DETROIT – Calling it the most economical fullsize SUV in the world, DaimlerChrysler AG CEO Dieter Zetsche introduces the giant new Mercedes GL-Class, a 7-seat utility that will be built alongside the M-Class and R-Class cross/utility vehicles in Vance, AL.

It is Mercedes' first fullsize utility vehicle and it will compete with the likes of the Cadillac Escalade, Lincoln Navigator and Infiniti QX56.

While Zetsche calls it an SUV, the GL actually is a unibody CUV, just like its linemates in Alabama.

The main powerplant will be a new 4.6L DOHC V-8 producing 335 hp, but starting in the fall it also will be available with Mercedes' V-6 diesel.

With the diesel, the GL will get 26 mpg (9L/100 km) and be able to cruise 640 miles (1,030 km) on one tank of fuel, Zetsche says. Zetsche also touts the auto maker's clean diesel technology, which it intends to share with the Chrysler Group.

Mercedes GL450 will get 26 mpg.

First shown at the Frankfurt motor show last September, the technology combines improved engine design, an efficient oxidation catalyst, a diesel particulate filter and highly efficient technology to minimize nitrogen oxide emissions.

The technology will enable DaimlerChrysler to offer diesel powerplants that meet emissions regulations in all 50 U.S. states and has inspired a new push within the company to market diesels to U.S. consumers.

“This has led me to challenge our entire organization to further develop diesels with U.S. customers in mind,” Zetsche tells reporters.

He says that later this year a number of Mercedes models will be offered with the company's 320 CDI diesel engine, starting with the E-Class sedan - expected to get 35 mpg (6.7L/100 km), and then later in the year the GL-Class, M-Class and R-Class.

Each of the CUVs will average about 26 mpg (9L/100 km), roughly 25% better than the average in the segment, Zetsche says.

A Jeep Grand Cherokee Bluetec concept vehicle also is being shown here in Detroit.

Zetrsche adds that DC also is developing hybrid-electric vehicles, working jointly with General Motors Corp. and BMW AG.

dwinter@primediabusiness.com