Good day, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to Letters to Doug, your ninth favorite weekly Jalopnik column that you read on the train when your Kindle is out of batteries.
Before we get started, it’s important to remember that you, too, can participate in Letters to Doug. All you have to do is e-mail me your question at Letters2Doug@gmail.com, or think your question really hard in my direction. I promise I will change your name to protect your identity, just in case you are actually Pope Francis.
Anyway: this week’s letter comes to us from a reader I’ve named Dale, because not enough people are named Dale anymore, y’know? Dale writes:
I am a big fan of your work and I bought your book. So I know you have some hatred for Volkswagen products. But their TDI models offer great performance, a lot of practicality, and excellent fuel economy. Plus, they aren’t hybrids.
In the wake of the VW emissions scandal, should I still consider buying a TDI Volkswagen? I was thinking of getting a fuel efficient car In the next few months, and I don’t want to take VW off my list.
Before I address Dale’s latter, I just want to state openly that I sincerely appreciate all the wonderful things for which you guys signed up the Letters2Doug e-mail address last week. The daily Bible verses and the helpful tips for pastors were especially appreciated, because as the Bible says in Dale 14:3, Even God hath the occasional automotive inquiry.
And now, on to Dale. Dale is basically asking whether he should still be considering diesel-powered Volkswagen models, even in the wake of the brand’s giant scandal where it turns out they’ve been lying like a small-time drug dealer who was promised a shorter sentence if he testifies against his cellmate.
I must admit, I got a LOT of e-mails on this question this week. In fact, the vast majority of e-mails were about this issue, ranging from: Please share your thoughts on Volkswagen! to How can these idiots be so arrogant? But I think Dale’s question is the best, because it looks to the future, not the past. And as I have learned from my daily Bible verses: God always looks to the future, unless He is checking last night’s lotto numbers.
So here’s the answer, Dale.
If you want to buy a turbodiesel-powered Volkswagen right now, you cannot. This is because the EPA has told Volkswagen they can no longer sell diesel-powered vehicles until the things stop polluting like a Depression-era Pittsburgh steel factory.
But just how realistic is this mandate? After all, if Volkswagen dealerships are as principled as the automaker they represent, they may still be selling TDI vehicles by the truckload. Of course, I’m sure most dealers out there abiding by the stop-sale order, just like there are probably dealers out there who managed to unload an Eos in the last 12 months.
So if we assume you cannot buy a TDI Volkswagen right now, the question becomes: should you consider one when you can buy one once again? And my answer to this is: it depends.
One thing it depends on is exactly what Volkswagen’s “fix” is for their emissions problem. Right now, TDI-powered Volkswagens make 150 horsepower and return up to 31 miles per gallon in the city and 46 miles per gallon on the highway. The “fix” will likely drop those numbers — but the question is, by how much?
I went to a liberal arts college, so I believe I am clearly qualified to tackle this challenging engineering problem. Since Volkswagen models were spewing out 10 to 40 times more nitrogen oxides than normal cars, it only makes sense that they will have to decrease horsepower and fuel economy by an equivalent 10 to 40 times. For your typical everyday Jetta, this comes out to an average of negative 3,600 horsepower and negative 900 miles per gallon. Although I am hardly Consumer Reports, Dale, I strongly suggest you do not purchase a vehicle with these sorts of numbers.
Another thing it depends on is whether you can really trust Volkswagen again. After all, once you’ve uncovered a lie like this, can you really go back to believing anything Volkswagen says?
The answer to this question is clearly yes. I say this because Volkswagen has spent the last decade or two building unreliable, mediocre, poorly constructed automobiles, and people keep buying them.
There are people out there who owned a first-generation Volkswagen Touareg — the Touareg that would turn off its headlights when another Touareg was approaching because it mistook the other Touareg’s headlights for the sun — and went right out and bought a second Touareg later. And there are thousands of these people.
People who were convinced Volkswagen offered “solid German engineering,” who discovered it actually offered “solid incomes for dealership service managers,” and who went out and bought another Volkswagen product anyway. So we have already demonstrated an inexplicable propensity to believe whatever Volkswagen tells us, and I suspect it won’t stop now.
But back to Dale’s question. Should you still consider a diesel-powered Volkswagen? Dale, I’m just not so sure.
But I will say this: if you really like the Jetta TDI, you should instead consider a Jetta Hybrid. The Jetta TDI has 150 horsepower; the Hybrid has 170. The TDI gets 31 miles per gallon in the city; the Hybrid gets 42. The TDI gets 46 miles per gallon on the highway; the Hybrid gets 48. The TDI pollutes like a Russian chemical company; the Hybrid is as clean as a sterilized hospital room.
At least, that’s what Volkswagen tells us. Maybe somebody should check it out.
@DougDeMuro is the author of Plays With Cars. He owned an E63 AMG wagon and once tried to evade police at the Tail of the Dragon using a pontoon boat. (It didn’t work.) He worked as a manager for Porsche Cars North America before quitting to become a writer, largely because it meant he no longer had to wear pants. Also, he wrote this entire bio himself in the third person.