Mercedes expects diesels to reach 15 percent of SUV sales
July 1st, 2008
The average price for 87-octane gas reached yet another record high today at $4.086 per gallon. With consumers more concerned about fuel-economy than ever, automakers are furiously developing plug-in hybrids, fuel-cells, and advanced engine designs to help ease the pain at the pump. But despite this, many Americans still overlook the technology Europeans have used to save fuel for years -- diesels. Mercedes believes this is about to change, and expects that some 15 percent of the SUVs and crossovers it sells will soon feature oil burning engines under the hood.
Mercedes says that a modern diesel vehicle is typically 20 to 33 percent more efficient than its gasoline counterpart, and claims that paying back the price premium takes two years less than for many hybrids. Because of this, the Stuttgart automaker believes the time has finally come for Americans to fully embrace oil burners, and is beginning to roll out its new diesel engines in the R-Class crossover, as well as its ML and GL SUVs.
Purchasing a Benz diesel ute will only cost an extra $1000 over a gas-powered model, which should make them competitive with hybrids like the Lexus RX 400h, which commands a premium of more than $3000. According to Mercedes USA's vice president for marketing Stephen Cannon, the SUVs will be marketed at drivers "who can't just downsize into a compact car," and target vehicles like the Ford Escape Hybrid and GM's dual-mode SUVs as well.
The 2009 the ML, GL, and R diesels will feature the automaker's new BlueTEC technology, making them certifiable for sale in all 50 states. In the past, eight states, including major markets like California and New York, wouldn't allow diesels to be sold within their borders. Yet despite this, in recent months the engines have accounted for nearly 20 percent of sales for some models, and with its new BlueTEC engines on board, the automaker expects these numbers to grow substantially.
However there is a catch -- at $4.76 a gallon, diesel costs approximately $0.67 more than regular gas, and nearly $0.27 more than premium. Commuters will have to do the math to be sure that their improved mileage will be worth paying both a price premium for the vehicle and more per gallon at the pump. That said, Mercedes believes the gap between premium and diesel fuel will shrink over the next two years, and in the meantime is stressing the advantages of diesels in "extreme commuting," when drivers travel long distances to get to work. Typical in places like California, long highway commutes aren't well suited to hybrids, and Cannon claims that in terms of fuel-efficiency "BlueTEC beats them every time."
The new BlueTEC SUVs will reach showrooms this October, and Mercedes plans to advertise the vehicles as "responsible luxury," sponsoring green conferences around the country and lending examples to Hollywood celebrities and communities such as Aspen, Colorado. So far, the the only other BlueTEC model for sale in the U.S. (only available for lease at present) is the E320, which has been well reviewed, but whether this will finally convince Americans to join their European counterparts and embrace the joys of oil burners, however, remains to be seen.
Source: Automotive News (Subscription required)