September 28, 2006
Las Vegas, Nevada – Two new developments, the introduction of Ultra Low Sulphur Diesel (ULSD) fuel at filling stations across North America on October 15th, and the introduction of Mercedes-Benz’ Bluetec diesel technology in the 2007 E320 sedan, could provide a big boost for Mercedes’ diesel passenger car sales in North America.
A recent J.D. Power study “Global Outlook For Diesel” forecasted that the current global diesel market share of 18 percent is set to reach around 30 percent in 2015. The same study said that in North America, diesel vehicles are expected to account for over 15 percent of new registrations in North America by that time, up from just 3.4% right now.
The expected rise in popularity of diesel cars hinges on the mandated availability of new Ultra Low Sulphur Diesel fuel which, with the right engine and exhaust technology, allows vehicle manufacturers to meet strict emissions standards for Nitrogen Oxides, something previously unattainable. As well, the Bluetec diesel emits approximately 20% less carbon dioxide than a similar-sized gasoline engine.
“State-of-the-art diesel vehicles, which already account for more than half of annual new registrations in Western Europe, have not yet realised their full potential in the USA (and Canada, ed.) due to excessive sulphur levels in existing fuel,” explained Dr Thomas Weber, head of Development at DaimlerChrysler AG and at the Mercedes Car Group, during the E320 Bluetec’s introduction in Las Vegas, Nevada. “All that is about to change with the nationwide introduction of clean diesel fuel with a sulphur content of just 15 ppm.”
Weber said there’s another big reason diesel should be more popular. “It will make national economies less dependent on oil imports,” he said. Citing an EPA study dating back to 2004, Weber said that if just a third of the light-duty vehicles in the USA were state-of-the-art diesel vehicles, “we would be looking at saving 1.4 million barrels a day, the equivalent quantity of oil the USA imports from Saudi Arabia every day.”
Mercedes has big plans for its Bluetec diesels. The E320 will be just the first vehicle to offer it. In 2008, Mercedes-Benz plans to introduce diesel versions of the ML320, R320 and GL320. And DaimlerChrysler has shown a Jeep Grand Cherokee Bluetec concept.
What is Bluetec?
To put it simply, Bluetec technology is an improved way of cleaning up harmful emissions coming from the engine.
There are two versions of Mercedes’ Bluetec technology: in the E320, an oxidation-type catalytic converter reduces carbon monoxide and hydrocarbon emissions, a particulate filter reduces soot particles, and a new Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) catalytic converter and an additional SCR (selective catalytic reduction converter) help reduce NOx emissions (see diagram). This is the system used in the 2007 E320 Bluetec sedan.
The second Bluetec system is more efficient, and will be used in the 2008 E320 Bluetec, as well as the 2008 ML320, R320 and GL320 Bluetec models. This system is similar, but the NOx catalytic converter is replaced by an ‘AdBlue’ metering valve. AdBlue is a non-toxic aqueous solution that is injected into the exhaust-gas stream, causing ammonia to be released. In the SCR catalytic converter the ammonia then converts up to 80 percent of the nitrogen oxides into the harmless nitrogen and water (see diagram).
Though the AdBlue system requires AdBlue fluid to be replaced at regular intervals (it uses about one litre per 1000 km) Weber indicated this could be done during regular service intervals at the dealership.
Emissions aside, though, it’s the E320 Bluetec sedan’s abundant torque, quiet engine, excellent fuel economy, and long driving range that’s likely to seduce buyers into switching to diesel.
On the uncrowded and well-paved highways in the canyons and mountains surrounding Las Vegas, Nevada, my first driving impression was how quiet and smooth the new 3.0-litre DOHC 24-valve V6 diesel engine is. Even with the driver’s window open while accelerating, the engine emits only a soft clatter. With the windows closed, it’s eerily quiet for a diesel. Engine vibrations are almost non-existent, a real credit to a diesel car.
And the torque! Though it only has a modest 210 hp at 3800 rpm, the E320 Bluetec has 388 lb-ft of torque starting at just 1,600 rpm! 0 to 100 km/h goes by in under seven seconds, pretty good for a 1750 kg (3858 lb) diesel vehicle. That’s even faster than the 268-hp E350 4Matic sedan. Both off-the-line acceleration and highway passing power are immediate. By the way, the E350 comes only with 4Matic AWD for 2007, while the E320 Bluetec diesel sedan is rear-wheel drive only: at least for now. A wagon version of the Bluetec isn’t offered.
Though the E320 Bluetec’s performance and driveability is comparable to an E350, its fuel economy certainly isn’t. The E320 Bluetec offers estimated city mileage of 9.0 litres/100 km (31 mpg Imp.) and 5.9 litres/100 km (48 mpg Imp.) on the highway. Compare that to the E350 4Matic with 12.9 city (22 mpg Imp.) and 8.8 (32 mpg Imp) highway, which by the way uses expensive Premium gasoline. Some of the credit for the E320 Bluetec’s excellent fuel economy must go to its seven-speed automatic transmission which has tall highway gears. On one tank of fuel, the E 320 Bluetec sedan has a potential range of over 1,100 kilometres.
What happens if an owner puts high sulphur diesel fuel into the Bluetec fuel tank? Mercedes-Benz Canada is coy on the topic, saying that “The highly sophisticated system is configured for ULSD only which is clearly indicated on the dashboard and on the fuel filler cap.” “The customers who will buy these cars will definitely be more alert and fastidious to ensure they put the correct fuel in,” says MB Canada Public Relations Manager, Jo Anne Caza.
Standard and optional equipment
The 2007 E320 Bluetec sedan starts at $67,800, about $2,000 less than the 2006 E320 CDI diesel. Standard equipment is generous particularly with regard to safety features. There are six airbags (front, side, curtain), traction and electronic stability control (a good thing on a rear-drive car), belt tensioners front and rear, rear child seat attachments, Tele-Aid emergency calling system, Pre-Safe safety system, disc brakes with ABS and Brake Assist, speed-sensitive power steering. and 16-inch tires and alloy wheels.
The interior offers warm wood trim, power tilt/telescoping heated leather-wrapped steering wheel, automatic climate control, AM/FM/single CD stereo, power windows and locks, power glass moonroof, and rain-sensing wipers.
Available options include leather upholstery ($2,500), 6-disc CD changer ($811), 17-inch alloys ($1917-$4308), navigation system ($1,500), Ipod integration kit ($371), electronic trunk closer ($750), Panoramic sunroof ($1,200), Parktronic reversing sensors ($1,200), SmartKey with Panic button ($1,400) and tire pressure monitoring system ($440).
With virtually none of the traditional disadvantages of a diesel car (poor performance, smoky exhaust, smelly fuel, noisy engine), the only thing you’ll have to worry about with the new E320 Bluetec is finding a filling station with Ultra Low Sulphur Diesel fuel. With the exception of Northern Canada, it’s expected that ULSD will be available nationwide as of October 15th.
Manufacturer’s web site