Audi’s European introduction of the beastly SQ7 SUV caused no shortage of speculation last year. Even as Volkswagen Group’s emissions scandal raged, many hopes the raw power of the SQ7’s cutting-edge diesel engine would be enough to compel Audi to bring the model stateside.
Waiting followed. Then, even more waiting. Audi told excited journos it hadn’t greenlit the model for a U.S. launch, despite its very marketable 435 horsepower and 664 lb-ft of torque — power made possible by 4.0 liters of displacement, two turbochargers and a lightning-quick electric supercharger.
Late last year, Volkswagen CEO Herbert Diess put the chill on expectations, telling everyone it wasn’t likely they’d ever see a new diesel Volkswagen product in the United States. This, despite current advancements in diesel technology. It now seems any hesitation the automaker might have felt about that proclamation has evaporated.
Diesels? Dream on.
Speaking to Car and Driver at a recent Formula E race in Germany, Audi development chief erased any last hopes for oil aficionados. When asked whether the company’s squeaky-clean next-generation diesels might take a U.S. trip, Peter Mertens was blunt about the issue. It’s not just your environmental regulators, it’s you, he said.
“Now you’re putting me in a corner,” Mertens said. “I would say no, and why is that so? I do not believe that Americans in their true belief and heart, their cultural way of driving, are suited to diesel. They aren’t. Everybody tried—we Europeans tried to give an answer maybe to a question that wasn’t asked.”
Americans and diesels just aren’t that compatible, you see. Oil and vinegar. Dharma and Greg. Starsky and Hutch. Mertens explained the problem is not just about technology or culture. While an inability to meet emissions standards led VW down a lawless path a decade ago, VW feels a truly clean diesel is doable — but who trusts it?
“Diesel can be clean with technology, but the problem is the image,” Mertens said. “People think that diesel is bad. It’s not helping us and it’s not helping the environment, speaking frankly. It would be great if we could come back to technical terms and realities instead of alternative facts when it comes to diesel, but it’s very difficult to fight them.”
An engine like the one found in the SQ7 could have proven useful in the U.S., and not just for Audi’s current range-topper. The automaker’s U.S. executives hope to gain approval for an even larger utility vehicle, given it’s the number one request they hear from brand faithful. Americans want a big SUV. However, big SUVs need big power, and though Audi has no shortage of powerful six- and eight-cylinder engines at its disposal, fuel economy remains a concern.
Should U.S. Audi execs get their way, the full-size SUV would likely require some form of electric assistance. If not for the model itself, then one of its variants.[Image: © 2017 Chris Tonn/The Truth About Cars]