New Mercedes model takes advantage of cleaner version of high-mileage fuel
Tuesday, October 24, 2006
PRNEWSFOTO/DaimlerChrysler AG photos
Dr. Dieter Zetsche, chairman of DaimlerChrysler, gives the start signal Saturday for a diesel marathon from Paris to Beijing. Thirty-six Mercedes cars are making the drive to demonstrate the potential of Mercedes diesel technology. They are scheduled to arrive Nov. 17.
By Don Hammonds
When you turn the key of Mercedes' all-new diesel-powered 2007 ML320 CDI, don't look for the telltale diesel exhaust smoke.
There isn't any.
The ML320 CDI, the first of a number of diesel-powered passenger cars that are about to hit the road, is helping to change what people have come to expect from a diesel vehicle -- smoke, clattering, noise and an acrid odor to boot.
"Many people still mistakenly think of a big blue puff of smoke when it comes to diesel," said Anupa Bhise, product specialist with the M-Class Product Management team.
The latest change in the evolving diesel story took place on Oct. 15. On that day, a new ultra-low sulfur fuel, which is 97 percent cleaner than the fuel it replaced, was introduced to consumers.
The new grade of fuel has been available since 1997 in Europe, where diesel-powered cars are increasingly popular.
The new fuel will reduce emissions from diesel-powered vehicles by up to 95 percent, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Diesel Technology Forum.
The ML320 CDI is a new diesel-powered car from Mercedes.
"Diesel is the invisible force that moves the American economy, but until now, it has also been a big polluter," said Richard Kassel, head of NRDC's Clean Fuels and Vehicles Project. "Combining the new fuel with cleaner and more energy-efficient engines will mean healthier air and help reduce our dependence on oil."
In fact, diesel powered vehicles might make more sense than the trendy new hybrid vehicles for many consumers, say officials at Mercedes, which created the first diesel passenger car in 1936, the 260D.
Industry observers predict that by 2015, almost 15 percent of all vehicles sold in this country will be diesel-powered, up from 3 percent currently.
"The biggest difference between hybrids and diesel-powered cars is the premium that you pay to buy one of either of them," Ms. Bhise said. "For a diesel, the premium to buy one is an additional $1,000 cost. But for a hybrid, the difference in cost can be as much as $5,000 to $6,000."
Diesel-powered cars get better highway mileage because hybrids rely on recharging in stop-and-go traffic to save money.
But Mercedes officials hasten to add that they are not trying to "talk down" hybrids. They say the company has invested and will continue to spend money on hybrid development and are, in fact, involved in a joint cooperative development effort with several other carmakers.
But for now, Mercedes has the ML320 CDI, which can travel more than 600 miles on one tank of diesel fuel, Mercedes-Benz officials say. Its fuel economy rating is 21 mpg in the city and 27 on the highway.
The car, powered by an all-new 3.0-liter, 215-horsepower V-6, is so quiet that you don't hear anything but the gentle sound of a breeze passing by your window.
Smoke? Not a trace in sight. Diesel exhaust odor? Nonexistent. Maybe the new cars and the cleaner brand of fuel will erase memories of the automakers' failed experiment with diesel-powered vehicles in the 1970s.