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Automakers want to give diesel a push

Chrysler plans to roll out a Jeep Liberty SUV in 2004 in an effort to encourage use of the more efficient fuel.

November 27, 2002|John O'Dell | Times Staff Writer

Chrysler Group said this week that it would begin selling a diesel-powered version of its Jeep Liberty SUV in the United States in 2004, following up on announcements at the Paris Auto Show, where leaders of the major auto companies said they would push for adoption of universal diesel standards.

About 35% of the passenger vehicles in Europe are diesel-powered, whereas only a handful of heavy-duty pickup trucks and a few Volkswagen passenger cars are sold with diesel engines in the U.S. That mainly is because consumers and regulators in the U.S. still see diesels as the noisy, smoke- and soot-belching machines they were in the 1970s.

But technology advancements have made them far more efficient and quieter these days. Europeans see diesels as highly fuel-efficient engines with lots of power. Diesels still are dirtier than gasoline engines, but because of their fuel efficiency contribute far fewer of the so-called greenhouses gases, such as carbon dioxide, that trap heat in the atmosphere.

Another difference is that diesel fuel sold in Europe is low sulfur, which is far cleaner than the diesel fuel sold in the U.S. If one-third of the American auto fleet used diesel engines with cleaner fuel, Chrysler Group President Dieter Zetsche said, "the United States could reduce its oil use by approximately 800 million gallons and its carbon dioxide emissions by 8 million tons annually."

Speaking at the DaimlerChrysler Innovation Symposium in New York, Zetsche called on U.S. regulators and oil refiners to work together to resolve the diesel emissions challenges. New federal standards for cleaner diesel are scheduled to take effect in 2006 and call for fuel that is much lower in emissions-causing sulfur than now is produced.

The diesel Jeep Liberty will be powered by a 2.8-liter turbo-diesel engine produced by DaimlerChrysler. It will be available with a manual or an automatic transmission and in two- and four-wheel-drive versions.

DaimlerChrysler currently offers diesel engines in its Dodge Ram heavy-duty trucks in North America, and they account for about 75% of all Ram 2500 and 3500 sales here.

Ford is campaign's focus

The Sierra Club has made Ford Motor Co. the first target of its drive to protect California's controversial Global Warming Law, which instructed the state air resources board to come up with a plan to reduce California's contribution to the production of greenhouse gases.

Because internal combustion engines emit lots of carbon dioxide, the auto industry has become the focus of a concerted effort to reduce greenhouse gases by improving the fuel efficiency of car and truck engines.

Many in the auto industry see the California law, which leaves it to the air board to come up with a plan by 2006, as a way for the board to start regulating fuel economy: The less gasoline burned per mile traveled, the less carbon dioxide produced.

Ford and other automakers have threatened to sue the state, claiming that the power to regulate fuel economy is reserved to the federal government.

The Sierra Club is concentrating its lobbying efforts on Ford because its chief executive, William Clay Ford Jr., publicly calls himself a staunch environmentalist.

He also promised last year to improve the Ford fleet's average fuel economy by 25% but has since backed off on that. And the company recently pulled the plug on its Think electric car division, declaring that the public isn't interested in battery-powered electric vehicles.

Company officials say the decisions are driven by economics and the need to run a profitable company. But Sierra Club organizer Kate Jackson says the club believes Ford and other carmakers can be profitable and green at the same time. The club's Campaign for Responsible Car Companies is urging Sierra Club members and others to go to car dealers and ask for environmentally friendly vehicles, especially fuel-efficient and low-emission versions of sport utility vehicles and pickups.

Fuel-cell celebrations

Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. have taken leadership roles in the effort to bring alternative-fuel vehicles to California -- Honda with the Insight and Civic gas-electric hybrid models and Toyota with the Prius hybrid.

They now are pushing fuel-cell development and Monday are holding separate-but-equal events to tout their latest accomplishments.

Toyota kicks off things with a ceremony delivering the keys to a fuel-cell-powered Toyota FCHV -- it stands for Fuel Cell Hybrid Vehicle and is based on the Highlander SUV -- to officials at UC Irvine's National Fuel Cell Research Center.

A few hours later, Honda hands Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn the keys to the first of five Honda FCX fuel-cell vehicles the city is leasing over the next year.

The timing of the announcements is dictated in part by Toyota's plan to announce terms of its Japanese fuel-cell leasing program in Tokyo the same day.

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