Forget going green – Volkswagen's got BlueMotion
It kind of makes more sense than you'd think. Blue is the company's corporate colour, and motion is obvious, except VW also defines it as 'future mobility'.
Hence BlueMotion, the badge applied to the most fuel-frugal of each model range.
But that doesn't mean it's got the most efficient engine. The calculation covers the whole process from design to scrap, as well as minor tweaks to the standard engine and changes to gearing and aerodynamics.
VW's NZ general manager, Dean Sheed, talks about reducing water use and closed-loop wastewater systems; about minimising solvents, and improving residual waste; about emissions and logistics – using rail not road, for example. You'd switch off, except he's infectiously energised by it all.
He's also energetically proud of VW's long career in search of economy.
Remember the Ecomatic Golf of the early 1990s? I didn't either, but it mated a TDi diesel to an automatic engine cutout.
Then there was the Golf CitySTROMer of 1993, with its electric drive. The little 1.2-litre diesel Lupo that could average three litres of diesel per 100km, and had a start-stop system in economy mode.
The weird-looking three-wheeled 'one-litre prototype' that used 0.99 litres/100km and could reach 120kmh – an equation reached as a result of small size, lightweight construction (despite the added heft of ABS, ESP and driver airbag) and its tiny 0.3-litre engine.
Plus, my favourite, the EcoRacer concept that proves it might be possible to have your cake and eat it too – by using minimal fuel while having fun.
The funky-looking Cabrio does 0-100kmh in 6.3 seconds, will reach 230kmh, and yet its mid-mounted diesel engine can travel 100km on just 3.4 litres.
All these exotica are relevant if you're environmentally conscious, but let's be honest. Few of us want to front up for it with our own money. So the payoff (if you can call 30 grand for a small vehicle a payoff) is that these cars sip fuel like an alcoholic drinks water – with great reluctance.
It's not just media hype, either. For a bunch of throttle-happy motoring writers was sent off in the first BlueMotion car to go on sale here, the humble Polo.
Given a series of Auckland city destinations and a map, we were instructed to check in at each of them. We could choose whichever route we wished, and drive as frugally – or recklessly – as our desires and the law allowed.
End result? Over 72.9km of city driving – some of it on busy mid-morning motorways – we used 3.13 litres of diesel, or 4.3 litres/100km.
That was the lowest rate of use, though one driver slurped 3.03 litres by finding a shorter route between checkpoints.
Somewhat entertainingly, the AA technical rep's car used 5.2 litres/100km, perhaps because he followed Sheed's advice to listen to the rorty exhaust note.
So, how come this $30,990 Polo has a 3.8 litres/100km claimed combined fuel figure when the standard car with the same 1.4-litre TDI engine drinks a claimed 4.5?
Like all the BlueMotion cars, its gear ratios are revised (with longer third, fourth and fifth gears) – and yes, it comes in manual only.
There's revised body styling (like the different spoilers and grille) to reduce drag; and its tyres offer a lower rolling resistance.
The other BlueMotion cars will receive similar tweaks, with a Golf, Passat, Jetta, Touran and Caddy version to arrive in due course.
Of course, none of these cars will be frugal with fuel if you've got a lead foot. But given the same driver, they'll use less diesel than their standard sibling would, without making too many performance compromises.
The Polo's generous 195Nm torque figure delivered from 1800 to 2200rpm means it feels perky enough round town, the growly diesel note adding a little character while the 10mm lowered suspension and special alloy wheels enhance the car's looks.
Those seeking a larger car can soon add the $40,990 Jetta BlueMotion to their menu, its 1.9-litre TDI offering 77kW, 250Nm and a claimed combined thirst of 4.6L/100km – about 20 per cent better than the standard car's 5.2 claim.
Sheed says VW has brought fuel-frugal technology to everyday driving situations.
And because these cars are not technically special, but do offer greenie benefits, he thinks buyers will pay the small premium required to reduce fuel use and, of course, emissions.
In fact, he's so confident he expects to drop the standard Polo diesel from his line-up as the BlueMotion comes fully on stream.
Only 11.7 per cent of our CO2 emissions are from transport, according to Landcare NZ research – electricity generation is responsible for more.
But cars are something we have control over as individuals.
You can make a choice, and companies like VW are determined to make that choice as efficient as possible.