WASHINGTON -- VW's "clean diesel" engines checked so many boxes for the company, it's no wonder that they have been a cornerstone of its U.S. strategy since 2008.
Take the 2009 Jetta TDI, the model that kicked off Volkswagen's diesel march. It offered 30 percent better fuel economy and torque than the Jetta with a 2.5-liter gasoline engine. It had EPA-certified fuel economy ratings of 29 mpg in the city and 40 mpg on the highway. The company proudly touted independent tests showing it performed far better in the real world: 44 mpg highway, 1 mpg shy of the hybrid king Toyota Prius.
And it was the first diesel engine clean enough -- at least in the test lab -- to be sold in all 50 states, a result achieved using expensive exhaust technology to reduce nitrogen oxides to levels low enough to pass the tough tailpipe regulations set by California and followed by several other states. It also qualified for a $1,300 alternative-vehicle tax credit for buyers, further burnishing the green credentials of VW's "clean diesels."
Together, those attributes constituted a unique selling proposition for VW -- clean, efficient and fun to drive -- one that became a potent weapon for the challenger brand as it embarked on its quest to sell 800,000 vehicles in the U.S. by 2018.