Gerhard Wolf needs diesel engines — badly.
The senior manager-M-Class project, DaimlerChrysler AG, has orders for 40,000 diesel Mercedes M-Class sport/utility vehicles a year but can only get 25,000 direct-injection engines from the plant in Unterturkheim, Germany. The engine plant, near Stuttgart, is running three shifts a day to produce 200,000 engines yearly, of which a quarter go to M-Class and the rest to power C-, E- and S-Class cars.
“It's a Stuttgart problem,” says Mr. Wolf. “We're waiting for a solution. We're saying bring us more engines.”
The shortage means a diesel M-Class ordered today would not be built until the second half of next year. And Europeans, once willing to wait for a new vehicle, are not as patient anymore, igniting fears they will take their dollars elsewhere.
A minimal increase in engines is being promised, but Mr. Wolf is also concerned about the risk of squeezing more out of a plant already working three shifts, with no downtime for preventive maintenance.
Most of the diesel M-Classes are being built at operations in Graz, Austria, but DC's Alabama plant also began making diesel models last month. Alabama numbers are small; Plant Manager William Taylor says Alabama is making M-Class sport/utilities with 2.7L 4-cyl. diesels to ensure it has the global ability to do so. North Americans still have a psychological aversion to diesels, while Europeans want diesels for the fuel economy, he says.
Mr. Taylor says there are still efficiencies to be mined in the engine facility, and capital investment is a possibility. Demand for diesels now accounts for half of all Mercedes-Benz products worldwide, a figure no one anticipated.
The company also is investing in a 4L V-8 diesel for the '02 model year for the M-Class and S-Class. Prototypes are now being assembled in an extension built specifically for it in Unterturkheim.