Image: Volkswagen 2009 Jetta TDI
Fred Prouser  /  Reuters
Volkswagen Group of America Chief Executive Stefan Jacoby says the Jetta TDI, which the government estimates gets 41 miles per gallon (5.7 liters per 100 kilometers), offers comfort and fuel efficiency.
updated 11/20/2008 4:04:18 PM ET 2008-11-20T21:04:18

Green Car Journal named Volkswagen's 2009 Jetta TDI as the "Green Car of the Year" at the Los Angeles Auto Show on Thursday, making it the first clean-diesel vehicle to win the prize.

Green Car Journal, a quarterly magazine that covers developments in environmentally friendly cars and fuel-efficiency, said it is the first time it gave the award to a diesel vehicle.

"I think it signals that clean diesel has arrived," said Ron Cogan, the magazine's editor and publisher. "People have been hearing about this for years, and in fact Volkswagen didn't have diesels on the market in the U.S. for a long time."

The Jetta TDI, which Volkswagen debuted in Los Angeles a year ago, gets 41 miles per gallon on the highway, according to Environmental Protection Agency estimates. The sedan has a manufacturer's suggested retail price of $21,990 and a SportWagen version is available starting at $23,590.

Stefan Jacoby, chief executive of Volkswagen Group of America Chief Executive, said the company plans to increase production of the car. Although no separate sales figures for the TDI were available, Jetta sales in the first 10 months of the year are up about 1 percent to nearly 83,000 vehicles, while auto sales overall have sharply declined.

"I think it's a breakthrough in this country here" for clean diesel," Jacoby said. "It's a real alternative, for example, to hybrids. We are very much promoting diesel here in the United States. It brings the fuel consumption down, it's environmentally friendly ... and this is fun to drive."

While diesel vehicles have long been popular in European markets, they have been slow to catch on in the U.S. That's partially because of tough emission requirements in states such as California, along with American memories of the smelly, noisy diesel vehicles of decades past.

Volkswagen debuted its Touareg V-6 TDI clean diesel sport utility vehicle at the auto show Wednesday. The diesel Touareg, like the Jetta, meets emission requirements in all 50 states.

The Jetta bested four other finalists for the Green Car of the Year award: the Smart Fortwo, the Ford Fusion Hybrid, the BMW 335d and the Saturn Vue 2 Mode Hybrid.

Last year, Green Car Journal presented the award to General Motors Corp.'s hybrid Chevrolet Tahoe.

This was the fifth time Green Car Journal has held the contest.

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