DaimlerChrysler AG has orders for 40,000 diesel Mercedes M-Class sport/utility vehicles (SUVs) a year but can only get 25,000 direct-injection engines from the plant in Unterturkheim, Germany. The engine plant, near Stuttgart, is running three shifts a day to produce 200,000 engines yearly, of which a quarter go to M-Class and the rest power C-, E- and S-Class.

The shortage means a diesel M-Class ordered today would not be built until the second half of next year. A minimal increase in engines is being promised, but Gerhard Wolf, senior manager/M-Class project, is also concerned about the risk of squeezing more out of a plant already working three shifts, with no downtime for preventive maintenance.

The situation is made worse by the fact the sister plant in Alabama began building diesel-equipped models last month.

The M-Class and Jeep Grand Cherokee would have been produced on completely separate assembly lines in Graz, Austria, if Mr. Wolf had his way.

But when it was decided in May 1996 that Graz would produce the second generation Grand Cherokee, a flexible assembly area was created to accept a second vehicle, presumably the next-generation Cherokee.

Thus, it was relatively easy for Gary Cash, managing director of Graz to convince Mr. Wolf that assembly of the M-Class could be folded into Graz as the plant geared up to produce the Grand Cherokee.

Today, Graz produces 192 Grand Cherokees and 108 M-Classes each day.