- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 12, 2006

LAS VEGAS — We have to reduce our appetite for oil. Worldwide, our daily consumption amounts to 20 million tons of petroleum, of which half is going toward transportation.

In the U.S. alone, 16 million new passenger car and light trucks will be sold this year. While sales of gasoline hybrids are increasing, they make up only 1.4 per cent of the total, or 240,000 vehicles, this year.

However, over the past decade, the market share for vehicles with diesel engines in this country has increased by 40 percent to 3.4 percent.

The increase may be considerable, but the share is very low compared with the European market, where diesel engines make up for more than 50 percent.

While in the U.S. gas prices tripled over the past five years, European drivers pay $6.82 per gallon.

Being a European citizen, I realized years ago that North America would have to accept the diesel engine as a sound alternative for saving fuel and contributing to lower emissions.

A huge misperception about modern diesel technology prevented a lot of Americans from looking at cars with diesel engines.

But the real reason why American drivers have not yet been able to enjoy the benefits of the modern diesel technology is because clean diesel fuel has not been available here.

On Sunday, that is going to change as ULSD, ultralow sulphur diesel, will become available across the country.

No fewer than 76,500 gas stations in 45 states will provide ULSD, which is 33 times cleaner than the diesel fuel currently in use.

Daimler-Benz has been a pioneer when it comes to diesel technology. In 1892, Rudolf Diesel patented an engine using the principle of self-ignition. The first “compact” diesel engines built by Benz were used to drive motorized plows in 1922 and 10 years later Daimler-Benz started the development of a prototype six-cylinder diesel for cars. In 1936, the Mercedes-Benz 260 D, the world’s first series production diesel car, was introduced to the public. Globally, Mercedes-Benz sells about 40 percent of its cars with diesel engines.

Recently, Mercedes-Benz has transformed the diesel engine into a clean and economical powerplant that consumes much less fuel than its gasoline counterpart and is also the cleanest diesel in the world.

In January, the German car manufacturer introduced its new diesel engine technology at the Detroit International Auto Show in the E 320 BlueTec and GL 320 BlueTec models.

Even though the principle used is well-known in the industry in general, Mercedes-Benz is the first to have developed it into the innovative form of BlueTec.

The basis is the new aluminum 320 direct-injected diesel engine with turbocharger and intercooler that is available in 10 Mercedes-Benz models worldwide and in three Chrysler Group models in Europe: the Chrysler 300 C, Jeep Grand Cherokee and Jeep Commander.

Using the opportunity that Mercedes, and other car manufacturers have been fighting for, the introduction of the ULSD fuel will also mark the launch of the Mercedes-Benz E 320 BlueTec in the same 45 U.S. states. The emission produced by the E 320 BlueTec is considerably lower than allowed by the BIN 8 standard and comes close to the even-more-stringent BIN 5 norm that goes into effect in the U.S. in 2009.

BlueTec is a special, patented exhaust gas treatment system that has two variants. The first is used in the E 320 BlueTec and combines an oxidizing catalytic converter and particulate filter with an additional catalytic converter, while in the other version a nontoxic solution known as AdBlue is injected into the exhaust gas flow. This releases ammonia, which breaks down as much as 80 percent of the nitrogen oxide into harmless nitrogen and water. Which vehicle gets what version depends on vehicle concept and weight, as well as the required reduction of nitrogen-oxide emissions. AdBlue will be stored in a special 6-gallon tank that has to be refilled at the service intervals. The consumption of AdBlue amounts to approximately 1 percent of the burnt fuel. In 2008, Mercedes-Benz plans to introduce three additional BlueTec models with AdBlue injection that comply to the Bin 5 norm in all 50 states (the R-, M- and GL-Class).

The initial drive with the E 320 BlueTec proved how sophisticated the new diesel engine is. With 208 horsepower and 388 foot-pounds of torque, the engine is not only willing, but also very able to negotiate the hilly roads of the Lake Mead area and the Valley of Fire State Park, near Las Vegas.

With the seven-speed adaptive automatic transmission, the “E” accelerates from 0-60 mph in 6.6 seconds.

The high torque that is available between 1,600 and 2,400 rpm gives the car great pulling power. Combined with the excellent handing and direct steering response, this fuel-efficient model of the E-Class is really fun to drive.

And last but not least the engine is super quiet. Even upon bringing the powerplant to life, you may not be aware that there is a diesel under the hood.

The only time you will notice is in the gas station, when you have to stop after traveling more than 700 miles and fill up the 21.1-gallon tank, which equals a consumption of 35 miles per gallon.

The 2007 E 320 BlueTec goes on sale with a price of $51,550 and comes with electronic stability control, traction control, aluminum wheels with 225/55 R16 all-season tires, and electronic brake-assist that applies full power brake force during emergency braking for shorter stopping distances.

Also the advanced PreSafe impact sensing seat belt system and SRS air bags are standard, as well as Tele Aid with emergency response is part of the extended standard equipment.

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