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.