Mercedes To Roll Out Diesel Promotion In U.S.

Mercedes-Benz next year will roll out a grassroots program to promote its BlueTec diesel powertrain in the U.S.

The company, which introduced BlueTec in 2006, has until now marketed the technology only in Europe, and in the U.S. has offered it only in the E320 sedan. That will change, though, as the company, which is on the rebound with its new C-Class sedan and M-Class SUV, will introduce BlueTec in its M-Class, GL-Class and R-Class SUVs.

The company first introduced BlueTec at the North American International Auto Show in early 2006, and launched the E 320 BlueTec in the U.S. that fall. In August this year, the company rolled out an E 300 BlueTec car in Europe.

Steven Cannon, vice president-marketing at the Montvale, N.J.-based Mercedes-Benz USA, says the effort--which will probably take place next August--will be the sort of national city-by-city tour it launched in August to promote the new C-Class cars. That program, C-Drive, visits 11 markets this quarter, wrapping test drives around a venue showcasing complementary products from the likes of W Hotels and Bon Appétit magazine.



Currently, the BlueTec-powered E320 is being offered lease-only in California. Cannon says the challenge inherent in bringing the diesel Mercedes-Benz back to the U.S. market is that while older loyalists know and love Mercedes diesels, younger consumers have a different view.

"We know we have some myths we need to debunk," he says. "There's this notion of diesel as dirty technology, so there are some consumer perceptions we need to confront."

The company will pitch BlueTec for its ability to generate up to 600 miles on a tank with fewer tailpipe emissions. We are not taking for granted that we have to do 30-second TV spots."

Todd Turner, president of Car Concepts, Los Angeles, says consumers will give the vehicles a chance if they see it is not their dad's diesel--one of the cars of yesteryear that gave diesel a bad name in the U.S.

Mike Omotoso, senior manager of global powertrain for J.D. Power, agrees that the challenge will be overcoming consumers' attitudes. "Diesel will be a tough sell in California and other states with stringent air control standards," he says, "because hybrids are already so popular in those states, and they have already such a 'clean' image."

He says hybrid vehicles like Toyota's Prius get better fuel economy in city driving, but they are about even on the highway. "And the price premium for a hybrid is bigger," he says. Per Omotoso, the price premium for BlueTec is likely to be around $1,000 for the option. "They haven't confirmed it yet, but we expect it to be a grand or two, but for hybrid it's $4,000 to $5,000."

"Mercedes will have to launch a clever PR campaign to convince people clean diesel is just as clean as hybrid."

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