[A4] The Axis of Diesel: Mercedes, GM, even Honda, is betting on a new breed of green diesels
caliban at sharon.net
Mon Oct 16 14:00:09 EDT 2006
>?The Axis of Diesel
>Mercedes, GM, even Honda, is betting on a new breed of green
>diesels. The goal? To leave hybrids in the dust.
>By Lawrence Ulrich, Fortune
>October 4 2006: 8:57 AM EDT
>(Fortune Magazine) -- As night fell over the 24 Hours of LeMans this
>summer, spectators at France's prestigious endurance race detected a
>pattern. While competitors entered the pits to refuel, a sleek pair
>of Audi R10s kept stealing laps around the 13.7-kilometer track.
>Already the fastest cars on the course, and eerily quiet thanks to a
>unique emissions filter, the Audis were also proving the most
>fuel-efficient. When the checkered flag flew, the Audi had made
>history as the first diesel car to win a major international race.
>Diesel isn't just changing LeMans. Thanks to technological
>breakthroughs, at least six automakers - starting with Mercedes on
>Oct. 16, Jeep in early 2007, and eventually even hybrid pioneer
>Honda - will be launching a fleet of New Age diesels. They promise
>to boost fuel economy by 25% to 40%, with huge torque and
>turbochargers to deliver the power American drivers crave.
>Though initial models won't pass air-quality standards in five
>states (California and New York among them), Mercedes has announced
>three 2008 SUVs that will achieve 50-state standards. Honda
>(Charts), VW, and GM (Charts) are close behind. How big is the
>market? J.D. Power estimates that diesel sales will triple to 9% of
>the U.S. market by 2013, compared with a projected hybrid share of
>While a diesel may have won LeMans, winning over American consumers
>won't be easy. "[Toyota's] success has been to put the idea in
>consumers' minds that hybrids are the only solution, but that's
>wrong," says clean-diesel proponent Carlos Ghosn, the CEO of Renault
>(Charts) and Nissan (Charts). Though half the new cars in Europe
>have diesel engines (credit $6-a-gallon gas and tax subsidies), most
>Americans still associate the word with soot-spewing, bone-rattling
>specimens from the '70s. "People ask why we don't just bring them
>over, but it's a challenge," says Frank Klegon, chief of Chrysler
>Group's global product development. While hybrids are seen as
>cutting-edge, "with diesels, it's 'Well, those have been around for
>100 years.' "
>More than 100, actually. Bavarian Rudolf Diesel patented his
>groundbreaking engine in 1892. While a gasoline engine squeezes gas
>and air together, a diesel compresses only air, at high pressures,
>creating so much heat that added fuel ignites without a spark.
>(Diesel contains more energy than gasoline, and engines burn it more
>Shifting America's gears
>Though diesels produce fewer greenhouse gases, they make more
>smog-forming pollutants. Mercedes debuted the first mass-produced
>car model in 1936, and popularity peaked here during the early '80s,
>when four of five Benzes sold featured a so-called oil burner. But
>the era of cheap gas left most buyers oblivious to fuel economy. As
>emissions standards got stricter, the EPA even discussed banning
>diesel a decade ago, notes Margo Oge, director of the EPA's office
>for transportation and air quality. Except for pickups and a fringe
>of Volkswagen fanatics, the technology largely fell by the wayside.
>Until now. The first breakthrough is that ultra-low-sulfur diesel
>fuel will roll out to the nation's pumps this month. The move was
>mandated by the EPA, whose 2009 emissions rules will hold diesels to
>the same standards - the world's toughest - as gasoline cars.
>(Environmentalists were thrilled, oil companies less so: The rollout
>will cost them $6 billion to $9 billion.) The new fuel eliminates
>97% of sulfur, and it's also the catalyst for automakers to devise
>strategies to reduce the remaining pollutants.
>Mercedes is furthest along. In the E 320 Blutec, a trap stores and
>purges smog-forming nitrogen oxides. A second filter captures
>particulate matter - diesel's black calling card, long linked to
>cancer, asthma, and other health risks. Then ammonia compounds are
>used to convert nitrogen oxides to water and nitrogen. What will
>consumers notice? It goes fast, it delivers a knockout 38 highway
>miles per gallon, there's no smell, and it costs just $1,000 more
>than the gas model, vs. Lexus's $8,000 premium for its GS hybrid
>To pass the strictest air-quality rules, part two of Mercedes' plan
>involves adding a small tank of urea, an ammonia-like fluid that
>further neutralizes pollution. The EPA's Oge says that while the
>agency has been leery of emissions systems that require maintenance,
>it will back Mercedes' approach.
>By the time Mercedes' 50-state diesels launch, the competition will
>be heated. In September, Honda - a company long associated with
>hybrids - announced a catalytic-converter breakthrough that requires
>no fluid additives, saying it will deliver 50-state models by 2009.
>And GM recently showed off a burly, ultra-clean V-8 diesel that
>should arrive around the same time. VW, Audi, Nissan, BMW, and
>Chrysler Group also have versions in the works.
>The question is, Are Americans ready for diesel's second coming?
>"We've always been a proponent," says Mercedes' E-Class chief, Bart
>Herring. "But changing the perspective of the rest of the market
>will take time and effort." Honda's research showed that older
>Americans are more skeptical of diesel. "Younger people are more
>open to it," says John Watts, Honda's manager for product planning.
>"They're more our target of who diesel would appeal to - cars with
>lots of power yet low fuel consumption."
>In other words, for eco-conscious buyers, the race is on.
>Honda unveils ultraclean diesel system
>Camry Hybrid: Save gas, get pat on bac
>A car that could save the planet - fast
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