We don't claim to know the personal histories of every auto executive, but it's doubtful few other corporate presidents grew up racing modifieds in South Africa. Johan de Nysschen smiles broadly as he remembers, "We gave those guys running small-block Chevys hell with used five-cylinder Audi 100s we brought down after they were done in the DTM."
The man who helped turn Audi from an also-ran German brand in the U.S. into something much more is a genuine car guy at heart. At the recent 12 Hours of Sebring, we had a chance to sit with the President of Audi of America for a brief discussion of what the company's point man thinks about green trends in the U.S.
"Diesel is a technology that is ready now to help reduce fuel consumption. Everything is already in place to take advantage of diesel. We've shown that it can work, but in general there is a problem in communications that so many people still think of diesels as being dirty. There are those in California that want to see all diesel engines banned. If you continue to make decisions based on misinformation, this will impact the way we'll go in the future.
"For now, we're moving forward with diesel using our 3.0-liter V6 TDI (in the 2009 Q7) and the 2.0-liter four-cylinder (in the 2010 A3). These are versatile, economical engines that fit in a wide range of our models from the A3 to the Q7 and A8.
"We see clean diesels one day being 15-percent of the market, and while we could sell 200,000 diesel Audis tomorrow, we don't see that happening any time soon. We do see diesels having a bigger market share than hybrids because they fit the way more people drive better than hybrids."
"Hybrids are but one answer to the bigger question of moving forward. There will be a full range of solutions to the question that include diesel and hybrid and pure electric cars. This is one reason why Audi will introduce hybrids in the future. There are some people who drive in a manner that makes sense for a hybrid."
When asked about producing a diesel hybrid, de Nysschen responded, "It really sounds like a good idea, but the problem is cost. These are two expensive solutions, and while we could make it-our engineers can make anything-the cost would be prohibitive."
Expect Audi's first production hybrid to be based off the Q5. The smaller Q would likely use one of Volkswagen Group's four-cylinder engines with a yet unspecified hybrid drive system fortified with lithium-ion batteries.