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Published: Friday, 2/22/2002

Daimler sets goal of 30,000 Liberty sales to foreign markets

The Toledo-made Jeep Liberty will carry the more well-known Cherokee name overseas. The Toledo-made Jeep Liberty will carry the more well-known Cherokee name overseas.

Italy, the United Kingdom, Venezuela, Germany, and Australia are expected to be the biggest markets outside North America for the Jeep Liberty this year as its manufacturer attempts to reach 30,000 sales on other continents.

About 10,000 of the sport-utility vehicles, called Cherokees outside of North America in a nod to its long-lived predecessor, have been sold outside of the United States and its neighboring countries. Toledo North Assembly Plant is the primary builder of the compact SUV, with factories in Venezuela and Egypt so far assembling about 2,600 and 700 of so-called Cherokees, respectively, from imported parts since July.

“Overall, we are pretty satisfied,” Ariel Gavilan, a spokesman for DaimlerChrysler AG's U.S. side. “Now we have a full supply of diesel engines, and that is essential, particularly for Europe.”

The Jeeps are being sold outside North America with a 2.5-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder diesel engine, which is crucial in countries where fuel economy, gasoline availability, and fuel prices are concerns. They also are being sold with a 3.7-liter V-6 option, and a 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine version is starting to be offered.

Still, while the new SUV has sold well in the United States, it hasn't been nearly as well-received in Europe as the Chrysler PT Cruiser or Jeep Grand Cherokee, said Jim Collins, an auto analyst with UBS Warburg in London.

Only 300,000 SUVs are sold annually in Europe, presenting a tight market for the new Cherokee, Mr. Collins said, adding he'd be surprised if 10,000 units a year are sold there.

The Chrysler unit doesn't offer very good diesels, and the Liberty is no exception, Mr. Collins said. About 40 percent of vehicles sold in Europe have diesel engines, he said.

“You really need that here to push volume,” Mr. Collins said.

Yet even the Germans, who are the biggest diesel judges worldwide, haven't overly criticized the new SUV's diesel version, the automaker's Mr. Gavilan said.

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