AutomobileMag.com recently participated in the Audi Mileage Marathon (AMM). This ambitious cross-country drive began in New York on October 5 and ended in Santa Monica on October 20 after a challenging and indirect route of some 4800 miles. In contrast to most made-for-PR stunts, during the Audi Mileage Marathon, some interesting technology and legislative issues actually surfaced.
The point of the exercise was to showcase Audi's diesel engine technology, so the fleet included the new Clean Diesel version of Audi's full-size SUV, the Q7, powered by a 3.0-liter diesel V-6 that meets emissions requirements in all fifty states. Audi also brought along European-market, diesel-powered versions of its Q5 mid-size SUV, the elegant all-new A4, and the familiar A3 compact.
I drove the final three legs of the journey, from Las Vegas to Santa Monica by way of Mammoth Lake and Monterey. My diesel Audi Q7 sipped fuel at a surprisingly frugal rate. When I took it easy, the big Q averaged more than 30 mpg. When I drove the Q7 normally, without regard for saving fuel, I still couldn't force the mileage below 26 mpg. For a full-size SUV that seats seven and weighs approximately 5500 lb, such fuel economy is impressive. The A3's drivers reported that they were often able to average between 40 and 50 mpg.
As impressed as I was by the fuel efficiency of the Audi fleet, I also was struck by what these diesel powertrains did NOT deliver. On many occasions, I stood among some 25 idling Audi diesel vehicles. I never once smelled a whiff of noxious eau d'Diesel. This experience may be among the most important points Audi made during its Mileage Marathon, because they know Americans won't drive cars that smell like UPS trucks.
Audi of America's executive vice president, Johan de Nysschen, points out that, while Audi clean diesel powertrains are ready to come to America, the U.S. government and its regulatory bodies might not be fully ready for them.
Here's an excerpt from one of de Nysschen's on-the-road presentations: "If the U.S. government is serious about reducing its dependence on foreign oil, it must -- and can -- do more to encourage consumers to drive more fuel efficient vehicles. Current taxation on diesel fuel dramatically increases the cost of driving ultra-low-emission 'clean diesel' vehicles. Consumers are clamoring for more fuel-efficient options ... just look at the long waiting lists for the most popular hybrid models. And while hybrids absolutely have a place in our quest for energy independence, they are not the utopian answer. Clean diesel is a better option than hybrids for those looking for good highway mileage. Hybrids work best under heavy, stop-and-go traffic with short commutes, but typical American driving patterns are light intra-suburban and open-road traffic ... conditions under which hybrids do not perform well and where clean diesel excels."
Mr. de Nysschen challenges U.S. lawmakers to lower the tax levied on diesel fuel to make it on par with gasoline. (Currently, diesel fuel is taxed at a higher rather than is gasoline.) I agree with him that such a move will encourage a more rapid acceptance of clean diesel technologies, leading to an improvement in the efficiency of the U.S. passenger-car fleet, which will decrease our overall consumption of crude oil.