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DaimlerChrysler unveils new diesel concept car based on shape of fish

WASHINGTON—DaimlerChrysler unveiled a four-seat diesel compact car Tuesday with a design that company officials said was derived from the efficient shape of the Australian boxfish.

"Our engineers have based it on a true hero of the deep sea," Thomas Weber, the head of research and technology at DaimlerChrysler's Mercedes Car Group, said at the automaker's Innovation Symposium at Washington's convention center.

He touted the boxfish—which looks like a squared, hard-nosed sunfish—for a shape so efficient that it rarely needs to move its fins. The boxfish, which is found off Australia's southeastern coast, grows to be 14 inches long.

The slab-paneled Bionic, which does resemble the boxfish, shares some of the fish's virtues, according to Weber and his colleagues. It's lightweight—thanks to lots of aluminum—and its diesel engine enables the four-cylinder car to get about 70 miles per gallon.

Mercedes-Benz engineers and designers came across the boxfish, Weber said, when they were seeking streamlined shapes in nature that they could adapt to make a car fuel-efficient and environmentally friendly.

The Bionic, which is intended as a concept car to test new ideas and technologies, has no price tag, the company said, as it probably will never be sold in its current form.

The prospect of a new DaimlerChrysler diesel vehicle in the United States was surprising, considering the company's heavy investment in hybrid cars. "We are still committed to hybrid (technologies), because in a lot of cases it benefits the customer," Weber said.

Improved technologies now make diesel engines as efficient as gasoline and hybrid engines, although not as clean environmentally, according to automakers. While diesel cars are proving popular in Europe, the U.S. market for light-car diesels is largely untapped.

Mercedes-Benz already offers an SUV—the E 320 CDI—with advanced diesel technology, and Chrysler uses a similar engine in the Jeep Liberty. DaimlerChrysler is the parent company of Jeep and Mercedes-Benz.

Brett Smith, the assistant director of manufacturing at the Center for Automotive Research, based in Ann Arbor, Mich., speculated that DaimlerChrysler is using the fish concept to stress the improvement of its diesel engines in a U.S. market skeptical of diesels. The boxfish also puts an environmentally friendly face on a fuel that's associated with air pollution.

"The real goal is here to give some positive spin that says diesel is friendly and efficient," Smith said.

He cautioned that the Bionic might never reach U.S. showrooms.

Unlike American regulators, Smith said, European ones tend to focus more on fuel efficiency and less on emissions. In the United States—especially in California—regulators emphasize the need for cleaner emissions.

For more information online, visit www.daimlerchrysler.com and click on "Daily News."

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Here are some specs for the DaimlerChrysler Bionic:

Vehicle type: Mercedes-Benz concept car

Engine: Four-cylinder diesel engine

Displacement: 1991 cubic centimeters

Horsepower: 140

Torque: 221 pounds at 1,600-3,000 rpm

Intake system: Common-rail direct injection, particulate filter, selective catalytic reduction

Transmission: AUTOTRONIC continuously variable automatic transmission

Performance: 0-60 mph: 7.9 seconds

Top speed: 118 mph

Fuel mileage: about 70 miles per gallon

Fuel tank: 14.3 gallons / 54 liters

Range: 746-mile driving range

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

PHOTO (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): AUTO-DAIMLERCHRYSLER

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