Dodge and Chrysler minivans could get a diesel engine as soon as 2010.
Bradford Wernle - Automotive News - Feb. 5, 2007
DETROIT -- The Chrysler group is strongly considering selling diesel-powered minivans in North America as early as 2010.
"We're contemplating it," said Jason Vines, Chrysler's chief spokesman.
Talk of a diesel minivan is another indication that Chrysler is looking at a broad lineup of diesel-powered cars and light trucks in a few years. A Mercedes-Benz diesel engine under development will make it possible to meet U.S. emissions requirements.
The case for fuel-efficient diesels is growing because engineers are designing technology to make them cleaner and more powerful. Also, low-sulfur diesel fuel arrived at U.S. pumps last year. The fuel enables diesels to meet stringent new emissions standards.
But diesel engines are more costly to produce than comparable gasoline engines. Diesels have complex equipment to clean emissions and inject fuel at high pressures.
Vines said Chrysler CEO Tom LaSorda will announce sometime this year which vehicles will get diesel engines. Now, the company has confirmed only one new diesel-powered vehicle, the Jeep Grand Cherokee, which goes on sale in March in 45 states. Five states including California have rigorous emissions requirements that the engine can't match.
Heavier weight class
The Grand Cherokee will feature a Mercedes 3.0-liter V-6 diesel. Chrysler also sells Dodge Ram diesel pickups, but they are in a heavier weight class with less stringent emissions requirements.
A new diesel engine under development also improves the case for more diesel-powered vehicles for Chrysler.
In 2010, Chrysler will start using a 2.2-liter, four-cylinder Mercedes diesel engine.
The engine will be assembled at the DaimlerChrysler plant in Unterturkheim, Germany, says Andrew Fulbrook, an analyst for consultant CSM Worldwide in London.
The engine, code-named OM651, uses a dual-stage turbocharger to extract high power and torque from a relatively small displacement. With variable output, dual-stage turbochargers help engines deliver better performance over a wider range of revolutions per minute.
A typical four-cylinder, dual-stage turbodiesel can produce as much torque as a V-8 gasoline engine.
"You're getting into the realms of high-performance diesel," says Fulbrook.
The dual-stage turbo, developed by BorgWarner Inc., is sold only on two six-cylinder models in Europe, the BMW 535D and 335D. Fulbrook says the new Mercedes engine will be equipped with the Mercedes Bluetec system. That will enable it to run as cleanly as a gasoline engine and meet U.S. emissions requirements that will take effect in 2010.
Minivans moving to U.S.
Also improving the case for diesels in Chrysler minivans is the company's plan to drop diesel-minivan production in Austria this year and move it to the United States.
At a plant in Graz, Austria, Magna Steyr produced for Chrysler 26,867 Voyagers and Grand Voyagers last year. The decision to consolidate production in two North American factories means the Grand Voyager, including diesel and right-hand-drive versions for the United Kingdom, likely will be made at Chrysler's St. Louis South plant.
Chrysler recently invested $1 billion in the plant so it could assemble more models simultaneously. Buzz Hargrove, president of the Canadian Auto Workers union, says he has good reason to believe the European minivans will be made in St. Louis -- not in Windsor, Ontario, where Chrysler also makes minivans.
For the next couple of years, all diesel Grand Voyagers for Europe will be powered by the same 2.8-liter, four-cylinder diesel engine -- code-named 428MAJOR -- in the current model, says Fulbrook. Chrysler buys that engine from VM Motori S.p.A. in Cento, Italy.
When the 2.2-liter Mercedes is available in 2010, it eventually will replace all the VM Motori engines. CSM's forecast calls for several thousand diesel minivans powered by the new engine to be reserved for U.S. production.