While the West Europeans have been fumbling all over the field on emissions standards for cars, West Germany's Daimler-Benz AG has grabbed the ball and run with it. The prestigious car and truck builder, which has just unveiled its new midrange models to the world, is planning to offer a catalytic converter on all cars sold in Europe. The changeover to the European emission-control system, based on the company's experience in the United States, will start in the spring.
Beginning with the 230E, the system will be expanded throughout the line, including the automaker's base-line carburetor models, the 190 and 200, and S-class models with V-8 engines.
To do its job, the low-emissions system will require premium-grade unleaded fuel for its high-compression engines. The problem is that unleaded fuel is not generally found at the standard European fuel pump.
What to do about it? Daimler-Benz has an answer.
``In the future,'' says Dr. Rudolf H"ornig, who succeeded Dr. Werner Breitschwerdt last year as head of research and development, ``Daimler-Benz will offer a two-tier model range'':
Cars prepared for the subsequent installation of catalytic converters.
EEC versions, which in the Federal Republic of Germany can be retrofitted with catalytic converters.
The ignition and air-fuel mixture systems are multifunctional, Dr. H"ornig explains, and can use either regular-grade unleaded fuel or premium-grade lead-free fuel. As in the United States, engine power will be somewhat reduced, although Dr. H"ornig says the decline will be minor, and fuel consumption will rise from 3 to 5 percent.
Meanwhile, the environmental ministers of the European Community have recently agreed to more-rigid exhaust emission standards for automobiles, but there is no agreement so far on just what the standards should be or when to make them compulsory.
The agreement also includes the introduction of lead-free gasoline by July 1989 and, if required, catalytic converters.
The European Parliament, which can only make recommendations to the Council of Ministers, backs a July 1986 date for the wide availability of lead-free fuel.
Switzerland already has an emissions law, which will take effect next year and includes the availability of lead-free gasoline.
The Daimler-Benz catalytic system will be phased in, starting with the 230E model and wrapping up by the end of the year with the S-class models.
Where unleaded fuel is not yet available, the first option would apply. Then when the proper fuel is in the pump, the car owner would take his car to a dealership service shop and have the lead-sensitive components installed, such as the catalytic converter and oxygen sensor.
Indeed, emissions laws ``will have a major impact on the development of automotive engines in the future,'' asserts Dr. Kurt Oblander, head of engine development at Daimler-Benz.