( Personally I would feel better about diesel
if it were cleaner biodiesel )
The time-honored diesel engine, long a favorite in Europe, has been
slow to catch on over here. Maybe DaimlerChrysler can fix that.
As Dieter Zetsche see it, DaimlerChrysler's diesel Jeep Liberty sport
utility, due next month, should be an easy sell. Drivers in the U.S.
need a powerful set of wheels that can travel 500 miles between
fuel-ups. "This country should be the El Dorado for diesels," says the
man who runs DaimlerChrysler's Chrysler Group.
El Dorado? Try Dodge City. The diesel faces a lot of enemies.
Clean-air regulations in five states, including California and New
York, prevent the sale of diesel passenger vehicles. Even where they
are allowed, diesel pumps at filling stations are often in distant,
dirty corners. Worse still, many drivers recall the loud, sooty
clunkers rushed to market during the last oil crisis, in the 1970s.
DaimlerChrysler hopes to clean up the foul image with the diesel
version of its popular Jeep Liberty, the first diesel passenger
vehicle sold by a U.S. carmaker in decades. It is even willing to lose
money on the vehicle for now if it helps the company, a leader in
Europe's diesel market, create U.S. demand.
The company is expected to promote the Jeep Liberty CRD (common rail
diesel) with $17 million in marketing in the first quarter. More money
and image spinning will follow. But the effort isn't aimed at the
10,000 drivers who are likely to become early adopters of this $26,000
SUV. Instead, DaimlerChrysler aims to convert diesel haters by
acknowledging their gripes--sight, sound, smell. "Forget everything
you remember about the diesels of old," one Internet ad reads.
Text-heavy magazine ads from Omnicom ad agency BBDO Detroit will
explain how small diesels work. There's even talk of creating a
scratch-and-sniff magazine insert.
Also, the company for the first time plans infomercials that will run
in theaters and on the Internet, as well as on TiVo, which gives users
the opportunity to "learn more" about advertisers. Ads will even
appear in states where diesels aren't sold. "We need to be patient,
persistent and clear," says Jeffrey Bell, Jeep vice president. "We
need to turn hand-raisers into ambassadors and advocates by educating
them bit by bit."
DaimlerChrysler is playing catch-up. The company underestimated the
appeal of gasoline-electric hybrid vehicles and now trails Ford,
Toyota and Honda in that market. It plans to position its diesels as a
better fuel-saving alternative for drivers with lead feet. Hybrids can
boost fuel mileage by 50%--but only if steered by Sunday drivers.
It's a long shot. Unlike hybrids, even newer diesels run afoul of
emissions laws because they produce more particulate matter and
smog-forming nitrous oxide than gasoline engines. DaimlerChrysler
hopes to engineer filters to reduce harmful emissions by the next
round of U.S. emissions regulations in 2007.
Despite the challenges, DaimlerChrysler execs are optimistic, citing
the 40,000 consumers who have requested information about the Liberty.
But they aren't crazy: The word "diesel" doesn't appear on the