Mercedes Brings Clean Diesel to California

A 50 state diesel automobile… that’s something that hasn’t been seen since the 1980′s.

According to Tom Cackette, executive director for the California Air Resources Board (CARB): “The E320 is testimony to demanding nothing but the cleanest vehicles for California. Mercedes-Benz has developed a diesel emission control system that results in a car as clean as comparable gasoline vehicles being sold here. This vehicle has shed the reputation of diesel as a dirty technology. And we hope California has shed its anti-diesel reputation by certifying this vehicle as the first diesel passenger car to meet the most stringent smog emission standards in the world.”

The Bluetec diesel technology that Mercedes, Audi, and VW developed is really groundbreaking. Diesel will do more for the environment than a whole fleet of Priuses. Why? Diesel can be used across a wide range of vehicles, from passenger cars to medium duty trucks. Increasing fleet fuel economy while adhering to Bin5 standards means that we are consuming less fuel and as a consequence we are reducing emissions.

Diesel can also be used as the powerplant in hybrid systems, greatly increasing the performance and fuel economy. This makes hybrids more appropriate for large vehicles, something they are not today. It is statistically evident that in order to achieve minimum performance standards, manufacturers use larger gasoline engines in hybrids destined for large passenger vehicles trucks, resulting in fuel consumption numbers that put them within 5% of their non-hybrid cousins.

Considering the price premiums customers have to pay for vehicles that offer little fuel economy advantage, it’s no wonder why hybrids have had little impact outside of the compact vehicle segment, and even there the numbers are paltry when factored into overall sales figures for the entire segment. Gasoline hybrids are simply not viable across the whole fleet of vehicles sold today, the immutable laws of physics (Classical Mechanics) get in the way.

I drove one of these Bluetec E320s and it was a fun car to drive, delivering gobs of torque through a 7 speed automatic transmission that always feels like it’s in the right gear (my car has this same transmission, it really is an impressive piece of engineering), quick acceleration, and smooth top end performance. The ML class will get the Bluetec diesel in last 2008 and the GL follows in 2009. My wife currently drives a Range Rover that gets 15.5 combined mpg on a good day, replacing it with the GL would give us the same class vehicle in terms of size, performance and features, while delivering 25mpg.

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