PARIS - PSA Peugeot Citroen and Ford Motor Co. unveiled on Tuesday what they dubbed the cleanest diesel engines ever made, the latest phase of a joint plan aimed at exploiting booming European demand for diesel cars.
The French and U.S. firms are investing almost one billion euros between 2001 and 2003 to develop two new diesel engines in eastern France, which they said will make them the world's number-one maker of the cleaner, more efficient motors.
Diesel engines already have proved a winner at PSA, helping the firm boost sales in 2002 and cruise past sputtering European rivals. The two firms said they hoped eventually to swell joint production to some three million engines per year.
"Diesels used to have a bad name -- noise, smell and lack of performance; that's now history," Derrick Kuzak, vice president of product development for Ford Europe, told a joint news conference in Paris. "Diesel now accounts for 40 percent of the European market and is rising."
PSA and Ford said they would make some 1.6 million per year of the new 1.6-liter and 2.0-liter diesel engines by 2005, which they said were among the cleanest engines ever made because they gobbled up less fuel than gasoline-powered cars.
The launch of these two new engines is the second phase of a four-pronged plan to drive the firms to the forefront of diesel technology and to meet burgeoning demand in Europe.
Companies lagging in the top-selling technology, such as the Opel unit of General Motors, have suffered from a slowdown in sales and are now struggling to catch up.
PSA and Ford said production of the engines already had started at PSA's Tremery plant in eastern France and would be powering models of both firms by the second half of this year. Some 37 different vehicle versions eventually would feature the new engines.
The 1.6-liter engine is a bigger version of the two firms' 1.4-liter motor already in production at Tremery and already used in small PSA and Ford cars. With the 2.0-liter engine, the companies aim to boost performance without consuming more fuel.
"These engines have allowed us to boost performance and appeal, improve security, reduce noise and keep fuel consumption to a minimum," said project director Pascal Lefebvre, adding the motors were "the cleanest engines ever made."
The two firms, which launched the cooperation plan in 1998 and enlarged it in 1999, said total investment in the project so far, including the latest amount, was 1.4 billion euros.
"Thanks to this strategy, the two groups will in the short term be the world's top makers of diesel engines," said Gilles Michel, PSA's platform, technical and purchasing director.
Kuzak said Ford was mulling how to develop diesel technology in its key U.S. market but declined to give details.
The joint venture illustrates PSA's strategy of pursuing cooperation deals with other manufacturers on specific projects rather than taking equity stakes in other companies.