Alan Castle couldnt wait for the diesel version of the 2005 Jeep Liberty to arrive at his local dealership in San Antonio. So he went online, found one at a dealership in Ohio, flew there and bought it. Then he drove to Maryland to visit a friend before returning to Texas a trip of about 2,200 miles.
For Castle, the adventure ended a 2½-year quest to own the Liberty diesel. Castle knew he was going to buy the vehicle the minute he heard about it on a TV show. He paid sticker price a little more than $31,000 for a fully loaded model.
Its a fantastic vehicle, says Castle, a 55-year-old welder who says the wait was worth it.
The Chrysler group hopes there are at least 4,999 other customers out there this year who share Castles zeal. Five thousand Liberty CRDs are scheduled to be built this year, but the Jeep plant in Toledo, Ohio, can produce more if demand is higher. The Chrysler group has received more than 15,000 requests for information about the Liberty diesel.
400 sales and counting
The automaker started shipping the Liberty CRD short for common-rail diesel in late January. Even without advertising, about 400 had been sold by the end of February.
Chrysler group spokesman James Kenyon said data show the Liberty CRD lasts an average of seven days on a dealership lot. Without revealing specifics, Kenyon said that is well below the time it takes to sell a gasoline version of the Liberty.
The Chrysler group is the first domestic automaker to offer a diesel engine in a light-duty passenger vehicle since the 1980s. Until Mercedes-Benz launched the E320 CDI last summer, Volkswagen was the only other automaker to offer diesel engines in passenger cars in the United States.
A diesel offers a fuel economy advantage of about 25 percent over a gasoline engine, as well as plenty of low-speed torque or pulling power two traits that make it an ideal engine for light trucks.
The Liberty CRD, with its 2.8-liter turbocharged engine, is EPA rated at 21 mpg city and 27 mpg on the highway. Castle says his fuel economy varied from a low of 21 mpg on the highway to a high of 27 mpg with the cruise control set between 70 and 75 mph. Four-cylinder gasoline versions of the Liberty are rated at 20 mpg city and 24 on the highway but cant tow as much as the diesel version.
Ad campaign begins
Chrysler plans to tout the Liberty CRDs long distance between fill-ups, its best-in-class towing capability and fuel economy in print ads that will appear this month in auto enthusiast magazines.
Price for the base version of the Liberty diesel starts at $25,125, including destination. The diesel engine adds $3,740 to the price. But the Chrysler group is offering a $500 rebate on the Liberty diesel as well as $1,000 off if a buyer finances the vehicle through Chrysler. The $1,500 off brings the cost of the diesel engine in line with what other automakers are charging for gasoline-electric hybrids.
The Chrysler group targeted Midwestern and dealers in Western states because of the Libertys nearly 500-mile range between fill-ups.
The Liberty CRD is not available in California and four Northeastern states that have adopted Californias strict emissions regulations.
I live in a territory where the Duramax, the PowerStroke and the Cummins are kings of the road, says Castle, referring to diesel-powered Big 3 pickups. I dont believe diesels have bad image anymore.