DETROIT - The Chrysler group may increase production of the diesel version of the Jeep Liberty, COO Tom LaSorda said last week.
The company is considering diesel versions of other vehicles based on the diesel Liberty's early success, he said. The Jeep Grand Cherokee is a prime candidate.
In 2005, Jeep expects to build 5,000 diesel-powered Liberty CRDs. The Jeep Liberty is built at Chrysler's assembly plant in Toledo, Ohio. The 2.8-liter common rail diesel engine is built by VM Motori in Cento, Italy.
"If we need more, we're going to order more," LaSorda said about the Liberty. "I would assume, based on early indications, we'll have to increase some more. We can't keep them on the lots."
The diesel Liberty reached dealerships in late January. U.S. sales total 1,729 units, Chrysler group spokesman Kevin McCormick said last week.
The diesel Liberty sells within 18 days on a dealership lot, McCormick said. The industry norm for a typical vehicle is 40 to 50 days, he said.
Jim Corwin, owner of Corwin Jeep-Chrysler in Hickory, Pa., says the first Liberty diesel the dealership received sold "in a few hours."
The next two units sold within two weeks. Corwin has had a fourth unit on his lot about two weeks.
"I'd call it a mini-success," Corwin says. "It was never planned to be a huge volume vehicle."
Possible fuel savings, the reputation of diesel engines for longevity and a touch of green fashion are propelling buyers, Corwin says.
"The good thing about it is that it is testing the water for more widespread diesel usage," Corwin says.
The Chrysler group has 60,000 "hand-raisers" for the diesel Liberty, McCormick says. Hand-raisers are consumers who have e-mailed or contacted the company about the vehicle.
Asked whether the Chrysler group is considering a diesel version of the Grand Cherokee given Liberty's success, LaSorda said: "It makes me think about everything. We do Grand Cherokee diesels already in Germany. We've got to look at where the demand really is."
The company will weigh future diesel applications by year end, LaSorda said.
"We think there is more demand for diesels coming forward," LaSorda said. "By the end of the decade, you will see more car-based diesels."
Chrysler group spokesman Mike Aberlich says, "We don't see any capacity issue with respect to diesel engines."
The Chrysler group says the Liberty diesel achieves 27 percent better fuel economy and produces 20 percent fewer carbon dioxide emissions than a comparable gasoline engine. c