We sat down with Jim Morrison, the Director of Jeep Brand Marketing, to ask him about the new 2014 Grand Cherokee. We are very excited about the return of a diesel option for the new SUV, so it should come as no surprise that was what the majority of our questions were about. We also asked him about the possibility of seeing diesel engines in other Jeeps. Here's what Jim had to say.
Allyson Harwood: What percentage of sales of the new Grand Cherokee do you anticipate being diesels?
Jim Morrison: We dialed it in at like 15 percent. And really that's a "starting from" point. It's been a while since we've done diesels in the Grand Cherokee and with Jeep in the United States. We've had some experience with diesels in other markets as well. That current 3.0L is the diesel that's sold in Europe right now, and it's the majority of the powertrain sold over there. We know the American consumer still has a bit of a worry about diesels, but the technology has changed so much since the 1980s when they got some of their thoughts and feelings on what diesel is all about. We think 15 percent is a starting point, and we'll take it up or down from there. The nice thing is it's a really good powertrain. We're extremely excited to get 30 mpg from that powertrain, and we think there are a lot of customers that have been asking for it.
AH: So Canada didn't have a diesel either right? So from 2009 to 2014, no one in North America had a diesel?
JM: Federal regulations for Canada and the U.S. are fundamentally the same. I was in Canada when we marketed the last 2008 Grand Cherokee as a diesel. We had done very well with it in Canada. In fact, it ran up to an 80 percent take rate. There was a bit of a revolt from our dealers when we stopped doing it. But with the changing federal regulations and changing companies we just didn't have the money to do it.
AH: What's the transmission behind the diesel?
Eight-speed Automatic Transmission
JM: The new ZF eight-speed. It was the eight-speed transmission that started the whole discussion with Jeep. It took the fuel economy from 23 mpg to 25, and the diesel on top of that took it from 25 to 30. It all starts with the eight-speed, and the eight -speed does a number of things: It's lightning fast, so it's really efficient; we've got really good shifts; we've got a better crawl ratio, taking it up to 44:1, so we have better off-roading with it; we have amazing towing with it, actually best in class towing with it -- 7400 pounds of towing with that diesel; and here's the best number of all with it, of all the numbers I've talked about: 730 miles of range. That's forever. That's Detroit to Atlanta on a tank. I've hauled my horses to Florida, and I can actually do it with only one fill-up. You can get from Michigan to Florida with one fill-up. That's unreal. The hardest thing to get used when you're 1/4 tank to empty in a diesel is that you may think you need to fill up, but you don't -- you still have 200 miles to go. It's crazy how much you can keep milking that same little bit of fuel. And it's so quiet -- it has actually tricked a lot of people. You can hear it a little bit at idle and when you're outside, and a little bit if you're paying attention when you're inside, but when you're driving it at speed, we've actually had people come back and say, "No, I want to drive the diesel. Can you give me the diesel?" That was the diesel.
And once you understand diesel, it's not the same [thing it once was]. It shouldn't even be called the same thing. You actually put diesel in it, but the technology...we have a Bosch fuel delivery system on it that is world class. The common-rail fuel delivery system that's on it was really invented by Fiat, that's what drives all the efficiency and the quietness. With the Bosch electronics and the fuel-delivery system, it's a really efficient engine. Its 60-degree vee is a little bit of a challenge for packaging, because it's a little bit wider, but that's the optimal design we think for the 3.0-liter, a 60-degree vee. So it's really efficient.
AH: Inside, when it comes to the diesel Grand Cherokees, have you ever considered using an app that shows you where the next (or local) diesel station is? Would it be hard to keep that up to date?
JM: Yes, but it's going to get better. You can tell it to search for gas stations and it has Sirius TravelLink, which will also tell you the pricing so you can get the cheapest fuel (which sometimes isn't the best), but you can make the choice when it's up on the screen.
AH: That's good, because even though there isn't range anxiety when it comes to diesel, I think there is still some apprehension in people who don't drive diesels so they don't know where their local diesel stations are.
JM: That's it -- there is some apprehension in people who don't drive diesels. There are a million stations that have diesel, there's never a worry; but people haven't noticed, have never looked for the green handle at the pump.
AH: Now that the diesel is ready for use in North America for the Grand Cherokee, is it going into other vehicles as well?
JM: Our customers ask us every day, in fact some of us think we're stupid, not putting it in the Wrangler today. You know, I think the Grand Cherokee will help us, and your reviews will help us understand if we can do more of it in the future. The consumer is still a little bit tentative, but I'm totally sold. I mean, I've had three diesel Grand Cherokees, and they just make so much sense. Wrangler is another one that makes a lot of sense, but we're still looking at the business case and we'll see. Our experience with the Grand Cherokee will tell us a lot, and we'll take it from there. By this time next year, we'll know for sure based on our experience with the Grand Cherokee.
AH: What are you looking at as far as pricing and availability? Would the diesel be available in some of the more value-oriented trim levels?
JM: We haven't announced pricing yet, but I can tell you it's going to be available on Limited, Overland, and Summit, so really the only thing that leaves it off of is Laredo. Pricing will be announced in a couple of weeks.
AH: I expect that when the diesel comes out, a lot of people are going to compare it with something like the X5 or other vehicles that may be considered more luxurious, but I think people are going to quickly discover that the Grand Cherokee is going to fit right in. Is that who you anticipate going up against?
JM: We actually get a lot of X5 customers. X5, MDX, and RX customers are our highest converting import customers.Here's what I'd like to propagate in the Jeep world: There are so many people who want to be the best off-road, and that's why it's so cool -- with the eight -speed, 44:1 crawl ratio, and it'll go up a 35-degree incline like it's nothing. With 420 lb-ft of torque at 2000 rpm, it's instant. This is what I do: I'll go partway up a hill [off-road] and stop, and they say, "What are you doing?" Don't worry -- it's a Jeep. "Forget that it's a Jeep, you're going against all the weight of physics here and you still have to get traction!" But it just takes off. All our diesels also have rear electronic limited-slip differentials, which is pretty cool because it's seamless. You can get 100 percent of the torque to one of the rear wheels.
AH: What do you think is going to be the percentage of SRTs sold compared with diesel?
JM: SRT is typically about 3 percent of our sales. We report SRT separately. A lot of people loved the look of the SRT. So we incorporated the SRT fender flares and SRT graphics inside, and a lower front. The Summit is almost like an SRT for the individual that wants a little more practicality or range.
AH: Do you think there's any possibility of a high-performance diesel Grand Cherokee?
JM: You know, I can't comment, but I totally love the idea.