The Eco-Friendly Car Americans Can't Buy

It isn't that they aren't buying it; it's that they don't have the opportunity to.

For eco-conscious drivers not ready to take a Tesla-style electric leap, the big news this August is Volkswagen's Golf TDI BlueMotion. At 106 mpg, it's an even more eco-friendly version of the Golf TDI—but it isn't sold in America. VW sees more potential in Europe, where gas prices are double those in America, because consumers are more willing to pay up front for efficiency. In the U.S., where eco-car manufacturing is still in its infancy, its draw is limited. So should VW make the effort to bring it over? Other carmakers' eco-sales aren't always encouraging.

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ECO-FEATURES EXPLAINED

AIR DAM

Reduced resistance makes the car more aerodynamic.

FRONT GRILLE

Redesigned vents help the car cut through the air.

ENGINE

Turbochargers and direct injection fuel systems add power so engines can get smaller.

TRANSMISSION

A CVT, or "continuously variable transmission," constantly adjusts for optimal fuel efficiency.

UNDERBODY

Panels under the car reduce drag, and therefore gas use.

WHEELS

Ultralight aluminum makes the car a little lighter, which means less work for the engine.

TIRES

Materials, shape, and grooves are designed to roll with less effort from the car.

REAR SPOILER

Creates down force over the car, to help with traction.

Can They Sell Better?

Maybe not—but car manufacturers may keep making them anyway. President Obama has mandated that their fleets meet a corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standard of 54.5 mpg by 2025, and that’s calculated by what the carmakers offer, not by what they sell.

*Sales figures as of December 2012 with the exception of Nissan, which began offering eco-trims for the Sentra in January 2013. Sales figures for Nissan as of April 2013.

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3 Comments

  • argnetworks

    Except that's not entirely true.  Americans would gladly purchase a car getting 106mpg.  Our crony capitalist government doesn't want the loss of gas tax revenue, so it keeps these things out.  The other painful truth on this is that sales on current vehicles available in the US would probably suffer because people would likely slow up purchases on 'gas guzzlers' in exchange for these high-mileage alternatives.  Let's be honest, the car companies don't entirely want to flood the market with them at this point as it would be detrimental to sales.

    I've had friends try to import these over here, same with the HZJ76 Toyota Landcruiser, and have been consistently unable to get them imported in.  So, it's just spin to say that we don't want these here or don't "get it."  We get it.

    It's deceitful to say that people can't do the math on this, Andrew.  If a person has a car getting 30mpg and drives 30 miles on a regular commute and it has a 15 gallon tank, they're getting 450 miles per tank and filling up every 7-10 days.  That's about $240 per month for gas.

    Same car, same commute, 106mpg, that cuts the gas bill to about $80.  That saves the person about $160 / month in gas (or $1,920), which outweighs the argument of a paltry $2,000 increase in price on the front end because that's an annual savings of $1,920.  Imagine the impact on the economy (nationally) received from giving Americans who average that commute (on a car with even worse gas mileage) an approximate $2,000 raise to their after-tax income.  That's huge since it is widely estimated that a lot of households right now are 1-2 paychecks away from financial disaster.  

    I don't think it is a valid argument that people can't swallow the up-front increase in car price in exchange for this type of annual savings.  Even bonehead car salespeople could break this down on a scratch piece of paper and sell the car...especially when it means putting that kind of money back into a person's pocket.  

  • Marc Posch

    VW has a lot of work to do to explain the tdi engine to US consumers. For me as a driver of a Beetle tdi (fantastic gas mileage) I always see surprised faces when people ask me about my car and I tell them about what turbo diesel means. The whole new Clean Diesel story has not come across here. People always relate to Diesel as stinkin' dirty polluters.

  • Kathleen

    Mark - I can relate! We got a Golf TDI last year. Started out getting 43MPG and this summer it is verging on 50MPG. Diesel gas is available at just about every station and in New England about the same $ as Premium. I have to remind myself to check the gas tank level, since I can go so long between fill ups. We also liked the fact that there was no battery to go to the land fill whenever "Sport" gets worn out.