DaimlerChrysler plans to achieve a breakthrough in North America's barely-existent diesel car market by launching a new range of Mercedes-Benz and Chrysler models using what it claims will be the world's cleanest diesel-engine technology, the Financial Times (FT) reported.

The paper said the first car to use the technology, which DaimlerChrysler is calling Bluetec, will be launched in autumn this year as the Mercedes-Benz E320 Bluetec.

Mercedes has recently rolled out a line of state-of-the-art common rail, direct injected new V6 diesel engines for its cars in Europe. These are also installed in Austrian-built Chrysler and Jeep models.

DaimlerChysler executives at the Detroit motor show told the FT on Sunday (8 January) yesterday that the launch would be the start of a group-wide initiative to promote diesel through the US.

Mercedes and Volkswagen are currently the major players but can't sell their diesel models in states that have adopted the more stringent 'California' emission rules because the engines don't comply.

DaimlerChrysler recently starting selling the Jeep Liberty (Cherokee for export) in most US states. Demand has far exceeded supply and the company has recently had to crank up output for the US market. The diesel Liberty/Cherokee, first sold in Europe, has an Italian-made VM 2.8-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel and manual or automatic transmissions.

The FT noted that the US currently only has about 4m diesel cars compared with a new car market of about 15m annually.

The new Mercedes models would offer the potential to meet the most stringent emissions regulations worldwide and, unlike the current E320CDi, the Liberty and some VW diesel models, be approved for sale in all 50 states.

The Financial Times said the initiative comes at a time when North American consumers are likely to be more willing to accept diesel-engine cars. The past year's surge in fuel prices, occasionally breaking US$3 per gallon, has focused much more attention on fuel economy in a country long used to cheap fuel.

Diesel engines typically are at least 20 per cent more economical than petrol-powered equivalents, the FT noted.

Dieter Zetsche, chairman of DaimlerChrysler and head of the Mercedes Car Group, told the FT that, while the technology had been developed by Mercedes-Benz, it would be shared fully with Chrysler. Both the Mercedes-Benz model and a concept version of Chrysler's Jeep Grand Cherokee sports-utility vehicle were unveiled at the show.

However, while claiming that the vehicles are capable of being the most fuel-efficient and cleanest diesel passenger vehicles in their segments in the US, executives reportedly acknowledged that for the technology to work to full efficiency it would require diesel with a sulphur content of less than 15 parts per million.

Such fuel has been introduced throughout Europe and is expected to become available in the US at about the same time as the first Bluetec Mercedes in the autumn, the FT added.

Bluetec is a combination of technologies for passenger cars and light trucks to reduce all relevant emissions, the Financial Times said.