I didn’t get to spend much time with Chrysler’s revamped lineup at last week’s NAIAS, but my lovely assistant did take me on a brief tour of the lowlights: wiggly-jiggly dials, door handles that feel like they’re about to fall off in your hand and other overlooked details. Anyone can accuse me of anti-Chrysler bias, but in the preconception-free words of the light of my life (a non-TTAC-reading architectural historian), the updated 2011 Chrysler Group models were “the weakest bunch of cars at the show.”
Her harsh words were vindicated on the flight home, when a perusal of the latest Motor Trend (February 2011, featuring the news of late November 2010) struggled to justify the first part of its headline COMEBACK!: Can Chrysler Make It Stick This Time? Though MT gave the new ChryCo its best dose of pro-Detroit generosity (for example, determining that the 2011 Charger R/T is a “proper” transmission away from earning E39 M5-like “reverence”), nearly every write-up ended with a question or a qualification. And if MT isn’t willing to definitively say that these products will save Chrysler, who will? Apparently not CEO Sergio Marchionne, who is already hyping the products behind the next door…
Speaking to Automotive News [sub], Sergio noted that Chrysler had hit its 1.6m unit global sales goal for Chrysler Group last year, despite losing .6 percent of the retail market in the US (resulting in about 700k retail sales units). We will have to see what kind of impact that had on ChryCo’s year-end financial results, but Marchionne made it clear that he thinks
We are where we need to be in terms of the path to recovery
But next year will be yet another challenge, as the firm’s five-year plan calls for a 600k-unit bump in global volume based on this revamped lineup of improved (but unproven) products. And, rather than focusing on that challenge, Marchionne instead
flouted the industry taboo that discourages executives from talking about future products.
First up, a Jeep Grand Wagoneer which Marchionne promises by January 2013. That seven-passenger vehicle will replace the departing Jeep Commander, which Sergio savaged, saying
That car was unfit for human consumption. We sold some. But I don’t know why people bought them.
Man, what a hater… So much for his credibility! In all seriousness though, Marchionne sees the new Grand Wagoneer as a V8-powered “upper scale” offering, positioned at a premium to the firm’s top-level SUVs like Dodge Durango Citadel or Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland Summit.
Marchionne will also kill one of Chrysler Group’s two minivans, meaning either the Chrysler Town & Country or the Dodge Caravan will die off when the next generation of Chrysler’s most-successful product arrives in 2014. The killed-off model will be replaced at that time with
some kind of “people mover,” perhaps without sliding doors.
Fiat Multipla? Fiat Doblò? The return of the Dodge Magnum? Your wild-eyed speculation is as good as ours… and we have the better part of three years to debate it!
A long-rumored Jeep pickup based on the Wrangler chassis is also on Marchionne’s “love to produce” list, but because of conflicts with the Ram brand, it would not be sold in North America. So let’s just forget about that one for now…
Marchionne also noted that the Nitro/Liberty family is
the most significant hole in our product portfolio.
Sergio says the decision not to refresh these vehicles for 2011 was a conscious one, and that his execs are about 40 days away from a decision on a Nitro replacement. But, he warned, a Nitro replacement won’t necessarily be a Dodge-branded SUV… so there’s more mystery there.
Finally, and possibly most significantly, Marchionne touted the 2013 arrival of a 9-speed ZF transmission for front-drive products and an 8-cogger for the LX platform. One of the biggest obstacles facing MT’s pro-Chrysler enthusiasm was the continued use of unloveable five-speed autos, and weak fuel economy from the six-speed auto-equipped 200 and Journey. A hybrid 300 is also in Marchionne’s plans for 2013.
All of these developments sound like positive news for Chrysler, and we certainly hope the firms hangs tough for long enough to implement them… but they’re all quite a long ways off. And in the meantime, the real question is whether the new products can realistically generate the momentum needed to keep up with Sergio’s ambitious Five-Year Plan. Having read MT’s testing and interpreted it as a resounding “Maybe,” we at TTAC are anxiously awaiting our chance to find out for ourselves.