DaimlerChrysler executives are predicting that diesel engines will play a significant role in the future of Jeep. Jeff Bell, vice president for Jeep and Chrysler brands, said the Chrysler Group is preparing to make the optional diesel powerplant in the Jeep Liberty the primary focus of the Jeep advertising campaign during the first quarter of 2005, even though the volume of 5,000 units is relatively small, according to the www.CarConnection.com/. Bell noted that Chrysler received thousands of inquiries after running an article about the diesel-powered Liberty in a magazine mailed out to roughly one million Jeep owners. In addition, articles about Chrysler Group's plans for the diesel-powered Liberty have led to thousands of additional inquiries, Bell said. "It gives us confidence we're on to something," he said. "Diesel makes sense for Jeep," Bell added. To that point, he said Chrysler is looking at plans for putting diesels in other Jeep products in the next couple of years. The one hurdle facing the Chrysler Group, is that the supply of light-duty diesel engines is still relatively tight and other DaimlerChrysler units in Europe also want them, Bell said. The introduction of the fuel-efficient, clean diesels widely used in Europe is one of the answers to reducing U.S. dependence on oil imports, Bell added. Though he declined to discuss other Jeep products in the Chrysler Group's product development pipeline, it's known that Chrysler's recent announcement regarding its Toledo operations will give it flexibility for new products. Last week Chrysler announced plans to revamp its production operations in Jeep's home base of Toledo. The new production system, which will include a big contribution from suppliers, is focused on reconfiguring the plants now used to produce the Wrangler and Wrangler Unlimited. The announcement of the changes in Toledo prompted speculation that the next-generation Wrangler will serve as platform for a broader family of vehicles. "There is a huge potential that hasn't been tapped yet," Bell acknowledged. "We are a bi-modal brand. We appeal both to Generation Y and to Baby Boomers," he said. For now, however, Bell said Chrysler Group's immediate job is launching the all-new Jeep Grand Cherokee. Overall, Jeep brand sales are up 9 percent thanks to the continuing popularity of the Liberty and the success of the new Jeep Wrangler Unlimited with its longer wheelbase. Meanwhile Bell added, the 5.7L HEMI V-8 will be an option in the new Grand Cherokee, the first time the Chrysler Group has mixed and matched the Jeep and HEMI names. The Jeep Liberty Renegade also is due out this fall. The Renegade will offer a distinct exterior compared to the Sport and Limited models and will feature a flatter hood and taller grille, plus off-road fog lamps, tail lamp guards, fender flares and available all-terrain tires.

Originally posted on Fleet Financials