The chairman of the Board of Management of the German automaker DaimlerChrysler, Dieter Zetsche delivered the keynote address at the opening of the Washington, D.C. Auto Show this week. While President Bush's State of the Union address called for a sharp increase in fuel economy, Zetsche was emphasizing a long-established alternative - diesel power. VOA's John Birchard reports.
Speaking to a gathering of auto industry representatives and reporters, Zetsche pointed out that roughly half of the new vehicles sold in Europe are driven by diesel engines. In the United States, diesel sales are in the low single digits. The reason? Energy policy. Europeans have chosen to place a high tax on gasoline and incentives on diesel fuel. Further, he said the Europeans pattern their emissions standards to accommodate diesel.
"Modern diesels can improve fuel economy by 20 to 40 percent, and reduce CO2 emissions by up to 20 percent," said Dieter Zetsche. "Real-world tests show that diesel can even be more fuel-effective than gas-electric hybrids, depending on use."
Hybrids have grown rapidly in popularity in the U.S. Their combination of fuel efficiency and lower pollution emissions proved especially popular when gasoline prices were peaking around the $3 per U.S. gallon mark a few months ago. Hybrids use both a gasoline engine and electric motor for power, with computers controlling the operation of each for maximum efficiency. And hybrids re-charge their own batteries without the need for plugging the vehicle into an electrical outlet.
But, says Dieter Zetsche, they are not the only answer to world energy needs.
"Hybrids definitely have a place in the market," he said. "But it's a big mistake to think of them as the only game in town or as the only commercialized technology that can deliver lower fuel consumption with clean emissions. The issue with the diesel engine has never been fuel economy, where the benefit over gas engines is quite clear. The challenge has always been achieving comparably clean emissions. The conventional wisdom has been that diesel engines simply would not or could not be made to run as clean as gas engines. Bluetec solves that problem.
Bluetec is the trade name for DaimlerChrysler technology that cleans up diesel exhaust to rigid standards.
Further, Zetsche says his company has been working with Volkswagen and other businesses to develop a high-quality biomass to liquid fuel they call SunDiesel.
"The raw material for SunDiesel is typically wood chips, but just about any form of biomass can be suitable for its production," continued DaimlerChrysler chairman. "Our life-cycle assessment shows SunDiesel reduces CO2 emissions in comparison to conventional fuels by about 90 percent."
DaimlerChrysler's partners are building a pilot facililty to produce SunDiesel in Freiburg, Germany with the first deliveries of fuel from that plant expected in the second half of this year. Zetsche says construction of a large-scale production plant is currently scheduled for 2010.
Biofuels are not limited to plants for their raw material. Other entrepreneurs see potential in such sources as waste chicken fat. Whether a future Mercedes-Benz is propelled by wood chips or chicken fat, Dieter Zetsche is betting on a bright future for a modern version of the old diesel.