of Diesels and my foolish countrymen who refuse to use them, sell them or buy them… have a look at this. I happen to own a Dodge 1500 RAM pickup… that is not a Diesel. I wish it was, but it isn’t. The wife bought this as a tow vehicle for her (damn) horses, and I will admit it is handy to have around when hauling something is required. It usually lives out in the barn where the veggie oil fuel system runs, and very rarely gets driven. We’ve had it for 7 years and maybe put 15k miles on it. I brought it to work this week because we needed to haul some stuff needed for our datacenter expansion and I attempted to replicate Clarkson’s feat while driving what is basically the standard American vehicle… a truck-chassis based, non-aerodynamic, mid-sized V-8 powered, slush-gearbox, gas guzzler. I drove it to work, then around town on errands, and home. The highest I let it rev was 2000 RPM, and that was on a very steep uphill grade in West Seattle… the normal rev range was 1200-1700 RPM, cruising on the freeway @ 55 or 60 MPH (in the right lane only, like a decent human being should at this speed! {for my British and antipodean readers, that would be the left lane… aka the “slow lane”… a concept that Americans outside of Montana are completely unaware of… grrrr) I maintained a steady 1500 RPM… and used the cruise control whereever I could.

I did not run the tank dry, but just down to half. When I refilled the half-empty tank last night, it cost me $54.10(!) and I had only run it 165 miles. Just over 11 MPG.

Jesus H. Krist on a pogostick! I have NO IDEA how the average American family can afford to drive these Tahoes and Explorers?!?! This is insanity. I buy about ~5 gallons of Diesel fuel a week from the pump, and burn about ~5 gallons of my own home brew, and rack up over 450 miles doing it. AND I drive around with a lead foot most of the time.

Next week, I’ll track for you how much fuel I burn, and what the costs are to me to do it, while driving as I do “normally”… then I’ll try another week and drive like I did in the truck, with maximum fuel savings in mind, and document the results. Should be interesting.

Here is another metric of how dumb my countrymen can be… most of them will be watching NASCAR make nothing but left turns while I’m watching Le Mans. sigh.