Washington - Over the past 11 years, Mercedes-Benz of North America paid nearly $200 million in fines for violating federal fuel economy standards - more than any car company - but the string may end soon.
DaimlerChrysler officials, outlining the newly merged company's position on corporate average fuel economy rules, acknowledged it still will pay fines for Mercedes-Benz cars in the near term. But they intend to get all company products into CAFE compliance.
Robert Liberatore, DaimlerChrysler senior vice president for public policy, said: 'We've never paid fines on the domestic fleet and we're not about to start. ... It is also our policy, to eliminate the need as soon as possible on the imported fleet to pay fines.'
The products of the former Chrysler Corp. are the 'domestic fleet.' Vehicles from Mercedes-Benz, a unit of the former Daimler-Benz AG, are the 'imported fleet.'
Law requires manufacturers' cars to average 27.5 mpg and trucks to average 20.7. Separate calculations are made for U.S.-produced vehicles and imported vehicles. Companies can use credits from three prior model years and three future model years to meet standards.
If a company still fails, it pays $5.50 per vehicle for each 0.1 mpg it is off the mark.
Mercedes-Benz cars averaged 25.2 mpg in 1997 - the last year for which final data are available - and the company paid a fine of $11.7 million, according to a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration report.
The report estimated Mercedes-Benz cars would average 27.1 mpg in 1998, still short of the 27.5 mpg standard, and trucks (Alabama-built M-class sport-utilities) would average 21.7 mpg, better than the 20.7 mpg standard. But truck credits cannot be used for cars.