Jeep unveils wild customized models
The steady rise in oil prices has apparently led Chrysler's Jeep division to rethink the opportunities for fuel-stingy diesel engines. A senior executive says the brand could have a new diesel in its lineup within the next few years.
MORE AT THEDETROITBUREAU.COM» Gas Prices Likely to Remain Volatile
» First drive: Toyota RAV-4 EV
» Bye-Bye Car Czar
Jeep has experimented with diesels, in recent years, both with the Liberty and larger Grand Cherokee models. But with fuel prices soaring nationwide, many analysts – and apparently some key Chrysler executives – are convinced demand for “oil burners” could soar. More importantly, they might deliver enough of a mileage boost to keep demand for SUVs from collapsing, as briefly happened when gas prices surged past $4 a gallon in mid-2008.
The possibility of a diesel came up during a meeting at Chrysler headquarters in Auburn Hills, Mich., where Jeep pulled the wraps off four custom kits for its various sport-ute models that will be participating in the annual Easter Jeep Safari, in Moab, Utah, later this month.
“Diesel in some of our models makes absolute sense,” Jeep Brand CEO Michael Manley said. “But I still have to make sure there is a sufficient marketplace here to make it make sense from a business perspective.”
That would probably push the division to focus on its larger models, like the Jeep Grand Cherokee, which delivers a maximum 16 mpg in two-wheel-drive configuration.
The use of a diesel could boost fuel economy by as much as 35%, more than overcoming the slight premium for the fuel. High mileage has turned the diesel into the powertrain of choice in Europe, where it accounts for about half of all vehicle sales – and as much as 80% in some markets, such as Austria.
Chrysler offers diesels in a number of European models – including the Jeeps sold there. For the U.S. market, however, additional emissions after-treatment would be needed to meet stricter standards covering both smog-causing oxides of nitrogen and the particulates linked to lung cancer.
While a decision on diesel could take some time to lock down, Jeep is clearly hoping to expand its appeal by teaming up with Mopar. Long focused on selling parts for Chrysler products, Mopar has begun expanding its reach, including high-performance versions of Dodge muscle cars.