Californians — get your new oil burner before they’re all gone

For the first time in a decade, Californians will be able to obtain and register a brand-spanking new diesel car.  Mercedes-Benz just announced it will make its E320 BLUETEC sedan available to those in the land of beaches, wine, redwoods, and Lindsay Lohan.

Don’t look at this as more than dipping its toe in the Californian market, though.  Nobody will actually be able to buy an E320 BLUETEC.  Mercedes-Benz will only be offering the cars at a price very similar to the E320’s gas-powered brother only via a special two-year-24,000 mile lease.  Given the amount of driving that the average Californian does, this lease is shorter than Vern Troyer standing in sand trap.

If you’re saying that this seems a wee bit like “Who Killed the Electric Car”, where manufacturers like GM and Honda leased the electric vehicles to customers, only to pull them back and crush them after the lease period expired, don’t get all conspiracy theory-ish just yet.  Chances are that this was simply the only way the boys and girls in Sacramento would allow Mercedes’ oil burner into the state.

It’s no secret that I’ve been a frequent outspoken voice against the diesel panacea – or for that matter, alternative fuel vehicles.  I’ve been accused of being in cahoots with the gas companies.  My only problems with diesel are that it a) trades long-term damage to the environment for immediate harm to lungs and heart, and b) still requires louder, less-sporting, lower-revving, and engines that are costlier to repair.

That being said, I applaud Mercedes for being a leader in making diesel products significantly better.  Along with Audi, and to some degree, VW, Mercedes has made the US companies look like they are standing still on diesel technology.  Mercedes engineers have figured out how to remove the majority of particulates/soot from exhaust, as well as significantly improve NVH (that’s noise, vibration and harshness) from the entire ride.

And unlike, BMW, which has a habit of forcing technology down the throat of its customers, Mercedes is realistic about its customers’ behavior.  In the works at the company was a next-generation liquid filtering system for diesel particulates.  Unfortunately, the liquid would require replacement every 10,000 miles, so the company decided to pull it, citing that customers (especially in America) wouldn’t remember or would object to perform this routine maintenance.

Hopefully Mercedes will see success with this program and be the first company to have a 50-state-legal diesel in years.  This in turn might make other automakers abandon the ethanol pipe dream (or windfall, if you’re a corn grower!) and return to competitively innovating diesel power.

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3 Responses to Californians — get your new oil burner before they’re all gone

  1. Well Sam, I LOVE Diesel. I love Diesel so much I make my own. =)

    I also love the fact that I should soon have a choice. An ACTUAL CHOICE of vehicles when the time comes to retire my 2002 Jetta TDI. I’m really hoping that both Audi and BMW have options for me too. I keep hearing about available Diesels ‘coming soon” but all I see are VW TDIs.

    What I’d really like is something small, lightweight, and open-topped like an Lotus Elise with a proven small Diesel like VW’s 1.9 TDI. That to me would be an ideal machine. Awesome economy while being fun to drive.

    Oh, and US companies don’t look like they are sitting still, they ARE sitting still with regards to Diesel technology.

    –chuck
    http://chuck.goolsbee.org

  2. Chuck brings up a tremendous point. While it is true that diesel engines have traditionally been rather non-sporting, there is a small (and growing) market for sporty cars with diesel engines.

    Just because the engines tend to be harsher and lower revving, doesn’t mean that there’s no application in a sports car. Thanks to Audi and its team of successful diesel endurance racers, people are realizing that diesel engines’ ability to produce more torque at lower revs translates to quicker acceleration and more durability.

    In the application of a smaller car, like the one Chuck mentions, a diesel could certainly improve “grunt” usually not associated with the low-displacement engines often installed. As for the NVH issue — sports cars are usually a litter harsher.

    You will probably never in your lifetime see a Ferrari production car offered with a diesel engine, but a VW or Audi sports car is a certainty.

  3. Well, if you set your wayback machine for -40 years you will see LOTS of little, lightweight, underpowered sports cars with engines of an agricultural nature. The time is now to revive that theme! Diesel is the technology.

    –chuck
    http://chuck.goolsbee.org

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