SIKESTON -- DaimlerChrysler recently unveiled the nation's first mid-sized sport utility vehicle capable of running on fuel that contains soybeans, but local dealers say residents may have to wait until early next year before they can catch a ride in the new vehicle.
When the first Jeep Liberty Common Rail Diesels leave the assembly line in Toledo, Ohio, later this month, the vehicles will be fueled with B5 diesel, a fuel that contains 5 percent biodiesel made from U.S.-grown soybeans, the auto manufacturer said.
From there, drivers can use standard diesel fuel or the B5 blend, which many American soybean farmers are trying to make increasingly available at the pump.
"I think it's a great deal," said Ray Mills, sales manager for Morlan Dodge in Sikeston. "I think it's going to be a great product once it's in the dealership's hands and good for the market."
The diesel engines will appear at some dealerships this year, with more on the market by about March of next year, said DaimlerChrysler spokesman Max Gates.
Mills said Morlan Dodge expects to get the new SUVs early next year. Blackwell-Baldwin Dodge Inc. in Dexter also expects to sell the SUVs.
Steven Galemore, co-owner of Galemore Motor Co. Inc. in Charleston, admitted he's not sure how the SUVs will market in the area, but he thinks farmers in the area would really support the use of biodiesel, especially since it would help them.
Biodiesel is a renewable alternative fuel made from soybeans or other natural fats or oils. It can be mixed with petroleum diesel to create a biodiesel blend that burns more cleanly.
Fifth-generation farmer Bob Metz, president of the National Biodiesel Board, called the new vehicle a ''bold statement'' by DaimlerChrysler at the board's annual meeting earlier this week in St. Louis.
''They've realized we must lessen our dependence on foreign oil and turn to renewable resources right here in the United States,'' he said.
The biodiesel board said if every diesel vehicle on the road used B5 biodiesel, the United States would displace the equivalent of 1.7 billion gallons of foreign oil.
The board is working to increase production and distribution of the fuels containing soybeans. Currently, biodiesel is offered at about 300 retail filling stations, and 1,000 distributors carry it nationwide.
MFA Oil Co. has offered biodiesel at all of its bulk plants since March 2002 and now offers B2, B5, B10 and B12 blends.
"We've really seen ourselves go up in two years," noted David Dunlap, Southeast Missouri District manager for MFA Oil. "It's taken off well, and farmers really appreciate us selling a product they raise."
Officials with Germany-based DaimlerChrysler billed the vehicles as providing better fuel economy, a longer lasting engine and lower carbon dioxide emissions than gasoline engines. ''These are not the diesel engines of 25 years ago,'' said Loren Beard, DaimlerChrysler's senior manager for energy programs.
But the diesel-engine SUVs will cost more, with the Liberty Sport CRD 4x4 selling at $25,125, about $2,000 more than its gasoline-engine counterpart, the company said.
Biodiesel sells for a penny of every percentage, Dunlap said. For example, if it's a 2 percent blend, it would cost two cents more than straight diesel and a 5 percent blend, five cents more and so on. One bushel of soybeans makes 1.4 gallons of biodiesel, he pointed out.
Although biodiesel currently costs more than straight diesel, Dunlap predicted when the newly adopted federal tax credit, worth up to 20 cents a gallon to blenders, takes effect in January, prices will be much closer and more people will use biodiesel.
Reggie Stotts, manager for MFA Oil plant in Sikeston, agreed the new tax incentive will make a large impact on the biodiesel industry.
"It's going to get bigger and bigger," Stotts said. "This tax deal will really increase the sales."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.