RASTATT, Germany -- DaimlerChrysler sees huge potential for diesel-powered cars in the United States, the world's fifth-biggest automaker said on Thursday.
"There are great, great opportunities," Thomas Weber, the group's head of research and technology and development head for Mercedes Car Group, told reporters, suggesting U.S. diesel use could one day reach the 50 percent level now seen in Europe.
Weber said diesel motors' performance, durability, and fuel efficiency could win converts from gasoline engines, especially once low-sulfur diesel fuel becomes widely available in the United States as of next year.
Reducing the sulfur content in diesel fuel will allow advanced emission control technology in diesel engines and will substantially improve air quality.
"Thus we will lead this technology to the extent that we have in Europe," Weber said. He gave no time frame for this, but noted independent research groups forecast one in 10 U.S. cars could soon be powered by diesel motors.
A study released last month by market research group J.D. Power-LMC Automotive Forecasting Services suggested U.S. sales of diesels were set to grow from 3 percent market share in 2004 to 7.5 percent by 2012, given high gasoline prices.
However, tighter U.S. emissions standards and consumers' perception of diesel engines as noisy and inefficient will be a limiting factor in their popularity.
Of the 221,000 Mercedes cars sold in the United States last year, only 4,500 E-class models were diesel powered. They went on sale there in April 2004.