Mercedes-Benz is taking more positive action to reach its goal of nixing the use of petroleum by 2015. The company has announced they have expanded their Mannheim operations to increase the range of models with the iconic three-pointed star on the front of their hoods and natural gas engines underneath them. Their natural gas program, which has focused mainly on commercial vehicles since its inception in 1994, will no longer be nick-named KEN, and will now go by the acronym-less title of "Mercedes-Benz Production Competence Centre for Natural Gas Drive" as the use of this fuel is expanded into every segment.

This means that the Econic and E-Class vehicles currently in the natural gas program at Mannheim will be joined by the B-Class and as many as 16 variations of the Sprinter van. Don't look for every other Mercedes you see to be an NGV just yet, though. Although their production has increased exponentially since 2003 and expect the upwards trend to continue, only 5,000 units are expected to be shipped this year. Get all the Mercedes-supplied facts from the press release after the break.

[Source: Daimler via The Financial]


PRESS RELEASE

Expansion of the Mercedes-Benz Centre of Competence for the Manufacture of Natural-Gas Engines in Mannheim

New building for two additional vehicle models opened on July 4, 2008

E and B-Class, Sprinter and Econic all fitted with natural-gas engine

Natural gas offers cost benefits and is kinder to the environment

On July 4, 2008 Mercedes-Benz ushered in the dawn of a new era. The centre of competence for emissions-free commercial vehicles (known by its German acronym of 'KEN') has been expanded to become the Mercedes-Benz Production Competence Centre for Natural Gas Drive. With the formal opening of the new building, the company can push ahead with its aim of positioning natural gas powered vehicles in all segments.
When it was first established in October 1994, KEN was part of the Commercial Vehicles division. Since 2002 the centre has been part of the Vans division, as the largest projects from that time onwards involved vans. At that time the predecessor of today's Sprinter was manufactured there with a monovalent natural-gas engine.
The E-Class and the Econic are already being fitted with natural-gas engines at the Mannheim plant. With the opening of the new facility, they will be joined by the Sprinter and the B-Class. There is an impressively wide variety of models: up to 16 natural-gas variants of the Mercedes Sprinter, for example, will be available from the Mercedes-Benz Production Competence Centre for Natural Gas Drive. in Mannheim.
A gas-powered vehicle combines the benefits of environmental protection with efficiency and practicality. The advantages include a considerable reduction in emissions and noise, substantially lower maintenance costs and a large range when used in combination with the conventional engine.
The customer-driven concept of KEN is reflected in unit sales, which have grown exponentially since 1994. In 2003, 300 vehicles were sold while the planned figure for 2008 is 5,000, and the trend is upward.