Driving VW along the California Coast

In March, I was invited to join Volkswagen for a media trip to test out their line of vehicles. They invited an assortment of traditional media and bloggers to join them in Half Moon Bay, California, and we were given a day to drive a variety of their cars along the beautiful mountains surrounding Palo Alto. The trip ended with a tour of their R&D facilities.

As someone who actually worked for the auto industry for many years, I was eager to be a part of this trip.  I learned more about autos and all the research that goes into building these computers on wheels than I ever imagined possible during my time working for the industry and I still find it endlessly fascinating to learn more, particularly about the research involved in building the next generation of vehicles. Also, despite having worked for the industry for so many years, I’d never actually had the chance to participate in a company press junket, so I couldn’t wait.

We were like bees on honey with that sporty red Golf. My partners in crime: Leticia & Jyl

I was part of the first of two waves of media and in my wave, there were only a small handful of women. This didn’t surprise me and I hope the tide is changing on that front. Some of the communications folks at VW noted that they did adopt a different strategy for the spring’s ride and drive and strategically decided to invite some parenting bloggers – realizing that women do yield an enormous influence over all purchasing decisions at home – including cars. I was lucky enough to partner up with two other fabulous bloggers, Leticia who writes Tech Savvy Mama and Jyl who founded Mom It Forward. We were trouble from the start. After defecting from my original group, I hopped into the back seat of our first ride with Thelma Leticia and Louise Jyl. Our marching orders were to enjoy the car, and find our way to the top of the mountain to trade in the CC for the next vehicle of our choosing.

Let me tell you, we took our time. We quickly found the 80s station of our choosing on the satellite radio, I marveled over

The CC we drove up the mountain..when plenty of stops along the way

how much room there is in the back seat of this beautiful car, and we might have trespassed detoured into an artichoke field and stumbled upon an adorable country store on our way up the mountain. The current CC model now offers seating for five, including 3 kids in the back, which is real plus for larger families who still want a sedan instead of a minivan or SUV. As we weaved our way up the narrow mountainous roads, I soon realized that I was feeling incredibly car sick, at which point Jyl helpfully noted this would be the ideal way to test out the car’s durability if transporting children…..how would vomit wipe up in the back seat?

The men might have been pulled over to the side, peeking under the hood of the car, but not us. We were instead engrossed in the practical realities of driving kids around. Turns out I didn’t toss my crackers but one of us spilled some tea and it wiped up easily without staining or drama. Check one for durability for VW.

Next we took out a bright red Beetle. The VW team explained to us earlier in the morning during the formal presentation part of the day that they’ve taken customer feedback seriously and changed the shape and size of the Beetle….to appeal to men…but we still loved it. They’ve given the Beetle a “wider stance with a more balanced appeal” but the bottom line is – a Beetle is a Beetle – a completely fun car to drive that always catches the eyes of other drivers on the road. This is the ideal car for anyone who likes to park easily and feel sporty. I loved driving it. And there was no puking happening from the back seat partner in crime during this route. We had fun checking out the fancy and sporty dashboard, stylish interior detailing and naturally took full advantage of the heated seats – something I use even on warm summer days – much to the total confusion of my husband.

Fabulous family vehicle...the Touareg

The third and final car we took out is one of VW’s best cars for families…the Touareg. We loved driving it, one of the largest vehicles VW makes, complete with tons of cargo room in the back for strollers, groceries and beach and pool gear. The Touareg will also be offered as a super charged hybrid…which on some level feels like a contradiction – but who says you can’t love efficiency and speed? As a hybrid, it boasts 28mpg, which is pretty impressive for a bigger SUV. This particular vehicle is also equipped with all the safety technology that is particularly important to parents (well, really, who doesn’t care about safety?), specifically what VW calls an Intelligent Crash Response, meaning in the event of a collision, the doors automatically unlock, the fuel pump shuts off and the hazards immediately go on. As someone who was in a horrific accident on the beltway in February – I would have appreciated even some of these things.

As gas prices flirted with $4/gallon all spring, however, what really draws me to VW as the ideal manufacturer for my next purchase is the diesel option. Personally, I have my eye on the diesel Jetta wagon. Diesel is 20-40% more fuel-efficient than gasoline and unlike the diesel of the 1970s, diesel today is clean. In fact, clean diesel engines reduce carbon emissions by 20% over gasoline engines.  In the fall, VW is rolling out the Jetta hybrid and will offer the Beetle in diesel later this summer. The other car I was lucky enough to ride in but didn’t get a chance to drive was the sporty Golf, also available in diesel and the most powerful Golf engine offered yet, along with a four door option. Suddenly I found myself wanting that car too. Can you tell I like small and sporty? Fabulous choices all around. It’s no wonder this manufacturer saw an almost 30% increase in sales in the United States last year. Though it puzzles me that the diesel options in the US only account for 20% of their fleet sales – despite how popular diesel is overseas, especially in Europe. I wonder if this trend will continue to tick upwards in the US?

So what else did we do beyond drive super fun cars? Well, we ate incredibly delicious food, so clearly I suffered. But the part I was most looking forward to came at the conclusion of our day – which was a visit to their research labs out in Silicon Valley. VW concluded that so much innovation is happening in Silicon Valley – why not partner automotive research with technology research? One of the coolest things we were shown in the lab is a simulator to help learn more about distracted driving – including fatigued driving – and researching the characteristics of when eyelids are closing  to detect when a driver is drowsy. Another core competency at the VW research lab is work on renewable fuels – so hybrids and diesel are not the only solutions. In fact, VW is investing $783 million in renewable energy with their VW ThinkBlue efforts.

Again, I was an automotive policy wonk, so maybe my final fun fact for today won’t thrill you in the same way it did me – but I leave you with this to think about – if 1/3 of Americans switched from gasoline to clean diesel in their daily drives, the U.S. could send back 1.5 million barrels of foreign oil per day, according to the EPA.

Bottom line – it was a great trip and the amount of research going into safety technology, alternative fuels and emissions is truly remarkable and impressive. Now…to convince Mr. Wired Momma that I should be first in line for the Jetta Hybrid this fall…..until then, thank you to VW for a great trip and for expanding your reach into parenting bloggers.

Disclosure: VW purchased my airline ticket and provided me with my lodging and food for the duration of my trip to Half Moon Bay. I was not compensated financially for this post or my time out there. My opinions here are all my own.

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