Long considered hardcore hybrid skeptics, the Germans who run DaimlerChrysler are now promising every vehicle the company develops in the future will come with a hybrid option.
The pledge was tucked away in the speech DaimlerChrysler chief executive Dieter Zetsche gave at the opening of the company’s annual shareholders meeting in Berlin, where questions about the fate of the Chrysler Group were key topics of discussion.
Zetsche was forced several times to defend the company’s record on environmental and energy-related issues such as global warming and fuel economy.
One of the most outspoken critical shareholders, Paul Russman, said DaimlerChrysler’s management on both sides of the Atlantic had failed for years to take seriously environmental issues such as global warming and instead concentrated on building some of the least efficient vehicles on the market —among them the Dodge Viper and large Mercedes-Benz models with 5.0-liter engines.
The result has left DaimlerChrysler at a serious disadvantage, he said. "Everything is happening too late," said Russman, who noted companies like
Zetsche opened the door to even more criticism, when he told shareholders the critical factor in the Chrysler Group’s $1.5-billion loss in 2006 was an unforeseen shift in demand to smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles, which was triggered by rising gasoline prices. Several shareholders suggested the failure to anticipate the shift in gasoline prices was a part of the company’s overall failure to anticipate the need for cleaner and more efficient vehicles.
"How could it be unforeseen that American motorists would react to higher fuel prices?" said Holger Rathbauer, one of the dozens of shareholders who criticized DaimlerChrysler executives during the meeting.
Zetsche insisted that DaimlerChrysler has been a leader in several key areas such diesel engines and has steadily improved fuel economy when the company’s full product range is considered. In addition, the company spent nearly $6 billion in 2006 on research and development of cleaner-burning engines and other fuel-saving technology, he added.
"We were already developing hybrid vehicles in the early 1990s. Today we produce more hybrid buses than any other manufacturer and have a 60-percent share of the world market. Around 1000 of these buses are in daily use in the
"Every new vehicle we develop will be engineered to accommodate a hybrid drivetrain," he said. “For us at DaimlerChrysler, the emission-free automobile remains the long-term goal of our roadmap toward sustainable mobility," he said.
Zetsche also emphasized the wider use of diesel engines could reduce fuel consumption dramatically.
"If one-third of the cars in the
Zetsche said the company’s effort will concentrate on continuous improvement in combustion engines, with and without the hybrid option; high-quality fuels and for the long term, the development of fuel cells, which are twice as efficient as combustion engines. He also invited one of the company’s major critics to
DaimlerChrysler also is looking for partnerships to help with the development of fuel-efficient technology, Zetsche said. However he sidestepped the questions about what happens to the company’s research budget if Chrysler isn’t around to contribute to the kitty.
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