Speaking at the Green Car Summit held prior to this week's Washington Auto Show, William Craven, Mercedes-Benz's general manager of regulatory affairs for Daimler's D.C. office, confirmed that the automaker is considering the possibility of adding a vehicle that runs on compressed natural gas (CNG) to its U.S. portfolio. Craven offered no specifics on product or timetable, but he did say there's genuine interest in exploring the potential for this kind of expansion in conjunction with Daimler's previously announced commitment to introduce new types of cleaner, more efficient powertrain technologies. For the record, Mercedes currently has an ideal candidate to fill that role in its European lineup: a bi-fuel CNG/gasoline-powered B-Class -- which also happens to be part of their display at the Washington show.
Officially called the B 170 NGT BlueEFFICIENCY, this compact five-passenger crossover is fitted with a specially modified 2.0-liter/116-horsepower in-line four that can run on compressed natural gas or premium gasoline. In addition to seamless switching capabilities, the combined on-board capacity of both types of fuel gives it a total range of over 625 miles. Although Mercedes has long considered bringing the B-Class to America, it never managed to generate a strong enough marketing case to seal the deal. It's still too early to make any meaningful predications on the outcome of this latest pronouncement, but there's no denying the facts: A viable and fully engineered package exists, and if it can be coupled with an equally viable pricing strategy, the B-Class in this -- or any -- guise would provide an attractive alternative in one of the few segments that continues to gain popularity with U.S. buyers.