Bio-diesel fans may be happy to hear about the Mercury Meta One, which combines a hybrid transmission with a twin-turbocharged V-6 diesel engine calibrated to run on a bio-diesel blend. The benefits of bio-diesel have been well documented. One drawback to bio-diesel has been its production of nitrogen oxide, which contributes to smog.

"When a driver makes a high-power demand of a diesel engine, that's when it releases the most nitrogen oxide, a smog-forming chemical," said David Wagner, Meta One's technology manager. "We're using the electric motor to give you that instant power." The V-6 engine and hybrid transmission produce quite a bit of extra power, somewhere equivalent to a large V-10 gas engine. At the same time, by sharing demand for power between the diesel engine and electric motor, Meta One's emission levels could meet California's Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle requirement.

Getting the emissions down all the way to zero, as Mercury suggests is possible with the Meta One, is another matter. In truth, zero emissions are an environmental accounting trick, analogous to buying certified renewable energy, a.k.a. green tags, to offset personal or corporate carbon emissions. Meta One uses a blend consisting primarily of bio-diesel, which comes from biological feedstocks that absorb CO2 during their growth. In other words, producing the fuel is supposed to reduce the amount of CO2 equal to the amount of CO2 released when the fuel is burned. Now, we’re getting really conceptual.

The Meta One steps into the space age with “mechanized vision system” designed to recognize lane markings and a vehicle's lateral position relative to those markings—and then warn the driver when the car drifts out of its lane when the turn signal isn’t used. The car has additional “collision mitigation sensors” to gauge the likelihood of an impending frontal collision. If the driver fails to react to a situation the system determines will result in a collision, the system applies the brakes.

“Meta One is a valuable test-bed for advanced technologies allowing us to demonstrate future safety and powertrain technologies that exist only in theory and in laboratories today," said Gerhard Schmidt, Ford Motor Company vice president, Research and Advanced Engineering. Other automakers, namely Peugot Citroen and Volkswagen, are optimistic about conventional diesel-electric hybrids. “It is more difficult to hybridize a diesel, but we are going to show that it is possible,” Jean-Martin Folz, chief executive of Europe’s number-two carmaker PSA Peugeot Citroen, recently told an industry conference in Frankfurt. (The more imminent Dodge Ram Hybrid "Contractor Special" will be a diesel-electric.)

A spokesman said PSA was working with two British firms to develop a diesel hybrid version of the Citroen Berlingo car, but had not yet decided whether to make it commercially.


DETROIT, Jan. 9, 2006 - Ford Motor Company is showcasing a small-car concept with an innovative diesel-electric hybrid engine at the 2006 North American International Auto Show. The Ford Reflex is a technological showcase with its advanced diesel-electric hybrid engine - delivering up to 65 miles per gallon - solar panels, flexible interior made from synthetic and regenerated materials, and such advanced safety features as inflatable safety belts in the rear.

"From consumer electronics to urban dwellings, small is becoming big in America," saids Peter Horbury, executive director, North American Design. "The bold and innovative design of Reflex stretches the traditional boundaries of a subcompact car. Reflex delivers the fuel economy and flexibility that Americans have come to expect." 

"Ford Reflex is a small car that doesn't feel small," said Freeman Thomas, director, North American Strategic Design. "It is a gorgeous sporty car that delivers guilt free performance with a hybrid engine. And thanks to its innovative approach to the interior, it has space for growing families." 
Reflex is set off with Ford's three-bar grille - made of high-strength anodized extruded aluminum, which is hand polished to a matte finish. The concept's shoulder line flows upward to the B-pillar and back down into the wheel arch. Reverse butterfly doors aid vehicle ingress and egress. 

In a clever nod to accessible technology, the vehicle's low-voltage circuitry is exposed beneath the glass roof and rear hatch. The roof also features self-powered solar fans that cool the car when parked. 

Reflex's 20-inch wheels are polished alloy. The large diameter, narrow width and unique Michelin tire design provide low-roll resistance for improved fuel economy. 

Lightweight, space-efficient materials define the interior with its innovative 2+1 backseat configuration. Mesh seat covers are transparent and sheer, offering maximum airflow for comfort and style. Unexpected colors – red and robotic white – create a sense of warmth and accessibility.
The cockpit comes alive with keyless activation. At the touch of a button, the instrument cluster controls appear in a cool blue hue as organic light-emitting diodes (LEDs) switch on. 

Located in the center console, touch-screen technology helps reduce driver distraction. Shift paddles that control the 6-speed semiautomatic transmission are tucked behind the steering wheel.
"The interior of Reflex is modern, with no wood and leather," says Thomas. "The color and materials challenge many of today's dark plastic interiors by offering a blend of warm and cool colors. It is a fresh approach that will inspire future trends in many industries, including fashion and home furnishings."

The back seat offers the ultimate in small-car flexibility. A second-row "love seat" can accommodate two children or one adult. With a push of a button, a divider bar raises through the seat bottom, transforming one seat into two. 

Rear-seat passengers also have the luxury of watching their favorite movie on two small flat-screen monitors mounted to the lower portion of the front seatbacks. Like the front seats, the rear seats feature mesh wrapped around a lightweight inner frame.
Reflex takes safety innovation a major step forward. Advanced safety technologies include inflatable safety belts and BeltMinder(tm) for backseat passengers. The inflatable safety belts are designed to help reduce injury risk to second-row occupants. Ford's patented BeltMinder(tm) technology alerts the driver when second-row occupants are not buckled up. 
Reflex also is equipped with side air curtains. The love seat is fitted with an integrated rear-facing child safety seat. 

Reflex designers added a strategically placed "baby cam" in the headliner. From this vantage point, the driver can see streaming video images of the rear-seat occupants. 
Reflex features an advanced diesel-electric hybrid propulsion system that harnesses diesel, electric and solar power. This combination of power can deliver maximum fuel economy - up to 65 mpg - without compromising performance. 

The concept features an electric motor on the rear axle in addition to the hybrid propulsion system on the front axle. The rear motor provides all-wheel-drive capability, improved driving dynamics and the fuel economy benefits of a full hybrid vehicle. 

Reflex's energy is stored in a new-generation lithium-ion battery pack, using the same technology found in cell phones. Ford was the first manufacturer to produce an electric vehicle using this type of battery system when it introduced the electric Ford Ka research vehicle in 2000. Also contributing to Reflex's power and performance are unique headlamps and tail lamps that integrate solar panels. The Ford-patented battery-charging lighting system improves fuel economy by using the sun's power to charge the on-board batteries, while capturing and reusing the daylight at night. 


Volkswagen, along with Jeep, Mercedes, and Audi, is one of the few brands that has brought modern diesel technology to the U.S. When VW introduced its upscale luxury-sport SUV, the Touareg, in 2004, clean diesel power took its place at the top of the model lineup. Now, for 2008, the Touareg enjoys a mid-cycle refresh, with a number of small improvements. But most of the main features that have attributed to its success, smartly remain intact.

Sharing its basic underpinnings with the prestigious Porsche Cayenne, the Touareg boasts much of the same look and feel of its higher-end German counterpart . But since the Cayenne doesn’t offer the diesel option, the Touareg TDI becomes a logical choice for those shopping for an SUV that excels in luxury and performance, and touts diesel power.

The Touareg TDI is defined by its powerplant, a mammoth 5-liter V10 turbo diesel engine that is engineered to cleanly burn today’s ultra-low sulfur fuel. It produces 310 horsepower, and an obscene 553 pound-feet of torque, thanks to the low-end power diesels are known for. This amount of torque allows the Touareg a punch off the line that even surpasses the standard Porsche Cayenne. It also grants the Touareg the ability to confidently tread off-road terrain.

However, the Touareg TDI is not the example to use when arguing that diesel power is more efficient than gasoline power. The Touareg TDI is rated at 15 city/20 Highway. Those figures are better than that of the standard gas-powered Touareg, but by a very thin margin. Beyond efficiency, this SUV’s advanced diesel engine burns clean enough to be 42-state legal. It does not make the cut with air quality standards in California and much of the Northeast.

VW has reported that the V10 TDI will likely be phased out in favor of a smaller 3-liter V6 turbodiesel in 2009. The reason for the move is three-pronged. First, the V10 is much more costly, which has resulted in a very limited sales volume. Secondly, the new V6 powertrain will have a urea-based diesel exhaust treatment that will make it 50-state legal. And lastly, though it will certainly not have the raw power that the current engine has, the smaller, lighter diesel will drink less fuel. In the end, then new V6 will be priced lower, be more widely available, and have better efficiency. Who can argue with that?

The Touareg TDI offers permanent all-wheel drive, as well as a four-corner air suspension that raises and lowers the vehicle (lower it for more performance handling; raise it for higher ground clearance). It also comes with Electronic Stability Control and Hill Climb and Descent Control, both of which elevate the Touareg’s capabilities on and off-pavement, respectively.

Ride and handling are what you would expect from German engineering. The Touareg TDI is agile and well-balanced, while also granting passengers a high level of comfort. For this reason, it makes for both, a very good daily driver, and a solid family vehicle.

The Touareg TDI aptly blends luxury, performance, off-road capability, and everyday practicality, all in almost equal proportion. Add in its clean diesel power, and this SUV becomes one of the most unique offerings in its segment. Volkswagen may have arguably created the most well-rounded diesel SUV on the market.