Winter in Geneva? AMG Sees Green

March 3, 2008

“Green is the color of the season,” declared Volker Mornhingweg, CEO of Mercedes-Benz’s high-performance subsidiary, AMG.

Having just flown in over the snow-capped Alps, on the way to the 2008 Geneva Motor Show, I admit to wondering where the executive was looking. But Mornhingweg clearly has his finger, as they say, on the pulse of this critical industry gathering which will, in the coming days, see the introduction of more than 50 new cars and crossovers. The focus on environmentally-friendly technology, he explained, is “affecting the automotive scene more than ever.”

Case in point: AMG. With its annual sales of barely 10,000 vehicles, company officials might have argued that they really don’t play much of a role in global warming. But that’s not what consumers and increasingly skeptical lawmakers want to hear anymore. Europe has passed extremely tough new CO2 emissions standards, and even in the U.S., where cheap fuel and big horsepower numbers are seen as a god-given right, even the most affluent motorists want makers like AMG to clean up their act.

So, said Mornhinweg, that’s what the high-performance marque intends to do. “By 2012, he announced, during a Geneva show preview, “we’re aiming for a fleet reduction in fuel consumption of 30 percent.”

Getting there won’t be easy, AMG officials later acknowledged, as they have no plan to abandon their core mission, which can be defined with the simple word: performance.

But a variety of new technologies, such as low-friction engine coatings and lightweight body panels, will help.

AMG, said Mornhinweg, will introduce GDI, or Gasoline Direct Injection, technology, in 2010. And it is developing Start/Stop engine capabilities, which would vastly reduce the waste of fuel while idling.

Some technology, he noted, will be borrowed from AMG’s parent, Mercedes. That would likely include new hybrid systems.

“My personal dream car,” suggested the CEO, “is a hybrid that can run on electric power in the city,” and then accelerate like the new SL63 AMG on the highway. “We’re not only dreamers,” he added. “We are executors.”

Does that mean AMG has a hybrid under development? Sort of, suggested another senior executive, but he cautioned that development is in such an early stage, the subsidiary doesn’t even know what type of hybrid technology it might use. One possibility is the so-called Two-Mode system Mercedes has developed as part of a joint venture with General Motors, BMW and its former U.S. arm, Chrysler.

Surprisingly, AMG is still holding off on one potentially attractive technology. “Currently,” insisted Mornhingweg, “there is no demand for performance diesel cars.” That might come as a surprise to arch-rival Audi, which is readying a diesel version of its R8 sports car, which will produce a tire-shredding 738 pound-feet of torque. But maybe that’s what it will take to get the high-mileage technology on AMG’s to-do list. “As soon as there is a chance in demand,” added the executive, “we’ll be ready to respond.”

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