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.