Reliable sources at the New York Auto Show tell Car Talk that Chrysler’s Jeep Division is preparing to introduce a special bio-diesel-fueled SUV to be co-branded with restaurant chain McDonald’s. The special edition Grand Cherokee will be painted in the familiar red-and-yellow colors of McDonald’s, and will be displayed in the parking lots of select McDonald’s restaurants as part of the promotion. The vehicle, the Grand Cherokee Fryer, is especially adapted to run on the used cooking oil that McDonald’s produces in abundance.
The 100 percent veggie oil cars will be sold by dealers initially in five states, Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, Georgia and Texas, which have the highest per-capita consumption of fried foods. The co-branding extends to special signage at the dealerships and cross-promotions. Coupons good for free Happy Meals and exclusive offers (including half-priced drinks) will be mailed to each Grand Cherokee Fryer owner.
The new car is a modified version of one of the mainstays of the Jeep lineup, and is powered by a three-liter EcoDiesel engine, producing 240 horsepower. Connected to an eight-speed automatic transmission, it yields a very respectable 28 MPG on the highway. The first Grand Cherokee Fryers will reportedly be on the market in the summer of 2014.
The Massachusetts-based VegOil Alliance, a loose confederation of grease-car owners, reacted with cautious optimism to the news from Jeep and McDonald’s. “We hate to lose a very significant source of free grease,” said Dan Difino, the alliance’s outreach coordinator. “But it’s very important that our small, locally based cottage industry get some mainstream backing so we can make a big dent in emissions.”
Advocates point out that cars running on vegetable oil can be “carbon neutral,” because the carbon dioxide taken out of the Earth’s atmosphere while the plants (such as soybeans) are growing is replaced when the fuel is burned.
McDonald’s will also market its fryer oil, strained to remove impurities, as a point-of-purchase product called “McDiesel,” initially also in those five states. The two-gallon jugs, with built-in “EZ Pourer” spouts, will retail for $5.
McDonald’s also envisions a time when participating franchises will be outfitted with special McDiesel refueling drive-through lanes, permitting drivers to simultaneously fuel up themselves and their cars. The lanes will be strategically located near the exit of each franchise’s kitchen.
“Under normal circumstances, McDonald’s pays to dispose of that oil, so it’s a win-win for us,” said Ernest Tallow, chief sustainability officer at the company. “McDonald’s is working hard to reduce its carbon footprint, and this new initiative is also part of that effort. And, if our gently used vegetable oil can become a profit center, instead of a liability, so much the better. Our customers in those markets can ‘super-size’ their orders with a bargain-priced jug of McDiesel.”
Al Smith, Jeep’s project manager for the Grand Cherokee Fryer Project, said, “People always say that these grease-burning cars ‘smell like French fries,’ and in this case it will be literally true! We know that these vehicles have a passionate and devoted following, and the Grand Cherokee Fryer will be the first new car aimed at that small but influential market. It’s not just about 20-year-old, retrofitted Mercedes 300Ds anymore.”
The Grand Cherokee Fryer will roll out to a co-branded media campaign, aimed at bolstering the environmental credibility of both brands.
A Jeep source, speaking on conditions of anonymity, says that no more than 500 Grand Cherokee Fryers will be produced in 2014. “We’re testing the market,” he said. “This is uncharted territory for the Jeep Division, and for all of Chrysler, for that matter. But so far it looks good, and it smells good, too.”