Strong demand prompts Chrysler to crank up diesel output

Chrysler is boosting diesel engine production for its Ram 1500 and Jeep Grand Cherokee models.

Robust sales of oil-burning Ram 1500 pickups and Jeep Grand Cherokee SUVs have led Chrysler to increase production of light-duty diesel engines.

Dealers have reported "overwhelming demand” for the Ram 1500 EcoDiesel, Ram chief Reid Bigland told Automotive News. The diesel trucks normally sit on dealer lots for just 13 days before being sold, compared to a 94-day average for all Ram 1500s.

"We got well in excess of 10,000 orders in just the first few days that we opened this thing up, and that ordering and demand has really sustained itself," Bigland said.

"We've sent word over to VM Motori and they're in the process of ramping up, but realistically, nobody can turn a switch to do the things that it takes to get ramped up, but they're in the process of doing it."

VM Motori, an Italian diesel engine maker that is a wholly owned subsidiary of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, is believed to currently have capacity to build 100,000 units of the Ram and Jeep's 3.0-liter turbodiesel V6 motor each year. Roughly half of those engines are earmarked for the U.S. market.

Sources close to the situation tell AN it could take less than 18 months to boost output.

The turbodiesel V6, which produces 240 horsepower and 420 lb-ft of torque, commands a significant price premium but returns highway mileage of 28 mpg in the Ram 1500 and 30 mpg in the Jeep Grand Cherokee.

The take rate for diesel-engined Grand Cherokees is about 8 percent at present, according to Jeep brand head Mike Manley. If that holds steady throughout the rest of the year, it would equate to about 15,000 sales for 2014.

Photo by Nat Shirley.

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