When we first got the brief from Volkswagen, we couldn't believe our eyes. It was almost too good to be true. A few years later would we find out that it was actually too good to be true — Volkswagen was cheating the emission tests in order to be able to sell their cars in all of USA's 50 states. But back then all we knew was that they were bringing their TDI Clean Diesel motors to the US and it was our responsibility to launch it succesfully.
We still had a huge challenge to overcome, and one that no cheating would solve: Americans thought diesels were slow and dull. And then the EPA gave it an MPG rating way below what we knew it they were hitting in the real world. So we took a three-pronged approach to tackling all those pre-conceptions.
The first part was inspired by the Audi R10 TDI runs at Le Mans. What if we had a whole racing series dedicated to shatter the assumption that diesels are slow? The Volkswagen TDI Cup was a racing series that invited young race drivers to race Jetta TDIs that were nearly identical to the consumer version anyone could buy at a VW dealership. A documentary film, Racing Under Green, was made about the series and shown on the Discovery Channel.
The documentary also lived in tditruthanddare.com, which housed original content tackling some of the myths still attached to diesel motors.
The website also housed a competition to see who could top the EPA rating of 34 miles per gallon in epic fashion. We knew it was possible since AMCI, an independent testing organization, had rated it at 40MPG. What we didn't know was how ridiculously high that number could be if you hypermile it. The winner hit 98MPG.
We also didn't know Volkswagen was cheating the emission numbers, a scandal that's still ongoing. I take a little bit of solace in seeing some people suggesting a TDI Cup comeback with the cars VW had to buy back as part of their settlement, but it's still a bummer to see an organization like Volkswagen forgetting their values and engineering things just to go around the rules.