WOLFSBURG, Germany -Volkswagen celebrated its longstanding tradition as a diesel engine producer by unveiling a new flagship 313hp, V10 common-rail here.
The launch of the new 5.0-liter unit this month marks 25 years of passenger-vehicle diesel engine production at VW. Since the first-generation Golf in 1976, diesels have been an integral part of VW's light-vehicle program.
That first Golf diesel shook up the auto industry and did much to smooth the progress of consumer acceptance of diesels in passenger cars.
Martin Winterkorn, VW group vice president for research and development, said the Golf diesel quickly became an international trendsetter for small-car applications. The Golf diesel was converted from a gasoline engine and was, Winterkorn said, the first light engine of its kind.
After seeing VW's success, other automakers started testing converted gasoline engines, which reduced investment enough to make diesels practical for smaller vehicles.
But VW capitalized on its early advantage and has maintained leadership in small diesel production.
Rival PSA/Peugeot-Citroen also has a long diesel tradition. PSA recently forged a diesel partnership with Ford, making both more formidable opponents.
Beginning VW's diesel tradition was a battle even in the midst of the 1974-75 oil crisis, said Ernst Fiala, a former engineering professor who became VW vice president for r&d.
In an interview in Vienna, Fiala described how senior VW executives seriously doubted that a diesel could be developed cheaply enough, and with enough power.
The breakthrough came with the development of a 1.5-liter diesel with exactly the same 50hp output as the base 1.3-liter gasoline engine used in the Golf, Fiala said. The only successful diesel at that time, a Mercedes-Benz model, had less power than the corresponding gasoline version.
Diesels had a public image of being sooty, smelly, loud - and weak. But the Golf diesel changed that. Drivers found the Golf diesel had excellent torque and a satisfying amount of horsepower.
In addition, the Golf diesel was fired with a normal ignition key. It did not need a preheating switch and had no delay in start-up, Fiala said.
The Golf diesel proved so popular, VW had to increase diesel engine production from 75 a day to 2,500. VW added a 64hp turbocharged version for the Golf, and later a direct-injection system.
The advent of common-rail injection systems that improve diesel performance significantly has boosted diesel demand in Europe. But VW sees a new surge of popularity ahead. Winterkorn predicted another big rise in demand when the availability of tailored fuels makes diesels almost completely emission-free.