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from a report in the Detroit News:

With cleaner diesel fuel now available in the United States, DaimlerChrysler AG's luxury carmaker Mercedes-Benz is preparing to roll out the first of four models in North America featuring its newest diesel technology.

The E320 Bluetec sedan, which goes on sale next week in most states and in Canada, is equipped with a system that drastically lowers emissions of soot and other pollutants associated with diesel.

By the end of October, similar diesel versions of the ML sport utility vehicle and R-Class touring wagon will hit U.S. showrooms. Mercedes will add a diesel GL to its American lineup early next year.

"The three are in the SUV market, where it makes more sense to have diesel in America," said Mercedes spokesman Geoff Day.

Mercedes and other German automakers are trying to position fuel-efficient diesels as a time-tested alternative to popular gas-electric hybrids.

Mercedes first built diesel cars in 1936. In Europe, diesels are popular and account for half of new car sales. But the German automakers have been handicapped in the United States, which has stricter regulations than Europe on diesel emissions but had comparatively lax norms for diesel fuel -- until now.

"To coincide with the conversion of up to 76,000 U.S. filling stations to clean diesel fuel, Mercedes-Benz is commencing sales of the E320 Bluetec in the United States and Canada in one week's time," the Stuttgart-based automaker said Monday in a statement.

The car will be available in 45 states, but not in California and other states that have adopted California's strict norms.

In most years, Mercedes has offered a diesel version of its midsize E-Class sedan in those 45 states, which, however, account for only half of Mercedes' total U.S. sales. Last year, Mercedes sold just more than 4,000 E320 CDI models in the United States.

The automaker is refining the Bluetec system, which it developed with its supplier Robert Bosch GmbH, with the objective of selling diesel-powered vehicles in all 50 states starting in 2008.

"This first level of Bluetec technology we're getting is a steppingstone," said Bill Visnic, senior technical editor at Ward's Automotive Group. "This is a transition year for them."

If Mercedes succeeds in meeting California's norms in 2008, "it'll be very significant for them," he said. That is especially true as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is tightening rules on diesel emissions.

The German publication Automobilwoche reported that BMW and Volkswagen are in talks with DaimlerChrysler about sharing Bluetec technology in an effort to increase the acceptance of diesel in North America.

DaimlerChrysler's Chrysler Group also will use the technology and has shown it in a diesel Grand Cherokee SUV.

Diesel engines are common in medium-duty and larger trucks, but U.S. sales of diesel-powered cars trail sales of hybrids.

Compared with equivalent gas engines, diesel motors are a third more fuel efficient and emit less carbon dioxide. The E320 Bluetec can ride more than 700 miles on a tank of gas -- 200 miles more than an E-Class running on gas.

But diesel suffers from an image problem with many American consumers who recall the noisy and smelly diesels of the past.

And although European automakers have vastly refined and improved the technology, diesel-powered vehicles still spew more soot, or harmful particulates, and nitrogen oxide.

Mercedes' Bluetec technology uses a particulate filter as well as a variant of the catalytic converter to cut those emissions. The second-generation Bluetec system will use a urea-injection system to further reduce emissions.
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