PARIS – Bolstered by the success of its diesel-powered E320 sedan in the U.S., Mercedes-Benz confirms it will market a diesel M-Class in the country when the next-generation SUV goes on sale in 2005.

Additionally, the German luxury auto maker plans to sell diesel versions of its Grand Sports Tourer (R-Class) and CST, when they go on sale in the U.S. in 2005 and 2006, respectively, Juergen Hubbert, outgoing chief operating officer of Mercedes, tells Ward’s during an interview at the motor show here.

Mercedes U.S. executives have said the decision not to offer a diesel engine in the current-generation M-Class was a mistake, and they planned to lobby to correct it.

Outgoing Mercedes-Benz chief Juergen Hubbert.

The auto maker’s original plan called for the sale of 3,000 units of the E320 diesel, but those volume targets have been increased 33% to 4,000 units.

“I am surprised about the initial success we had (with the diesel-powered E320),” Hubbert says. “It will take some time, but I personally feel that diesel is back in the U.S.”

He says the recent spike in fuel prices in the U.S. has helped to shift consumer thinking toward more fuel-efficient vehicles.

Recent media reports on diesel offerings in the U.S. also have helped reshape consumer opinion on diesels, which have been hampered by negative perception since the 1970s and 1980s, when diesel powertrains were less efficient and not as clean burning as today’s versions.

Hubbert says the U.S. still must improve the quality of its diesel fuel and that future emissions regulations in the country could dampen things. Still, he’s confident Mercedes can return to its niche as the leading luxury diesel-vehicle maker in the U.S.

“I think we are right on track with (diesel) technology,” he says. “I am convinced that we will come back.”

kekelly@primediabusiness.com