On average, 25 to 30 percent of all new cars sold at Bud Brown Volkswagen these days feature the TDI diesel engine, according to owner Phil Brown.
But there are months where the sales of diesels at the dealership at 925 N. Rawhide Drive, Olathe, climb to 50 percent.
“Part of that is driven by fuel prices and the economy,” Brown said.
Judging by gas prices in the Kansas City area, shouldn’t the standard gas engines of the Jetta and Passat and other Volkswagen models far outsell the TDI diesel engine version?
After all, at nearly every gas station that carries diesel fuel, its cost is generally 50 cents more per gallon than regular unleaded.
This is a where a little math is needed. The TDI (Turbocharged Direct Injection) diesel engines get more miles per gallon than regular gasoline engines.
“The bottom line is most people look at fuel economy,” said Brown, who compared a large sedan with a gasoline engine that gets 20-25 mpg in city driving to a similarly sized sedan with a diesel engine that gets 30 mpg in the city and low 40s on the highway.
“We found in our experience … that most gasoline engine vehicles don’t always come up to their EPA ratings in real life driving, where the TDI actually exceeds them,” he said. “We constantly get reports from our customers that a (diesel) car rated at 30 in the city, and customers are actually getting 32, 34, 35 miles per gallon. And on the highway, these cars that are rated in the low 40s, we get reports of 50 or more on long trips.”
Beyond fuel economy, other advantages exist that drive customers to diesel engine cars instead of the gasoline version, even though the sticker price for the TDI version is generally $2,000 to $4,000 more.
A 2012 article on wyotech.edu, a website for WyoTech technical schools, listed eight advantages of owning a diesel engine vehicle. One is that diesels last longer because engine parts are generally stronger than gas engine components, and diesel fuel has superior lubricating properties. As a result, diesel engines tend to last twice as long as gas-powered ones.
Another was that diesels were more efficient. Most gasoline engines convert about 30 percent of their fuel energy into actual power. A traditional diesel converts about 45 percent. And advanced diesels can hit about 50 percent.
“Probably the primary characteristic that you notice with diesel is the amount of low-end torque,” Brown said. “By the nature of how the fuel is combusted, and the design of the vehicle, you have a maximum amount of torque that comes in a low RPM. And then it flatlines, stays the same through most of the driving ranges.
“You combine that with a turbocharger, which helps performance and response, and you get outstanding fuel economy and, a lot of people say, sports car-type performance. It is very responsive and very quick.”
Brown anticipates the popularity of TDI diesel engines with Volkswagen vehicles to grow in the coming years.
“What I noticed, and I have been around the car business all my life, is that the cars are really well built,” Brown said. “They are awfully fun to drive. They really are a driver’s car. They handle well. They brake well.
“The longevity of the engine and the transmission driveline that goes with that combination creates a vehicle that can be owned a longer period of time with less maintenance.”
Brown knows a thing or two about cars. He is third generation in the family car business. His grandfather started it in 1949 with a DeSoto Plymouth dealership that was at 17th and Minnesota Ave., in Kansas City, Kan.
In 1965, his father and grandfather moved the dealership to Johnson County and built a new facility at 91st and Metcalf Ave.
“By that time, DeSoto had gone out and it was replaced by Chrysler in our line,” Brown said. “We were Chrysler Plymouth for a number of years. After Chrysler’s bankruptcy, we lost our Chrysler franchise. We ended up picking the Volkswagen line and moving out here in 2010.
“With a strong history of customer service and a focus on the Kansas City market and our reputation, we saw an opportunity with Volkswagen. At the time, there was not a Volkswagen dealer in Johnson County.”
The timing was perfect for Brown.
“Volkswagen had begun one or two years before that ramping up production and availability of the Jetta diesel,” Brown said. “At the time, the Passat was not available in the U.S. with the diesel powertrain.”
In April 2011, Volkswagen opened its Chattanooga (Tenn.) Assembly Plant that builds the Passat.
“It was launched with a product plan of doing about 10 or 12 percent diesel powertrains,” Brown said. “But the demand from the beginning was running almost 50 percent. No one else in 2011 and 2012 was offering a large sedan with the advantages of a diesel powertrain.
“It took a few months, but Volkswagen, by the 2013 model year, had increased the plant capacity. Just about a third of our Passats come with the TDI 2-liter diesel.”
Other brands have diesel-engine vehicles such as BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi.
But when it comes to diesel engines, Volkswagen might be the first brand that comes to the mind of a car buyer.
“Volkswagen brand is known for its diesel,” Brown said. “Just about every model line we sell has a diesel powertrain option. Most people are aware of it so they ask questions so there is a built-in interest because people are interested in the product.”