The Jeep Grand Cherokee is one of the brightest stars among the cars that propelled Chrysler--now controlled by Fiat--to a 26-percent sales increase in 2011, raising its share of the U.S. market 1.3 points to 10.7 percent.

Yesterday, the company said it would start building a diesel version of the Grand Cherokee next year,  its first diesel passenger vehicle in several years.

That confirms a statement by Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne from last April that the popular Jeep crossover would get a diesel option, which he reiterated in October.

The new clean-diesel sport-utility vehicle was buried in an announcement that Chrysler would add a third production shift at its Jefferson North assembly plant in Detroit next year, hiring 1,100 new workers in the process.

That plant now builds the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Dodge Durango, and will eventually add low-volume production of a Maserati sport-utility vehicle previewed by the Kubang concept at the Frankfurt Motor Show last fall.

There's already a diesel version of the Grand Cherokee built in the plant, mind you, but it's sold only in Europe, where diesel vehicles make up roughly 50 percent of new-car sales. It was unveiled last spring at the Geneva Motor Show, using a turbodiesel engine from VM Motori.

2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee 4WD 4-door Laredo Dashboard

2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee 4WD 4-door Laredo Dashboard

The European version has a 3.0-liter V-6 diesel offered in two different states of tune. The more powerful has 241 horsepower and 406 pound-feet of torque, the lesser version is rated at 190 horsepower and 325 pound-feet.

The more powerful version accelerates from 0 to 62 mph in 8.2 seconds, and is rated at 28.4 mpg on the European test cycle. That testing procedure usually returns fuel efficiency figures about 20 percent higher than the U.S. test, so we might expect combined fuel economy of 23 or 24 mpg.

The most economical current version of the 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee, fitted with the brand's Pentastar 3.6-liter V-6 gasoline engine and a five-speed automatic transmission, is rated by the EPA at 19 mpg combined for its rear-wheel drive model.

And the Grand Cherokee is likely to be the first of many clean diesel models sold across the Jeep, Chrysler, and Dodge brands. A turbodiesel Dodge Durango crossover, built on the same underpinnings as the Jeep crossover, would be easy. Analysts say that the Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger large sedans will also get oil burners.

Clean-diesel vehicles are now sold in the U.S. only by four European brands: Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Volkswagen, with the bulk of those sales coming from the mass-market VW Jetta TDI and Golf TDI models.

But Porsche just announced it would sell its Cayenne Diesel luxury sport-utility vehicle this year in the States.

The first U.S. brand to offer a new diesel passenger car may be Chevrolet, which will sell a Cruze diesel compact sedan for the 2013 model year.


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