Mercedes-Benz to debut clean diesel SUV

Luxury brand hopes new, low-emission engine makes inroads in Japan

by Hiroko Nakata

Backed by growing concerns about global warming, Mercedes-Benz Japan Co. said Wednesday it will start selling new vehicles in Japan powered by “cleaner” diesel engines with much lower emissions.

Mercedes-Benz, the only carmaker selling diesels in Japan, said its first new model will be a sport utility vehicle — the ML320 Bluetech. The ML320 will enter the market by the end of the year, company officials said.

Unlike in Europe, there has been little demand for diesels in Japan because of their image as noisy vehicles that produce heavy emissions. But that is no longer true, Mercedes-Benz officials said.

The ML320 reduces nitrogen oxide emissions by 80 percent, making it possible to meet strict emission standards in Europe, the United States and Japan.

As one example of its efforts to gain market share in Japan, Mercedes-Benz delivered 10 E 320 CDI diesel sedans to a Tokyo taxi company Wednesday.

Tokyo MK Corp., a unit of Kyoto-based MK Co., will be the first taxi company to use diesel vehicles in Japan.

Mercedes has sold about 2,500 E 320 CDIs in Japan since they debuted here in November 2006.

Tokyo MK, known for its discount fares, will use the new diesels to offer “private chauffeur services.” It already uses about 60 gasoline-electric hybrid vehicles as taxis.

At a separate news conference, Audi Japan KK said it would consider launching its first diesel model in Japan in the first half of the year.