The new VW Touareg is 20 per cent more fuel efficient than the outgoing model, and according to those in the know in Wolfsburg, that wasn’t an easy saving to make.

When VW CEO Martin Winterkorn laid down that 20 per cent target two years ago, the lead engineers responsible for the car knew they would have to work differently in order to make extraordinary gains. And that’s exactly what they did.

New VW Touareg unveiled

Ordinarily VW engineers work in conventional teams. One team works on chassis, another body, another powertrain, another aerodynamics, and so on. And all of them work largely independently, moving closer together as the car nears completion.

With the Touareg though, Jochen Bohle, head of technical development for the car, decided to poach one expert from every team and throw them all together to work towards one aim: bringing the car’s emissions down. This team had operational veto over every decision during the Touareg’s development. If a chassis engineer wanted to fit wider wheels, or if the powertrain team needed more cooling, they had to refer to the CO2 team. And if the CO2 team said no, they’d be sent back to think again.

“The CO2 team was 20 people strong, meeting twice a week, at one point,” Bohle says. “To begin with we simply collected ideas on whiteboards. We had to be creative about increasing efficiency and saving weight, and we knew that we’d be unlikely to find one big, 20 per cent fix. In the end it was more like a hundred 0.2 per cent fixes.”

Some ideas were no-brainers. “We fitted low-rolling resistance tyres,” says Bohle – “that was an easy one – and a new Torsen centre differential, the same one you’ll find in the Audi Q7. It’s 16kg lighter than the one in the outgoing Touareg, and it’s also a cheaper component.”

But some of the measures they took needed more thought. “The aerodynamics team wanted to make the car ride lower on its air springs to reduce drag, but the chassis department said that would sacrifice comfort too much. So we ended up settling for a new control program for the air suspension system. Basically, we added a second, even lower ride height setting for the car when it’s at high speed.”

The new Touareg automatically settles down on its springs by 10mm at 87mph, it turns out, and then by another 10mm at 118mph, and the latter setting makes it a little less thirsty at big autobahn speeds.

VW is a company led by engineers. Some nine thousand of them are employed by the VW brand alone, and judging by this example, challenged by ever-more-stringent environmental concerns and ever-more-demanding customers, they're really earning their keep.