Audi Makes A Great Diesel Car, But It's Ignoring The Simplest Way To Promote Its New Technology

2014 Audi A6 diesel a7 washington dc capitolAudiThe Audis we test drove were marked ‘clean diesel,’ but those sold to customers just say ‘TDI.’

Diesel cars are making a splash in the U.S. market, and Audi is among the automakers working hard to make Americans forget how
terrible the technology was in the 1980s.

Diesel cars have a lot going for them. They’re clean, more efficient than their gasoline counterparts, and offer tons of torque.

Audi customers have some really nice options in the diesel A6, A7, and Q5, which we tried out a few weeks ago. I was almost convinced I should buy one.

Part of Audi’s plan for promoting diesel relies on word of mouth to overcome the bad reputation (it’s also working to get the government to kill the policies that make the fuel more expensive than gasoline, but that’s a long shot). That makes sense. If your friend buys a diesel car and tells you how much he likes it, you’ll likely be more open to trying it yourself.

But here’s where Audi messed up: The cars themselves don’t have the word “diesel” on them. They all say “TDI,” for turbocharged direct injection. That’s a type of diesel engine, for those who don’t know (which I’m guessing is nearly everyone).

There’s a reason why almost all hybrids and electrics are obviously marked as such, and why General Motors didn’t beat around the bush in naming the Chevrolet Cruze Diesel. Automakers want people to see that these technologies are out there, on the road, and working well.

Audi’s diesel offerings are quiet. They don’t smell. They look just like their gasoline-powered equivalents. So unless you know what “TDI” means, you won’t know when you’re looking at a diesel. And you won’t realise how good they are. So Audi is giving up the chance to win over customers by showing them how nice diesel can be.

Karl Brauer, a senior analyst at Kelly Blue Book, theorized that Audi and its owner Volkswagen don’t tout diesel out of a “fear of stigma,” worrying that people are still turned off by the technology. We put the question to Audi communications manager Mark Dahncke, who explained in an email that they use the TDI badge because “TDI technology is not the same as the diesel engines in trucks or in the cars of the past.”

That’s fair, but it doesn’t explain why Audi didn’t come up with a term to set the new diesel tech apart from the old. At a press event in Washington, D.C., the cars we drove were marked “Clean Diesel.”

The ones Audi sells to customers should say that, too.

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