Special Coverage

Frankfurt Auto Show

FRANKFURT – DaimlerChrysler AG premiers the F700 research vehicle, a concept car that hints ever so slightly at the next-generation Mercedes S-Class sedan but also proclaims Germany’s most storied auto maker cares about the environment.

Preceded by news the E-Class with Mercedes’ Bluetec emissions-reduction system will arrive in Europe this fall, a year after its introduction in the U.S., the F700 might serve as a collective statement for all of Europe’s auto makers.

The 62nd Frankfurt International Motor Show here is more environmentally friendly this year, with emissions reduction and fuel economy the most oft-repeated buzzwords.

Even high-performance king BMW AG shows its softer side with its X6 hybrid CUV concept.

The united show of responsibility comes ahead of a heated emissions debate, in which auto makers dispute the European Union’s plan to impose severely stricter standards as early as 2012.

Nevertheless, “We share a commitment with the European Union to change and to do our parts,” says Fiat SpA CEO Sergio Marchionne, current president of the European Automobile Manufacturers Assn. (ACEA), during a press conference on the issue.

He notes the Fiat brand displays on its stand an emissions-curbing concept based on its Panda small car.

“What you have seen here in Frankfurt is our commitment to this issue,” Marchionne says, adding EU auto makers are united toward a solution to sharply reduce carbon-dioxide emissions.

But within that front, perhaps no auto maker paints itself greener than DaimlerChrylser. Before the conclusion of its press conference – an event that featured a pair of elaborate performance dances portraying the automobile as a natural element of the environment – no less than 19 different Mercedes or Smart brand models with some sort of emissions-slashing technology occupied the stage.

“Nineteen cars for a clean today and a clean tomorrow,” says Dieter Zetsche, DC’s chairman of the board of management, at the premier.

The F700 will serve as the auto maker’s road map, Zetsche says. The curvaceous concept features the auto maker’s DiesOtto gasoline engine, which unites the fuel-saving advantages of diesel with the cleaner emissions of gasoline in an astonishingly compact 1.8L engine.

It produces 258 hp and 295 lb.-ft. of torque (400 Nm), but fuel economy reaches 44 mpg (5.3 L/100 km).

Instead of spark ignition, the DiesOtto leverages homogenous charge compression ignition (HCCI) engine technology, while a standard 3-way catalytic converter cleans up any unspent emissions.

A 2-stage turbocharger punches up power from the 4-cyl. architecture. Electric motors provide an additional 20 hp, although almost exclusively in start-stop situations.

The powertrain moves the vehicle from 0-62 mph (100 km/h) in a swift 7.5 seconds. With just 127 CO2 g/km, the DiesOtto meets Euro 6 regulations and reinforces Mercedes’ environmental message, says Thomas Weber, who heads research and development for the Mercedes Car Group.

“In the future, Mercedes-Benz will continue to offer large (sedans) of the same caliber and with the same levels of safety and performance as the current S-Class to its customers all over the world,” he says during the F700’s unveiling.

The F700, however, relies on more than an efficient, fuel-sipping drivetrain. It also rates as an aerodynamic coup, with soft, flowing forms that Mercedes designers call “Aqua Dynamic.”

Shaped with fish in mind, the design provides for a roomy interior. At 204 ins. (518 cm), the F700 is shorter than the current long-wheelbase S-Class, but its 136-in. (345-cm) wheelbase measures 112 ins. (285 cm) longer.

In an innovative approach to seating, the F700 features a reverse seat that folds out for the right-rear passenger to more effectively accommodate rest or conversation with a neighboring passenger.

The right-rear passenger door also gets hinged at the rear, which eases ingress and egress. When not in use (the car cannot accommodate a front passenger when the seat is in the reverse position), the rear area carries four adults comfortably.

Mercedes engineers heaped on technology by the bucket. The list most notably includes “Pre-Scan” suspension, which uses a pair of lasers in the headlamps to detect road conditions and make the necessary, split-second adjustments.

Pre-Scan also appears on the driver’s side door to prevent collisions with unseen objects when exiting the vehicle.

Mercedes says elements of the technology found on the F700 already appear on a number of its production vehicles, such as the hybrid-electric Smart Fortwo that goes on sale in Europe in October.

A Bluetec hybrid version of an as-yet-unnamed sedan arrives in 2010, the auto maker says, expected to achieve fuel economy of 46 mpg (5.1 L/100 km).