With a new year come the newest models of cars and the latest in automobile innovations. And with 2007 specifically, American car buyers will see dramatic developments in diesel engine production.
Diesel engines, which are compression-ignition engines as opposed to spark-ignition gasoline engines, are known for their impressive pulling power, longevity and stellar fuel efficiency. Unfortunately, diesel engines have also been associated with black smoke pumping big rigs—a negative reputation earned from poor performance of diesel technology in the ’70s. But with the latest innovations in alternative fuels and diesel technology, that stereotype can be thrown to the curb. Today’s diesel-powered vehicles give off little or no visible exhaust; yet still have the exemplary power and fuel economy. New-generation diesel engines yield up to 20 percent to 40 percent better fuel economy than comparable gas engines and can approach or even exceed the efficiency of many gasoline-electric hybrids.
Leading the pack in new diesel technology is Mercedes-Benz with its ML320 CDI, a midsize SUV; the R320 CDI, a six-passenger luxury vehicle; and the GL320 CDI, a premium seven-passenger SUV. The new models, which will be available in 45 states this year, are powered by a 3-liter V-6 diesel engine that produces 215 horsepower and 398 torque, resulting in more than 32 percent better fuel mileage than comparable gasoline engines for the R320 CDI and a 26 percent improvement for the ML320 CDI. The vehicles’ stellar overall performances boast the great fuel economy of a 4-cylinder gasoline engine with the impressive torque of a V-8. A high-tech particulate filter, which is self-cleaning through a regeneration cycle, reduces particulate emissions by up to 98 percent, and nitrogen-oxide emissions decrease dramatically as well.
The development of the diesel power behind these models and diesel models from other manufacturers is made possible by "clean diesel," or ultra-low sulfur diesel (ULSD), which was made available in the U.S. and Canada last October. ULSD has no more than 15 ppm of sulfur (the main cause of soot), whereas standard diesel fuel has 500 ppm. This is consistent with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s January 1 ruling that enforces stricter diesel emission regulations. The EPA notes the introduction of ULSD as the most significant change in health policy since lead was removed from gas. EPA officials also say that America could save up to 1.4 million barrels of oil per day if one-third of vehicles were powered with new-generation diesel engines. Congress also recognizes the benefit of clean diesel with its recent implementation of tax incentives for buyers of these vehicles.
The efficiency of diesel-powered vehicles is nothing new to Mercedes-Benz, however. Seventy years ago Mercedes-Benz launched the world’s first production diesel car: the 260D. Mercedes has continually improved its diesel technology since. In January 2004 it introduced the E320 BLUETEC at the Detroit Auto Show, further boosting Mercedes’ presence in the diesel market. Now with the availability of ULSD, introduction of the ML320 CDI, R320 CDI and GL320 CDI will only keep Mercedes at the forefront of automotive diesel technology. And with still-high gas prices and further exploration of alternative fuels, the clean diesel movement is picking up speed. Analysts at J.D. Power and Associates estimate diesel sales will triple in the next 10 years, accounting for more than 10 percent of US vehicle sales by 2015—up from 3.6 percent in 2005.
Check out our review of the Mercedes E320 BLUETEC for more on new-generation diesel (www.motorsportcenter.com/article_794.shtml).