Sunday, May 18, 2008

AMG’s Green Initiatives Include Possibility of Diesels, Hybrids, and Turbo V-6s

Mercedes-Benz performance brand AMG shows its environmental side.

Mercedes’s AMG performance division wants to offer guiltless pleasure for those who love performance cars but are tired of being criticized for a lack of commitment to save the planet.

On the eve of the 2008 Geneva auto show, AMG boss Volker Mornhinweg boldly announced that the fleet of performance cars will achieve a 30 percent reduction in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 2012. Smaller engines, hybrid systems, and diesels are all on the table for Mercedes’ thriving performance sub-brand.

Mornhinweg leveled a shot at BMW’s claim to “efficient dynamics” which is spawning products such as the X5 Vision diesel hybrid concept, also unveiled in Geneva. AMG’s roots are in racing, he said, and “racing was always about ‘efficient dynamics,’ we just called it differently.” He then went on to announce fuel-saving technologies to be offered in AMG cars across the globe.

In 2010, direct-injection gasoline engines and start-stop systems will mark the beginning of the push to lower consumption and emissions. AMG is developing a crankshaft starter-generator system that it claims is far more advanced that BMW’s current system, which operates with a conventional starter.

Two-Mode Performance

But that kind of technology is just the beginning. AMG is working on full hybrid cars that can drive short distances with just the electric motor. Mercedes is part of a consortium with General Motors, Chrysler, and BMW in developing this “two-mode” or full hybrid system for use by each automaker.

Mercedes did not want to launch its version of the two-mode system in the M-class, as there already are hybrid SUVs on the market, and “we don’t want to be a follower,” says Mornhinweg. For AMG, look for the technology to bow on a low, sporty car like the CL, the SL, or the CLS.

What’s more, you may be able to get an AMG oil-burner. Mornhinweg: “We are monitoring the diesel. There is currently no demand, but if that changes, we can react immediately.”
The idea would not be new. Five years ago, AMG offered the 228-hp, five-cylinder C30 CDI turbo-diesel, and while it was successful in some Southern European markets, it was loud and generally unloved. AMG had not seriously considered a follow-up model, but that thinking has changed. By the end of 2008, the brand will have decided whether to proceed with a second diesel.

Turbocharged V-6s on Tap?

In a reversal of its strategy of the past few years, AMG could also offer six-cylinder gasoline engines again. This time around, they would be turbocharged. Mornhinweg says that a decision will be made soon. Turbocharged V-8 engines are already high on the agenda.

Despite all that fuel-saving technology, AMG continues to focus on fun and performance. The new MCT multi-clutch transmission—essentially Mercedes’ seven-speed automatic with a multiclutch system replacing the torque converter—will migrate to more models after its debut in the SL63 AMG. The next-generation CLK and SLK are sure bets to receive the gearbox, while the C-class is an open question. It won’t replace the automatic throughout the lineup as it is not well-suited to towing and does not fit the character of the S- or CL-class luxury cars.

AMG will also up its performance credibility with ceramic brakes. By now, they are reliable but cooling is still a challenge, and there needs to be a significant performance advantage over the regular brakes to warrant the additional cost.

AMG is hoping its fuel-saving announcements present a challenge to competitors. Porsche has announced a CO2 reduction of 30 percent for its V-6 hybrid powertrain over the regular V-6. But such savings across the entire fleet are “unrealistic,” Porsche board member Wolfgang Dürheimer tells us here in Geneva.

Last year, AMG sold 20,107 units, its best results ever. For 2008 and beyond, Mornhinweg is aiming for “further, profitable growth.” If he reaches his ambitious CO2 targets, Mother Earth won’t really care.

Meanwhile, Daimler AG is claiming a breakthrough in battery technology, saying it has achieved the Holy Grail of adapting lithium-ion technology for automotive use—crucial to winning the race to offering hybrid, electric, and fuel-cell vehicles. It will be used in the Mercedes S 400 BlueHybrid staring in 2009. The stumbling block had been integrating the power source into the climate control system