DaimlerChrysler chairman and Mercedes car group head Dieter Zetsche has called on US lawmakers to set regulations that support a diversity of approaches to reducing the country’s dependence on foreign oil.

His demand, made at a motor show as President Bush prepared to call for increased ethanol use in his state of the union speech to congress on Tuesday night, came as Zetsche introduced new heavy duty Dodge Ram pickup trucks with 6.7-litre Cummins turbodiesel engines with B5 and B20 biodiesel, on sale in March. The first to do so and three years before the deadline, the heavy duty trucks will meet stringent 2010 emissions standards in all 50 states.

He also announced a Ram clean, light-duty turbodiesel engine that will meet the same standards and become available after 2009.

With fuel economy improvements of 20 to 40% and a reduction of oxides of nitrogen (NOx) by as much as 90%, Zetsche stressed that clean diesel technology is a viable solution to reducing dependence on oil and improving air quality. Zetsche also urged US policymakers to stimulate greater demand and consumer choice for fuel-saving technologies – such as diesel – by providing equal incentives on powertrains that achieve lower fuel consumption with clean emissions.

“American policy-makers must adopt a new and unique formula … that encourages more technologies and more (customer) choice,” said Zetsche. “I’ve always thought CAFE – in the country that is the world’s model for a free- market economy – to be a bit of a contradiction. It’s an attempt to regulate supply and not to use market forces to stimulate demand for more fuel- efficient vehicles.”

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Zetsche reasoned that “trying to sell people what they don’t want is not a winnable business proposition. And it is that ‘anti-free market element’ of CAFE that makes life difficult for us. We’ve learned to live with CAFE and its modest increases.” He added that the US would be open to re-visiting the CAFE discussion for cars, as it did recently for trucks and make the regulation “size based” and not “fleet based”.

Zetsche suggested that the automotive companies should “look to innovation, and to increasingly substituting petroleum products with biofuels.” He pointed to the modern diesel engine which has “plenty of the former, and great potential for the latter.”

He mentioned a current study that expects diesel sales rates in the US to hit 15% by 2015. Zetsche also detailed the significant advantages of modern diesel engines where Bluetec technology – developed by a partnership of automakers – provides clean and economical performance.

The Mercedes brand has pioneered Bluetec in Europe, where it’s been on the road for several years. Since 2005, the company has sold more than 40,000 so-equipped Mercedes-Benz trucks and buses in Europe, “where they’ve performed exceptionally well in everyday heavy-duty service,” added Zetsche.

Mercedes-Benz intends to systematically broaden its Bluetec range. In addition to the recently introduced E320, three additional models will join the line-up, the R-Class, the ML-Class and the GL Class that will all be assembled at the company’s plant in Alabama.

He also said that DaimlerChrysler “is not pursuing diesel to the exclusion of other alternate fuel technologies.” Zetsche listed many on-going initiatives including the company’s fuel cell activities where it has invested more than $US1bn and has more fuel-cell vehicles on the road today than any other manufacturer.

The company also has about 1,500 Orion VII diesel-electric buses in service or on order for municipal fleets in Toronto, San Francisco and New York City/New Jersey. And, working with GM and BMW, DaimlerChrysler is jointly developing a two-mode, full hybrid propulsion architecture for applications in Chrysler, Mercedes, GM and BMW vehicles. The first DaimlerChrysler vehicle to use this system will be the Dodge Durango, due in 2008.

Referring to the new diesel Ram models, Zetsche said: “Several years ago, when the EPA set stringent 2010 diesel emissions standards for heavy-duty pickup trucks, we didn’t shake our heads and say ‘no’.”. “We went to work with Cummins, the long-time diesel engine partner, to meet the challenge.”

The new 2007 Dodge Ram Heavy Duty engine uses a diesel particulate filter to virtually eliminate particulate matter emissions and an absorber catalyst to reduce NOx by as much as 90% and virtually eliminate particulate matter emissions.