The Truth About Cars » Chrysler http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Mon, 31 Aug 2015 17:30:55 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.2.4 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars » Chrysler http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/category/reviews/chrysler/ Fiat Chrysler Reportedly Showing Dealers Impossibly Fun Cars That We May Never See http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/08/fiat-chrysler-reportedly-showing-dealers-impossibly-fun-cars-may-never-see/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/08/fiat-chrysler-reportedly-showing-dealers-impossibly-fun-cars-may-never-see/#comments Wed, 26 Aug 2015 18:00:36 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1153129 Fiat Chrysler Automobiles may be showing off a Dodge Barracuda convertible, a next-generation Charger, Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk and a Grand Wagoneer — they probably put root beer in the fountains too — according to multiple media reports. At the dealer meeting in Las Vegas, FCA executives outlined the future for the brands (Jeep, Chrysler, Dodge, […]

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2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Exterior-014

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles may be showing off a Dodge Barracuda convertible, a next-generation Charger, Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk and a Grand Wagoneer — they probably put root beer in the fountains too — according to multiple media reports.

At the dealer meeting in Las Vegas, FCA executives outlined the future for the brands (Jeep, Chrysler, Dodge, Alfa Romeo, Maserati and Fiat) that may include up to 30 new or refreshed products within two years.

According to reports, FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne also addressed reports that the automaker was seeking a merger with another automaker, and any potential deal would be “to strengthen the competitive position of the companies involved,” he said according to Automotive News.

According to reports, the Grand Cherokee Trackhawk was shown with all-wheel drive and FCA’s 6.2-liter supercharged Hellcat engine. It was unclear if the super SUV would be all-wheel or just rear-wheel drive.

According to reports, a next-generation Wrangler was shown, but not in truck form.

Future products for the Chrysler brand weren’t immediately clear. Aside from a new Town & Country minivan, Chrysler may not have much on its horizon aside from a redesigned 300, which could be based on the new rear-wheel drive Giulia/Charger/Challenger framework.

We reached out to an FCA spokesperson who predictably said that the automaker wouldn’t comment on confidential news from its dealer meeting.

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NHTSA Investigating Gear Selector in Jeep Grand Cherokee, Possibly Other Models http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/08/nhtsa-looking-transmission-selectors-chrysler-vehicles/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/08/nhtsa-looking-transmission-selectors-chrysler-vehicles/#comments Tue, 25 Aug 2015 18:00:18 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1152409 The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is investigating complaints that gear selector handles on Jeep Grand Cherokees may slip out of park and cause the car to roll away, Automotive News is reporting. Owners have detailed several complaints to NHTSA who said their Grand Cherokees rolled away while parked, including one person in Michigan who said a child […]

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2015 Jeep® Grand Cherokee Overland

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is investigating complaints that gear selector handles on Jeep Grand Cherokees may slip out of park and cause the car to roll away, Automotive News is reporting.

Owners have detailed several complaints to NHTSA who said their Grand Cherokees rolled away while parked, including one person in Michigan who said a child was injured exiting the rollaway vehicle.

A similar transmission selector was used in the 2014 Chrysler 300. An owner complained of a similar problem in that car, where it rolled away and crashed into two other vehicles.

Chrysler changed the transmission selector in 2015 in both cars, but it’s unclear if the investigation or owner complaints prompted the switch. Many people (including yours truly) thought the handle was slightly confusing to use, and several NHTSA complaints echo that sentiment.

According to the agency, roughly 408,000 cars could be impacted by a potential recall.

As part of its settlement with the government, an independent monitor will review Fiat Chrysler Automobile’s handling of recalls for two years.

We reached out to FCA for comment on the investigation, but haven’t heard back.

Screen Shot 2015-08-25 at 10.48.08 AM Screen Shot 2015-08-25 at 10.49.21 AM Screen Shot 2015-08-25 at 10.17.06 AM Screen Shot 2015-08-25 at 10.20.16 AM Screen Shot 2015-08-25 at 10.16.51 AM

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified the safety administration that is investigating the complaints. It is the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. 

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I Tried To Buy A Charger Again, And Failed Again http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/08/tried-buy-charger-failed/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/08/tried-buy-charger-failed/#comments Thu, 20 Aug 2015 16:00:05 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1145953 The automotive journalism industry is infinitely weird. I’m much more likely to be recognized by someone in a foreign land than I am in my own city. Just recently, during Halifax’s Pride Parade, a man I didn’t know walked up to me and asked, “Are you Mark Stevenson?” It’s the first time that’s ever happened to me […]

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2015 Dodge Charger V6 AWD Rallye (3 of 13)

The automotive journalism industry is infinitely weird. I’m much more likely to be recognized by someone in a foreign land than I am in my own city. Just recently, during Halifax’s Pride Parade, a man I didn’t know walked up to me and asked, “Are you Mark Stevenson?” It’s the first time that’s ever happened to me in Halifax. Maybe I have the local LGBT demographic on lock, or at least the “G” part of the initialism.

Regardless of my popularity with the sharply dressed set, I can walk into virtually any local dealer and nobody will know who I am — which is absolutely perfect when you run into a salesman who states: “Let me be honest with you: I make $100,000 a year at this place and it’s made me not care about cars anymore.”

Of course, this was at a Dodge dealer that lacked any kind of automotive enthusiasm on its lot.

Undeterred, I am still occasionally Charger shopping. There are three Chrysler/Dodge/Jeep/RAM dealers in my immediate vicinity.

The first one I went to is a 10 minute walk down the street from my house; incredibly easy to spot from the highway thanks to all the bright orange Ram 1500s and neon-stickered minivans. Oh, and there’s always a Jeep sitting atop a man-made boulder. Always. The dealer doesn’t have a single Chrysler 300, Dodge Charger or Dodge Challenger and very few Dodge Darts, Dodge Durangos and Jeep Grand Cherokees. Even the used lot is as exciting as a Christian stripshow attempting to convey a message to its audience. Oh look, it’s a Charger! … 2014 SE automatic. Oh look, there’s a Challenger! … with horrible aftermarket wheels, Pep Boys portholes and a V-6 engine.

Needless to say, I wouldn’t be stopping by that particular dealer again, especially after the uninterested attitude I received last time from their sales staff. Instead, I went to another dealer that also sells Fiats and sits beside an Acura store, hoping that combination might spur said dealer into offering a wider selection.

Boy, was I wrong.

This second dealer — owned by a local, family-named dealership group — is certainly bigger than the first, but the models there were the same as the first, just more of them. The most interesting vehicle on the lot was a clapped-out Subaru Baja … owned by someone taking a peeking glance at a Jeep Patriot. I pray for her to this day.

I drove around the lot fully knowing I was not going to see a new Charger. As you may already know, the last time I was searching for a larger-engined Charger I went to the interwebs and came up with zero results within 200 miles. However, I was hoping I might see a used, previously fleet-owned 2015 Charger to satiate my desires.

The lower lot provided nothing but Journey after Grand Caravan after Cherokee. Holy, the Cherokees. The only “fun” members of the lot were some turbocharged Fiat 500s and a lone Challenger V-6 automatic. This was not going well. To the upper used lot I went.

My mother and her significant other had been here just a week previous and said there was a Chrysler 300 closely resembling what they’re looking to buy. Mom’s beau is now well into retirement and looking for a final rolling resting place for his last years at the wheel. Being a man of large stature, the 300 is well suited for him — but not so for me. I want a Charger, and the upper lot did have a few of 2014 and earlier vintage. No V-8s. No 2015s.

I was just about to leave when a salesman, likely in his late 40s, came rolling up the hill on his Yamaha golf cart. Instead of peeling out, I rolled down my window.

“Can I help you with something today, sir?”

(I have always hated when someone older than me calls me “sir”, but that’s outside the context of this story.)

“Maybe,” I replied. “Do you have any 2015 Chargers?”

“No, we didn’t get many, and they ones we did get are gone.”

While someone might get disenchanted with the response, I saw an opportunity.

“When does your 2016 model year allotment come in?”

“Well, normally it would be closer to the fall. We should have one then.”

They should have one then. I take a stab.

“Any chance it would be a V-8 model?”

It’s at this point Mr. Golf Cart opens up.

“Ohhh, ha ha, definitely not. We’re similar, you and I. We want to have fun with our cars. But, we would never order that in for the lot. Let me be honest with you: I make $100,000 a year at this place and it’s made me not care about cars anymore.”

On that last conversational highlight, we exchanged pleasantries and cards, and I went on my way.


One week later, I had the chance to speak with a Chrysler Canada employee and I figured this would be the time to ask him some questions.

“Did you read my piece on the Charger?” I asked him.

“Yes, I did,” he replied, seemingly unsure of where the conversation was going.

“So, I tried again to buy a Charger but I haven’t written it up yet. I asked the salesman if they would get any V-8 Chargers in for 2016 and he said no. What’s going on?”

He went on to explain the situation through an anecdote.

Before his current position, his place was in sales. At one point, he dealt with a dealer that would only order vehicles of certain colors. Nothing too flashy; just silver, white, and black. Red cars didn’t sell on his lot, the dealer complained. For years, this dealer would only order those three colors, and this former sales rep asked him, “Well, if you never have those colors, how are they supposed to sell?”

The dealer, likely in a fit of rage to prove himself correct, ordered one of his least favorite colors — and it promptly sold.

Jack hit the nail on the head when he explained we are not the manufacturer’s customers — dealers are. However, manufacturers still hold some considerable sway in what dealers receive in annual allotments.

There’s another dealer semi-local to me that just opened. It’s a Nissan store in the middle of nowhere. As part of their initial floorplan, Nissan Canada made the dealer take nearly 40 Nissan Titans. I don’t mean the new, Ford-esque Titan that Carlos Ghosn is looking to carve a niche for itself by sitting between the 1500s and 2500s of the Detroit automakers. I mean the old Titan that virtually nobody is buying and Nissan itself isn’t even talking about these days.

If Nissan can saddle that dealer with nearly 40 Titans, I am sure Chrysler could make each dealer in the region take one or two Chargers.

It’s a shame though as the 2015 Charger is vastly superior to that of just the year prior, but dealers are still making decisions based on it being the same car as before — just like customers do. One can walk into any Ford dealer here and test drive a Coyote-powered Mustang GT, and those dealers will sell every last Mustang they stock. If the Dodge dealers took a chance on a few V-8 Chargers, they might sell like hotcakes.

Might.

Unfortunately for me, they absolutely know those minivans, Jeeps and Rams will sell within the next month or two.

There’s also no impetus for Chrysler Canada to force Chargers on my local dealers in particular. The new car is wildly successful in other markets and the automaker can simply send more units to those areas where they also know the full-size LX cars will sell.

But, that leaves me feeling just like the salesman at the second Dodge store I visited. If I need to live in a world where fun is completely erased from the automotive landscape, I don’t want to do this anymore, and you’d have to pay me $100,000 to continue doing it.

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Fiat Chrysler’s Product Pipeline Drier than California for 2016 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/07/fiat-chryslers-new-us-cars-far-2016/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/07/fiat-chryslers-new-us-cars-far-2016/#comments Thu, 30 Jul 2015 17:00:21 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1129321 Fiat Chrysler Automobiles may have only one new model built in North America over the next 18 months after executives pushed back development of others due to brisk sales of current models, Reuters is reporting. The redesigned Chrysler Town and Country minivan may be the only new car built stateside that FCA plans to launch in […]

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2015 Chrysler Town & Country

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles may have only one new model built in North America over the next 18 months after executives pushed back development of others due to brisk sales of current models, Reuters is reporting.

The redesigned Chrysler Town and Country minivan may be the only new car built stateside that FCA plans to launch in the next 18 months, sources told Reuters. The company is planning to bring to the United States three Italian cars — the Fiat Spider, Maserati’s crossover and the Alfa Romeo Giulia — in the same timeframe.

This is the part where we would like to mention that a new Jeep Grand Cherokee and Wrangler are seriously overdue.

The reason for the delay in U.S.-built cars also could be the application of the time-tested Georgia farmer theory: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Wrangler sales are booming this year, Grand Cherokee’s numbers don’t suck either and Jeep is doing pretty well with just the Renegade as its new product this year. According to the story, the Wrangler redesign is now slated for 2017 and the Grand Cherokee overhaul should arrive in 2019.

Earlier this year, FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne said he was hesitant to shut down the Toledo Wrangler factory for retooling when the company needed the plant to produce so many cars.

“If I shut it down for 60 days, I’d lose more money than I’d make in a year,” Marchionne said.

Comparatively, General Motors will launch six new North American vehicles in the next 18 months, according to the report.

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Security Flaw in Uconnect Lets Hackers Remotely Kill Jeep’s Engine http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/07/security-flaw-uconnect-lets-hackers-remotely-kill-jeeps-engine/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/07/security-flaw-uconnect-lets-hackers-remotely-kill-jeeps-engine/#comments Tue, 21 Jul 2015 20:00:38 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1121753 If you’re like me, you may have found yourself asking “Why would Fiat Chrysler Automobiles release a patch for Uconnect if nothing is wrong?” last week. The answer, provided by Wired today, is “They wouldn’t,” and that hackers could remotely kill a Jeep through a zero-day exploit in the system’s software. Additionally, hackers could take control of  many […]

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2013 RAM 3500 Interior, uConnect 8.4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

If you’re like me, you may have found yourself asking “Why would Fiat Chrysler Automobiles release a patch for Uconnect if nothing is wrong?” last week.

The answer, provided by Wired today, is “They wouldn’t,” and that hackers could remotely kill a Jeep through a zero-day exploit in the system’s software. Additionally, hackers could take control of  many other functions including steering, climate controls, brakes, throttle — the whole nine yards.

The Internet-based attack can remotely control just about any part of the car, according to the story. The two St. Louis men featured, Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek, can reportedly control any part of the car: stereo, windshield wipers, steering (only in reverse), braking, transmission and air conditioning.

The duo say they plan to release a portion of their exploit when they speak at a security conference in Las Vegas next month.

Chrysler isn’t happy.

“Under no circumstances does FCA condone or believe it’s appropriate to disclose ‘how-to information’ that would potentially encourage, or help enable hackers to gain unauthorized and unlawful access to vehicle systems.

FCA has a dedicated team from System Quality Engineering focused on identifying and implementing software best practices across FCA globally. The team’s responsibilities include development and implementation of cybersecurity standards for all vehicle content, including on-board and remote services.

As such, FCA released a software update that offers customers improved vehicle electronic security and communications system enhancements. The Company monitors and tests the information systems of all of its products to identify and eliminate vulnerabilities in the ordinary course of business.

Similar to a smartphone or tablet, vehicle software can require updates for improved security protection to reduce the potential risk of unauthorized and unlawful access to vehicle systems. The software security update, provided at no cost to customers, also includes Uconnect improvements introduced in the 2015 model year designed to enhance customer convenience and enjoyment of their vehicle. Customers can either download and install this particular update themselves or, if preferred, their dealer can complete this one-time update at no cost to customers.

Customers with questions may call Vehicle Care at 1-877-855-8400.”

Miller and Valasek say they’ll leave out important parts of their code that potentially malicious hackers would require to duplicate their feats.

Last week, FCA released an update for Uconnect addressing the vulnerability. That update must be installed at dealerships, or by owners with a USB stick, which could be an encumbrance for many owners, leaving many vulnerable Jeeps left out on the road.

According to the Detroit News, two U.S. Senators are proposing a bill that would specify federal standards for automotive computer systems to combat hacking.

(I asked Chrysler last week when the patch was released and heard that “nothing in particular” prompted the update and I bought it. I have failed you, TTAC readers, and I’m sorry.)

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Union Talks Set to Start on Monday, Will Focus on Raises http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/07/union-talks-set-start-monday-will-focus-raises/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/07/union-talks-set-start-monday-will-focus-raises/#comments Sat, 11 Jul 2015 15:30:53 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1113441 The newest round of negotiations between the Big Three automakers and the United Auto Workers will focus on narrowing the gap between veteran workers and “second-tier” workers hired after 2011, Reuters is reporting. Talks between the UAW, which represents around 138,000 workers, and Ford, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and General Motors will begin Monday. The UAW’s contract […]

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UAW Wages

The newest round of negotiations between the Big Three automakers and the United Auto Workers will focus on narrowing the gap between veteran workers and “second-tier” workers hired after 2011, Reuters is reporting.

Talks between the UAW, which represents around 138,000 workers, and Ford, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and General Motors will begin Monday. The UAW’s contract with GM ends Sept. 14.

Union President Dennis Williams said he wanted to focus on narrowing the gap between veteran workers, who make on average $28 an hour, and workers hired post-recession, who make on average $16 to $19 an hour, according to the story.

The raises would be significant for more than 39,000 workers who were hired after the recession on the “second-tier” system. More than 40 percent of FCA’s union workforce was hired at second-tier rates of $15.78 to $19.28 per hour, compared to 28 and 20 percent for Ford and GM respectively.

Falling labor costs have helped the Big Three stay competitive with other automakers, Sean McAlinden, chief economist at the Center for Automotive Research told Reuters. However, rising profits and sales have prompted Williams to call for the automakers’ to share profits with workers.

In an interview in February, Williams told Reuters that the union’s workers need the automakers to remain competitive in the long-term for his membership.

“We’re … mature organizations that have been through a hell of a lot together to survive,” Williams said. “None of us want to blow it.”

On Thursday, Ford announced it was ending production of the Focus and C-Max at its Wayne, Michigan plant by 2018.

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A Different Perspective On The DaimlerChrysler Merger http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/06/different-perspective-daimlerchrysler-merger/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/06/different-perspective-daimlerchrysler-merger/#comments Tue, 09 Jun 2015 21:00:42 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=994922 My 25-plus years as a Big Time Auto Industry Executive afforded me many memorable moments. It would be difficult to single out one example, but I may be the only person on earth who has shaken hands with both Soichiro Honda and Derek Kreindler. As for the low point of my career, there is no contest: the morning of May […]

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DC Hoods Courtesy cnbc.com

My 25-plus years as a Big Time Auto Industry Executive afforded me many memorable moments. It would be difficult to single out one example, but I may be the only person on earth who has shaken hands with both Soichiro Honda and Derek Kreindler.

As for the low point of my career, there is no contest: the morning of May 7, 1998, four months after I joined Mercedes-Benz Credit Corporation. That was the day it was announced Daimler-Benz had merged with the Chrysler Corporation.

I’ll never forget watching the news that morning, as Daimler CEO Jurgen Schrempp and Chrysler CEO Bob Eaton were all smiles during their press conference, deeming the alliance a “marriage from Heaven.” I was slack-jawed. I was dumbfounded. I was the RCA Victor dog with my head cocked quizzically at the television set.

I, also, was not alone. There were reports of Mercedes-Benz USA executives crying in the halls that morning. How could we do this? Didn’t we learn anything from our previous tie-up with Studebaker?

Much would be written in the following years about the culture clash between the two companies and how it contributed to their demerger in 2007. The press gleefully wrote about how the “lean and mean Chrysler” was at odds with the “slow-moving, bureaucratic Benz.” When it came to the resultant hookup between Mercedes-Benz Credit Corporation and Chrysler Financial, those roles were reversed.

While it would be several years before Schrempp would admit the alliance was not a merger but in reality a takeover of Chrysler by Daimler, Chrysler Financial (CF) was in charge of Mercedes-Benz Credit Corporation (MBCC) from day one on the U.S. financial side. On the surface this made sense as CF serviced ten times the number of dealers and employed around eleven times the number of people than did MBCC.

The two banks became DaimlerChrysler Services North America and we would move our U.S headquarters from Atlanta to CF’s home, the decrepit former American Motors building in Detroit, while construction started on a permanent facility. Thus, the only American employees to truly merge and work side by side in America were us financial folks. The respective auto sales and distribution arms in Montvale, NJ and Detroit probably never even spoke.

I was hired by a year-old division of MBCC called debis Affinity, named after the worldwide financial arm of Mercedes-Benz, Daimler-Benz InterServices AG or debis. Located in the MBCC customer service and remarketing facility in Fort Worth, TX, our mission was to provide retail loans and leases to customers of non-Mercedes dealers as well as floor plan and capital loans to the retailers themselves.

DC merger signing courtesy AP

“Jurgen, did I tell you about the millions you are about to lose on off-lease Grand Cherokees?”

Starting with a clean sheet of paper, we developed a corporate culture of transparency and employee empowerment. An example of this culture occurred each morning at 9 a.m. when we would turn off the phones and gather together in a “huddle” to review the previous day’s business news and talk strategy. These lighthearted meetings would be led each morning by a different team member. We were completely transparent with our monthly profit numbers. If they were published on a day that an entry level employee led the huddle, he or she would present the numbers to the group.

Chrysler folks thought our culture and huddle were hokey, but it worked: we built a loyal, tight-knit group of employees. I worked in field sales at American Honda during the go-go ’80s and ’90s; working at debis was more fun.

Thanks to our excellent service levels and a field sales staff heavy with former retail car people, we grew quickly, signing up retailers representing all franchises. We were especially welcomed by Chrysler dealers who were not shy to express their disgust with CF’s inconsistent credit buying practices, their jumping in and out of leasing, and their overall poor dealer support.

Our philosophies could not have been more different from those at CF. At MBCC and debis we considered the dealers to be our partners; CF loathed their dealer body. To be fair, at any one time probably 15 percent of Chrysler dealers were on the verge of going out of business, while another 15 percent were dedicated to stealing as much money as possible from CF and from Chrysler. Dealers falsifying customer information on credit applications to gain loan or lease approvals occurred far more often with Chrysler than Mercedes-Benz retailers.

2000DaewooLeganza courtesy chicagoautoshow.com

Leganza! Mercedes-Benz Credit’s debis Division provided financing for U. S. Daweoo customers.

The majority of CF employees we met were motivated and as passionate about the Chrysler brand as we were about Mercedes-Benz. The problem was their layers of bureaucracy prevented any task from being accomplished on a timely basis. In contrast, we were lean enough to operate on dealer and customer time – in other words, “right now.”

A perfect example was CF’s remarketing processes for capturing and disposing of off-lease vehicles. MBCC was recognized as having the best practices in the industry – dealer and customer friendly – while maximizing returns at auction. MBCC had one centralized office for remarketing; CF passed off the responsibility to its dozens of regional sales offices. We quickly learned despite all their people assigned to CF remarketing, many were not contacting clients to arrange their vehicles return, thus, customers were happily driving for free for months after their leases were due, assuring the vehicles would be returned at far below residual value. The concept of pitching off-lease clients to buy another Chrysler product was not on their radar at all.

It was quickly decided that the MBCC remarketing department would take over CF remarketing. Our first step was to find these thousands units missing in the CF bureaucracy. Time was ticking as CF was facing two hundred thousand Grand Cherokees coming off leases with payments as low as $199/month that were about to hit the auctions. The potential residual losses were staggering. The losses would end up averaging over $2,500 per unit. We always wondered if Daimler was informed of the situation during merger negotiations.

Infiniti dumped Nissan Motor Acceptance for debis to provide leases for their customers.

Infiniti dumped Nissan Acceptance for debis to provide leases for their customers.

In 1999, debis shocked the industry when we were chosen by Japanese luxury automaker Infiniti to provide factory subvented leases for their customers in their Western and Central Regions. Infiniti’s captive finance arm, Nissan Motor Acceptance Corporation, was out of money and the bank’s dealer satisfaction rankings were even lower than those of Chrysler Financial. Infiniti also admitted that they did not have the channels to dispose of off-lease vehicles.

On the surface this may appear to be Mercedes-Benz helping a competitor’s sales but it is actually just the opposite. The customer had already chosen an Infiniti by the time we were involved. We would profit on the leases as opposed to Nissan capturing that money. We’d also have control of that customer at lease end, with the hopes that their great experience with us might lead them to buy a Mercedes-Benz product next time. At one point, debis was also the leading lessor of Lexus RX300s in several markets on the East Coast.

Four outlying automakers also chose debis to serve as their captive lender, all drawn in by the prestige of being associated with the three-pointed star:

Daewoo: The Korean automaker may have built crappy cars, but their retail paper performed great. The Daewoo people also were by far the easiest to work with among all of our OEM relationships.

Lamborghini: We had the pleasure of working with one of the great automotive crooks of our era, North American Lamborghini distributor Vic Keuylian, who went from hanging with Hollywood celebrities to losing the distributorship to a guilty plea for wire fraud for selling $12M worth of Lamborghinis and stiffing Volkswagen Credit on them. I recall we did some Lambo leases for actor Nicolas Cage.

Grand+Opening+Lamborghini+Calabasas+Arrivals+4LgOcYOPgsEl Courtesy zimbio.com

debis client and former Lamborghini distributor Vic Keuylian with actress Kristen Bell.

Panoz: I am not sure if we actually ever financed a single one of their sports cars but we did get to visit their Georgia headquarters and drive some of their vehicles at Road Atlanta – so the relationship was worth it.

Lotus: I do not think we ended up doing much business with this brand either, but they were also located in Atlanta so we could justify our boondoggles to Panoz by visiting them.

In three years, debis had become wildly successful. Besides the OEM accounts, we had signed up 1,600 dealers and were close to overtaking Chase in several markets as the top non-captive automotive lender.

In early 2000, our managing director was tapped to develop DaimlerChrysler’s online auto financing site. He was replaced by a Chrysler “lifer” who was openly disdainful of debis. His actions verified what was long rumored to be true: CF senior managers only communicated to employees one band level below them and all other workers were not to approach them. I was marketing manager at the time and don’t recall ever having a conversation with the man. Our independence and our unique culture began to slip away.

DC Benz sign Courtesy 2.bp.blogspot.com

Soon after, rumors began to swirl that debis was going to be disbanded. When the COO of DaimlerChrysler Financial, a long-time CF man, assured us this was not the case, we figured we we were toast. We were correct: Chrysler bombed debis at dawn on December 7 – Pearl Harbor Day – in 2000. The reason given for our closing was due to the competitive nature of the non-captive lending business as well as duplication of efforts with Chrysler dealers. In my opinion, the truth was that Chrysler Financial hated our guts due to their brand partner being taken over by Daimler, they were tired of hearing from Chrysler dealers about our superlative service levels, and they simply could not understand the empowering (and profitable) debis culture. The news of our shutting down made the front page of Automotive News.

debis folks were devastated – but there was a bright side: to the company’s credit, all 64 debis employees were offered positions within the company, the majority on the Chrysler side, a few on the Mercedes-Benz side.

In 2007, the crazies at Cerberus bought Chrysler from us (during a recession!). We had paid $35 billion for Chrysler and sold them for $8 billion. I likened the loss to the two-year residual value of a Chrysler Pacifica minivan. MBCC was quickly reborn as Mercedes-Benz Financial Services (MBFS). The Chrysler financing arm also became part of Cerberus and would eventually be bought by Canada’s TD Bank in 2011.

MBFS Logo Courtesy linkedin

In the end, the damage done was the value of the millions of wasted man hours learning Chrysler’s systems and processes we could have dedicated to improving our products and services for Mercedes-Benz customers and dealers. The amount of money spent to build new Detroit and Fort Worth facilities for the merger and a second set for the demerger was staggering.

To be fair, a lot of good did come out of the merger on the financial services side. Thanks to Chrysler’s powerful human resources department, our benefits were far better than before the alliance. MBFS also became a much more diversified workplace thanks to Chrysler’s influence. Some of the talented leaders of the current MBFS came from Chrysler, most being managers who were considered “rebels” on the domestic side. The MBFS headquarters remained in Detroit where we were able to draw from the city’s deep, laid-off automotive talent pool for years to come.

The debate will rage on as to whether Daimler-Benz nearly killed the Chrysler Corporation, but in one small corner of their financial services division it was Chrysler who dealt the deathblow to a vibrant and vital Mercedes-Benz operation.

Chronicling this story has made me decide to amend my opening statement: the day in May 2007 when the DaimlerChrysler demerger became official, and I was safely on the Mercedes-Benz Financial Services side, was the single best moment of my automotive career.

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Aus. FCA Misappropriation Case Includes Former MB, Current Crown Resorts Execs http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/06/aus-fca-misappropriation-case-includes-former-mb-exec-crown-resorts/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/06/aus-fca-misappropriation-case-includes-former-mb-exec-crown-resorts/#comments Sat, 06 Jun 2015 18:58:08 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1085937 As we reported earlier, Clyde Campbell and a number of his associates, including his successor Veronica Johns and former boss Ernst Lieb by way of his Motorworld dealerships, are being named in a misappropriation case claiming $30 million AUD was funnelled out of company coffers. This weekend, more details have come to light, including how […]

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Chrysler 300 (Aus)

As we reported earlier, Clyde Campbell and a number of his associates, including his successor Veronica Johns and former boss Ernst Lieb by way of his Motorworld dealerships, are being named in a misappropriation case claiming $30 million AUD was funnelled out of company coffers.

This weekend, more details have come to light, including how Campbell was able to pilfer FCA funds without raising red flags in Detroit.

The story verges on conspiracy and includes the wife of Campbell, his successor, a formerly disgraced Daimler executive, a casino, a boat and extravagant homes paid for by FCA without its knowing. Even Campbell’s wife’s hairdresser received a free Jeep as part of the brand’s “ambassador” program.

Mark Hawthorne of The Sydney Morning Herald remarked, “It has all the makings of a Hollywood script. In Elizabeth Hurley, it even has the presence of a Hollywood star.”

According to the article published today, $20 million (all figures in Australian dollars) was spent on overpriced dealer website services, $550,000 on a “mobile outdoor floating billboard” that is allegedly a 40-foot Chris Craft boat owned by Campbell, $1 million Christmas parties that included Louis Vuitton bags as employee gifts, over $500,000 – and possible nearly $2 million – in travel expenses, and a private suite for Campbell and his friends – including former fired Mercedes-Benz USA CEO and president Ernst Lieb – to enjoy the Monaco Grand Prix.

Campbell served under Lieb
Ernst Lieb did an eighteen year stint in multiple roles at Mercedes-Benz Canada Ltd. between 1985 and 2003. It’s where he rode out the “merger of equals” between Daimler and Chrysler as he served in his final position, CEO and president, of the Canadian subsidiary.

In 2003, Ernst moved to Australia and took the same titles at the Australian arm of the newly-merged DaimlerChrysler. That’s where he became the boss of Clyde Campbell. Ernst would leave Australia in 2006 to become CEO and president of Mercedes-Benz USA, but not before Campbell signed a contract for dealer website services with Motortrak, a British digital retail marketing agency owned by Gary Pask.

By May 2007, Daimler would divest itself from Chrysler, with Cerberus Capital Management taking a 80.1 percent stake in the American business.

Starting January 2008, Campbell served as managing director of Motortrak in its Australian office. His wife, Simone, was director and company secretary starting in May 2009. During his time at Motortrak, Campbell sold a website services deal to Lieb for all Mercedes-Benz dealers in the United States.

“That was the making of Motortrak and the making of Gary Pask as one of the richest businessmen in the UK,” a former Motortrak staff member told The Sydney Morning Herald.

“The whole deal was done by Clyde.”

During this time, Chrysler received $12.5 billion (USD) from the U.S Treasury and $1 billion (CAD) from the Canadian and Ontario governments. The bailout cash was provided under the condition of a Fiat takeover.

Clyde left Motortrak in September 2010, with his wife following one month later. Two days after she left the retail marketing company, Clyde Campbell was appointed managing director of the now-Fiat-controlled Chrysler Australia.

In October 2011, Lieb was fired from Mercedes-Benz USA for using corporate funds to pay golf club fees, granting rentals for vehicles in exchange for flight upgrades, and using $100,000 in corporate money to perform upgrades in his private home – including a home theatre, gym, washer and dryer, and built-in barbecue. A later wrongful dismissal suit launched by Lieb against Mercedes in Germany was dismissed, with the court stating the claims were “so serious that any further employment [at Daimler] would be unacceptable.”

An unnamed Daimler executive at that time told German paper Handelsblatt, “Ernst was warned, but he has done it again.”

Another Motortrak contract, Lieb’s Motorworld and Campbell’s high life
Almost as soon as Campbell returned to FCA in 2010, he signed another contract with former employer Motortrak. The initial amount of $690 a month for website services per dealer would balloon to $4,100. This was charged to the network’s 184 dealers.

More than $20 million was paid to Motortrak from 2011, claims FCA, “substantially greater than the cost for similar web services provided by Motortrak itself and by competitors.”

Shortly after, disgraced Lieb would return to Australia to become co-owner of the Motorworld dealership group along with David Piva.

“After working all my life in the wholesale sector, I am now in the ‘real’ business of the Automotive Industry – the retail business!” Lieb said in a press release announcing his arrival at Motorworld.

FCA alleges it incurred some $4 million in damages in deals between the Campbell-led subsidiary and Lieb-owned Motorworld, including “marketing support and to help it buy property, specifically the Brighton dealership,” reports The Sydney Morning Herald.

Campbell was well known as one of the biggest-spending marketers in Australia. The company would end up sponsoring horse racing, soccer players in multiple leagues, events, Crown Resorts, professional sports teams, and provide vehicles to celebrities the world over.

While there were only 45 official “ambassador” program vehicles documented in 2013, staff said the number was closer to 100. The program was so pervasive, even Simone Campbell’s hairdresser, Karlose, received a Jeep for free.

Travel expenses skyrocketed. Campbell incurred $537,849 in travel expenses in his own name. However, it is believed he also incurred – in whole or in part – an additional $452,138 in 2012 and $445,556 in 2013 in travel expenses submitted under the names of employees who had no business traveling.

Part of this travel was a trip to Monaco. Campbell, along with Lieb and Pask, enjoyed multiple stays at the Monaco Grand Prix.

Lavish parties were also the norm for Christmas. Approximately $1 million each year was spent on the annual employee Christmas party held at Crown Palladium, with an estimated 100 suites booked at Crown Towers and Crown Promenade hotels for staff, guests, brand ambassadors and media. This started under Campbell’s leadership and continued under his successor, Veronica Johns.

$550,000 “mobile outdoor floating billboard”
Allegedly, in March 2013, Campbell contacted FCA’s advertising agency Maxus to direct payment on four invoices of $137,500 each, for a total of $550,000, provided by My Alfa Romeo. The invoices were for a “mobile outdoor floating billboard”.

My Alfa Romeo, partly owned by Crown Resorts’ Ishan Ratnam (a.k.a. Ishan Kunaratnam) and Campbell’s wife Simone, is said not to have delivered said billboard. Instead, FCA alleges the money was used to purchase a 40-foot Chris Craft boat valued at $400,000 owned by Campbell.

Ratnam’s lawyer, John Price, stated, “There is a contract between My Alfa Romeo and FCA and the billboard was provided. My client denies that assertion, as certainly Fiat Chrysler did receive it.”

From Campbell to Johns, the spending continued
In April 2013, Veronica Johns took over the role vacated by Campbell when he moved to New Zealand-based distributorship Fiat Chrysler NZ Limited of which he took a 50 percent stake. The other half of the NZ company is owned by Ateco Automotive executive chairman Neville Crichton.

However, the change in leadership didn’t mean the money would stop flowing from FCA.

At the time, FCA touted their new leader Johns as “the first Australian woman to head the local division of a major car company.”

After a $3.1 million renovation of the company’s Melbourne headquarters done by Madok, a construction company controlled by Mitchell Knight, the same company was contracted to perform upgrades to John’s private residence with the work invoiced back to FCA.

Three cars were purchased as prizes for two charities and a soccer club. Two of those vehicles would end up registered to Mitchell Knight and one to Gregory Hede, John’s husband. Knight sold at least one of those vehicles back to the City Chrysler Jeep Dodge dealership at a $20,000 premium. FCA claims the vehicles were funnelled through the Lieb-owned Motorworld group.

A Fiat Abarth race team was funded by the FCA Australian subsidiary under Johns. It was budgeted at $500,000 but cost $800,00 in all. Clyde Campbell and Gregory Hede competed as drivers in those cars, their racing licences paid for by FCA.

Other expenses mentioned in the case include an $11,000 bill rung up by Johns at Crown Towers.

In September 2014, FCA alleges Campbell, his wife Simone, Lieb, his wife Petra and other guests took a three-day trip to a luxury golf and spa resort in New Zealand on FCA’s dime under the leadership of Veronica Johns without proper authorization.

One month later, Johns left FCA for “personal reasons” after less than two years at the post and a total of 16 years with the company.

How did it all happen?

“The spending was out of control,” told former staff member to The Sydney Morning Herald. “And anyone who questioned it was shown the door.”

When Johns left the top post, FCA appointed Chrysler parts business head Pat Dougherty as the new president and CEO of the Australian subsidiary. When he arrived, employees lined up at his door to tell the story, reports The Sydney Morning Herald, which Dougherty then reported back to Detroit.

Auditors arrived in Melbourne in late January.

How it all happened in the first place, Dougherty is keeping mum.

“FCA Australia will not engage in a running commentary on matters currently before the courts”, he told BusinessDay.

However, many think a lack of control and oversight is due to the DaimlerChrysler fiasco and Chrysler’s recent merger with Fiat. With Italian and American managers preoccupied with larger corporate matters, executives in Australia were able to operate virtually autonomously, especially as sales grew.

Campbell is stating he’s innocent through his lawyer.

“We are confident that, in due course, the allegations will be shown to be wrong and will be embarrassing for FCA,” Campbell’s lawyer Sam Bond told The Sydney Morning Herald.

[Sources: 12, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10]

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FCA Takes Former Australia Exec. to Court for Misappropriation of $30M http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/05/fca-takes-former-australia-exec-to-court-for-misappropriation-of-30m/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/05/fca-takes-former-australia-exec-to-court-for-misappropriation-of-30m/#comments Tue, 26 May 2015 14:15:36 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1075882 The Chrysler 300, thought by many to be a modern day “gangster” car, has tons of power. But, as they say, absolute power corrupts absolutely, and for former FCA Australia CEO Clyde Campbell, it still may not be enough to escape accusations of misappropriation of funds. Tomorrow, FCA will take Campbell to federal court in Australia claiming he […]

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Chrysler 300 (Aus)

The Chrysler 300, thought by many to be a modern day “gangster” car, has tons of power. But, as they say, absolute power corrupts absolutely, and for former FCA Australia CEO Clyde Campbell, it still may not be enough to escape accusations of misappropriation of funds.

Tomorrow, FCA will take Campbell to federal court in Australia claiming he funneled money to other companies owned by himself, his wife, co-workers, and his successor – Victoria Johns.

FCA has accused Campbell of misappropriating and misusing more than $30 million “in company money to fund an extravagant lifestyle for his family and business associates,” reports the Sydney Morning Herald. The claim also states Campbell provided free vehicles to celebrities Shane Wayne and Elizabeth Hurley in the UK, a region in which FCA Australia does not have business.

Campbell is said to have used corporate funds to purchase a $400,000 yacht, a plane, trips, and private club memberships through a convoluted process involving multiple companies.

The accused, prior to working for FCA, was employed by Motortrak. After Campbell moved to his position at FCA, Motortrak was contracted to provide web services to dealers at inflated prices, costing FCA $9.16 million per year between December 2010 and May 2015.

Campbell is also said to have funneled money to a company called My Alfa Romeo that was contracted to provide a “mobile floating billboard” at the cost of $500,000. Simone, Clyde’s wife, was a director and shareholder of My Alfa Romeo. The billboard was never delivered or provided.

Another company, Vukosav Photography, was paid $191,192 for services never contracted. Company owner Andrew Vukosav is said to be a friend of Campbell. The two allegedly went on a three-day golf trip together in New Zealand. Neither FCA or Maxus, FCA Australia’s marketing agency, contracted photography services from Vukosav Photography.

A conflict of interest is also mentioned in a $6.6 million contract with a company called Digital Dialogue. Sam Tabart, then FCA’s marketing director, is said to have a stake in parent company Digital Dialogue Media Holdings.

Finally, it is alleged Campbell’s successor, Victoria Johns, used company funds to pay for renovations at her private home. Johns was the first female CEO in the automotive industry in Australia and left FCA without warning in October 2014 for “personal reasons.” There have been no claims made against Johns.

FCA is looking to reclaim funds misspent under Campbell’s tenure as managing director from 2010 to 2013 and to freeze the assets of Campbell and his wife Simone, including their family home, “bank accounts, shareholdings and other properties and assets in Europe and New Zealand.”

“During a routine audit, we discovered what at best appears to be incomplete documentation pertaining to certain transactions and vendor relationships initiated or approved by Mr Campbell during his tenure as CEO of FCA Australia,” explained a representative for FCA in a statement.

The case begins in federal court tomorrow.

[Sources: mUmBRELLA, Sydney Morning Herald 1, 2, GoAuto]

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NYT: GM’s Barra Declined Meeting with FCA’s Marchionne to Discuss Possible Merger http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/05/nyt-gms-barra-declined-meeting-with-fcas-marchionne-to-discuss-possible-merger/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/05/nyt-gms-barra-declined-meeting-with-fcas-marchionne-to-discuss-possible-merger/#comments Mon, 25 May 2015 18:21:20 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1075162 Sergio Marchionne sent Mary Barra a detailed email in the middle of March in an effort to start merger talks. Barra, CEO of General Motors, was uninterested in the offer and rebuffed Marchionne, CEO of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. It was the first time the two executives had ever spoken, but it wouldn’t be the last Barra […]

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sergio-marchionne

Sergio Marchionne sent Mary Barra a detailed email in the middle of March in an effort to start merger talks. Barra, CEO of General Motors, was uninterested in the offer and rebuffed Marchionne, CEO of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.

It was the first time the two executives had ever spoken, but it wouldn’t be the last Barra would hear of Marchionne’s merger desires.

That’s the story being told by the New York Times today, detailing the lengths to which Marchionne is going to trigger consolidation within the automotive industry.

During a routine analyst conference call on April 29, Marchionne brought his plea to other executives through the media with a 25-page PowerPoint presentation.

“I think it is absolutely clear that the amount of capital waste that’s going on in this industry is something that certainly requires remedy. A remedy in our view is through consolidation,” Marchionne said.

Marchionne’s overture of a merger with GM includes no less than 14 brands between North America and Europe, not including the many other brands each company markets in China and other emerging regions. But, to date, the overture has been played to an audience wearing earplugs.

Even with the vast number of brands, that isn’t what bothers Marchionne. Instead, it’s the amount of money poured into redundant R&D work that could be shared by multiple automakers.

“It’s fundamentally immoral to allow for that waste to continue unchecked,” he said.

[Source: New York Times]

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Marchionne: AWD Minivan Will Lose Stow ‘N Go or Gain Electric Motor http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/05/marchionne-awd-minivan-will-lose-stow-n-go-or-gain-electric-motor/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/05/marchionne-awd-minivan-will-lose-stow-n-go-or-gain-electric-motor/#comments Thu, 21 May 2015 17:45:34 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1072338 Move over, Toyota. You won’t be the only automaker hocking an all-wheel drive minivan when the new Town & Country arrives next year. According to Sergio Marchionne, the next minivan will get all-wheel drive, but something’s gotta give. Packaging constraints as they are, and the Town & Country’s features as they are, the next generation […]

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2015 Chrysler Town & Country

Move over, Toyota. You won’t be the only automaker hocking an all-wheel drive minivan when the new Town & Country arrives next year.

According to Sergio Marchionne, the next minivan will get all-wheel drive, but something’s gotta give.

Packaging constraints as they are, and the Town & Country’s features as they are, the next generation minivan can only bring all-wheel drive to fruition in one of two ways: ditch Stow ‘N Go to free up space under the passenger floor or implement a hybrid system with an electric motor driving the rear wheels. “It’s not that complicated. We’re exploring both,” said Marchionne, Automotive News reports.

Considering the popularity of Stow ‘N Go for Chrysler’s minivan twins, the latter option seems most likely, and it isn’t without precedent.

Starting with the second-generation Cube in Japan, Nissan offered a system called “e4WD” that sent power to the electrically-driven rear wheels when the front wheels slipped. It also eliminated the need for a center coupling and reduced parasitic loss typically associated with mechanical all-wheel drive systems.

The new Chrysler minivan will debut at the 2016 North American International Auto Show in January before heading off to dealers later the same year as a 2017 model.

[h/t AutoGuide]

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BREAKING: Worker Crushed To Death At Grand Cherokee, Durango Plant http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/05/breaking-worker-crushed-death-grand-cherokee-durango-plant/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/05/breaking-worker-crushed-death-grand-cherokee-durango-plant/#comments Tue, 05 May 2015 13:23:22 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1062082 UPDATE: Previous incident at Jefferson North included at bottom. UPDATE 2: Added name of worker and clarified details. A worker was crushed and ultimately succumbed to his injuries this morning at Chrysler’s Jeep Grand Cherokee and Dodge Durango plant. At around 6:30 a.m., 53-year-old Donald Megge, of Sterling Heights, was crushed in a press and declared dead […]

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Jefferson North Assembly Plant

UPDATE: Previous incident at Jefferson North included at bottom.

UPDATE 2: Added name of worker and clarified details.

A worker was crushed and ultimately succumbed to his injuries this morning at Chrysler’s Jeep Grand Cherokee and Dodge Durango plant.

At around 6:30 a.m., 53-year-old Donald Megge, of Sterling Heights, was crushed in a press and declared dead at the Jefferson North Assembly Plant in Detroit. The accident happened during the day’s first shift, confirmed a FCA spokesperson speaking with CBS affiliate WWJ in Detroit. He was performing preventative maintenance duties at part of the first shift of the day starting at 5:30 a.m.

“A plant employee was killed at the waste water treatment plant. The company is currently working with local officials to investigate the incident. All of the FCA family extends its deepest sympathies to the employee’s family during this difficult time.”

An investigation into the incident is ongoing.

This isn’t the first time a death has befallen Jefferson North in recent years. As Automotive News reports, a worker was stabbed by another worker at the plant in 2012 during a dispute over a woman. The attacker later took his own life off-site.

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European Long-Term Review: Chrysler LHS http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/european-long-term-review-chrysler-lhs/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/european-long-term-review-chrysler-lhs/#comments Wed, 15 Apr 2015 13:00:40 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1041313 Replacing a Lincoln Town Car with Chrysler LHS may be a strange decision, and it’s definitely an interesting experience. But it’s also very educating one, for the differences between the two tell surprisingly much about the way people think about cars, the way people buy cars and the way cars are designed. I’ve always loved […]

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DSC_6346

Replacing a Lincoln Town Car with Chrysler LHS may be a strange decision, and it’s definitely an interesting experience. But it’s also very educating one, for the differences between the two tell surprisingly much about the way people think about cars, the way people buy cars and the way cars are designed.

I’ve always loved a true American fullsize sedan – a body-on-frame, RWD behemoth with a large V8 in front, bench seat in the middle and a trunk large enough for several bodies in the back. And the ’98 Lincoln Town Car I have driven daily for more than a year fits that bill perfectly. But it was borrowed and to buy it (and fix remaining issues) was not really within my financial means. So it had to go, and I had to find a replacement. And I found a car that’s like Town Car’s lost sibling in many ways, and its polar opposite in many others. The 1994 Chrysler LHS.

The 1990s Chryslers do not get much love among American car enthusiasts in Czech Republic. Not only they lack a pair of cylinders and they are driven by the wrong wheels, but, what’s probably the worst, they are quite common. They may not admit it, but for most US car owners in Europe, the rarity is large part of the magic. And because Chryslers were officialy imported in 1990s and 00s, they’re usually not held to such esteem as the “true American” cars – e.g. those that had to be brough here by “gray importers”.

But if you want a cheap luxobarge, this makes big Chryslers pretty interesting. Not being as cool as other American cars means they’re cheap. While a ’98 Town Car would cost around $5k here, which is significantly more than a 7-Series (E38) BMW or first generation Audi A8, the LHS can be had for under $2,000. In my case, with broken timing gear but otherwise fine, it cost 11,000 CZK. That’s $433 at today’s exchange rate. That’s Škoda Felicia money. And a Felicia isn’t much better than Yugo. Included in the price was a parts car with working a drivetrain. So, after another few hundered bucks for timing gear repair (about $150 for parts + shipping, roughly twice that for work, as the tensioner was broken out from the block), I have a nice and fully driveable fullsize sedan.

DSC_6334

It still has a few flaws – mostly the front suspension needs attention – but it’s got a pretty decent interior, the Infinity sound system works just fine, the body and paint is not perfect, but nice enough, the transmission shifts, the engine purrs, the power stuff works. A nice start to finding out what’s the story with those big Chryslers. I’ve always avoided them for reasons mentioned above, but that was a few years ago, when they did cost money. So, how does one compare to a Town Car? And will it keep up, or it will it commit a mechanical suicide?

When it was launched, the LH platform was the Chrysler’s return to the world of true fullsize cars and presented a thoroughly modern approach to the same brief that gave birth to B-bodies and Panthers a long time ago. And, viewed by cold, rational eyes, it was far superior to both. The reasons why Panther outlived the LH by many years, and why LH was replaced by much more Panther-like LX are are a fascinating look into the automotive market.

If you compare a ’98 Town Car with a ’94 LHS, the first thing you’ll notice is how similar the two cars are. I would even venture to say that the Town Car’s design was largely inspired by the older LHS – especially the rear part. And even the size, interior space and driving characteristics are quite similar, though nowhere near identical. Which leads us to the second thing you’ll notice.

That the LHS feels much more modern. Yes, you read that right. I switched from a ’98 car (which was the first year of the new model) to a ’94 car (which was also the first year), and it felt like I went half a decade newer. In some ways, it’s no surprise – after all, the Panther platform was introduced in late 70s, while the LH made its debut in 1993. But that explains the fundamental differences in packaging and handling, not things like interior fit, finish and technologies. The LHS feels almost European, in a good way. Truth to be said, I don’t feel much difference when I transfer from the Chrysler to a friend’s ’04 Mercedes CLK 270 CDI, which I’m testing this week.

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While the Town Car must have looked and felt like a cost-cutted re-hash of an old platform (which it actually was), the LHS must have felt like a spaceship when it appeared in dealer lots in late 1993. The instrument cluster wasn’t as cutting-edge as in Lexus LS400 a few years earlier, but it was still wonderfully illuminated and supremely legible. The excellent Infinity stereo had in-dash CD player. There was a nifty “message center” in the centre of the dashboard – a pitch black panel in the middle of the dash where the idiot lights show up.

The main difference, though, is the space. When designing the new LH platform, Chrysler engineers took a rational approach and decided that there’s no need to make room for a V8 when a V6 can power the car quick enough (the LHS with its 3.5 V6 feels a bit quicker than Lincoln with 4.6 V8), and that there’s no point in making it RWD. Rear wheel drive costs money, it costs space and it adds weight. It improves balance and driving feel, but people who buy large American sedans mostly couldn’t care less about such things.

As a result of this cold, rational thinking, they did the most modern and most practical one could think of at the time. They moved the longitudinally mounted V6 far to the front – it is in front of the front axle – and used the resulting space to make most of the wheelbase. It paid off. Even though it almost a foot shorter, the LHS provides more interior space than the Town Car, as well as larger (or at least more usefully shaped) trunk.

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The costs? First, the looks. Although LHS must have looked striking when it was launched, and it still feels much more modern than your typical 20 year old car, it lacked the imposing presence of Panthers and B-bodies. Its short, low-slung hood makes it look a bit tail heavy, and a bit like a car from the not-so-welcome future, where cars are on their way to become transportation pods.

Then, the driving. On paper, it’s a perfectly fine automobile. It’s reasonably quick in a straight line and it can at least keep up with its fullsize RWD brethren in corners as well. So far so good. But the engine hanging over the front axle has immense effect on how the car feels. With most cars, the understeer/oversteer is something you read about in reviews, but most drivers never really understand what that means. In LHS? Oh yeah, the car can teach understeer on university! You don’t need to be driving quick at all to feel that the thing Just. Doesn’t. Want. To. Turn.

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Probably the worst, though, is the way the car behaves when you accelerate hard from a standstill while cornering. While a rear drive sedan just slightly squats and moves forward stately, unless you’re acting as a lead-footed maniac, the front drive car starts scraping for traction and screeching its tires. And even if traction control sets in, there’s still no grace in that.

If people bought cars purely by logic and not based on feel and characeter, the LH-platform could be deemed superior to its Mercedes-derived successor, the LX. But LX, with its elegant proportions and rear wheel drive, much better fits the buyer’s idea of how a luxury sedan should look and feel. People are not rational – and their car buying habits aren’t rational, either.

@VojtaDobes is motoring journalist from Czech Republic, who previously worked for local editions of Autocar and TopGear magazines. Today, he runs his own website, www.Autickar.cz and serves as editor-in-chief at www.USmotors.cz. After a failed adventure with importing classic American cars to Europe, he is utterly broke, so he drives a ratty Chrysler LHS. His previous cars included a 1988 Caprice in NYC Taxi livery, a hot-rodded Opel Diplomat, two Dodge Coronets, a Simca, a Fiat 600 and Austin Maestro. He has never owned a diesel, manual wagon.

Photo: David Marek

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Windsor Assembly Plant Readying For Extensive Renovation http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/02/windsor-assembly-plant-readying-extensive-renovation/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/02/windsor-assembly-plant-readying-extensive-renovation/#comments Wed, 11 Feb 2015 12:00:44 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=996594 FCA US’ Windsor Assembly Plant is about to undergo the most extensive renovation since the 1980s, all to ready the plant for the automaker’s new minivan. Detroit Free Press reports the plant will be shutdown for 14 weeks between mid-February through late May so that 1,500 employees and 50 contractors remake 80 percent of the […]

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FCA US’ Windsor Assembly Plant is about to undergo the most extensive renovation since the 1980s, all to ready the plant for the automaker’s new minivan.

Detroit Free Press reports the plant will be shutdown for 14 weeks between mid-February through late May so that 1,500 employees and 50 contractors remake 80 percent of the 4.4-million-square-foot facility prior to the June 2015 pilot production of a next-gen Chrysler minivan that will carry on the minivan legacy once the Dodge Grand Caravan is discontinued.

Supply of current-gen minivans are expected to last until production resumes later this spring, the result of a six-day-a-week run during the second half of 2014 per plant manager Michael Brieda. As of December, FCA US has a 78-day inventory of the Chrysler Town & Country and a 67-day inventory of the aforementioned Grand Caravan.

Renovations include 822 new robots and a “skillet” line that allows floor workers to bring a body shell down or up to their height. The overhaul is part of a $2 billion investment meant to bolster the fortunes of both the automaker and the city of Windsor, Ontario, where the iconic vehicle has been assembled since 1983.

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Four Former Chrysler Dealerships Could Reopen Following US Appeals Court Ruling http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/01/four-former-chrysler-dealerships-reopen-following-us-appeals-court-ruling/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/01/four-former-chrysler-dealerships-reopen-following-us-appeals-court-ruling/#comments Wed, 21 Jan 2015 15:00:46 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=986738 After five years of fighting and a U.S. appeals court ruling, four former Chrysler dealerships could have a shot at opening their doors once more. Automotive News reports three Detroit area dealerships — Livonia Chrysler Jeep Inc., Fox Hills Chrysler Jeep and Village Chrysler Jeep — and one based in Las Vegas — Jim Marsh […]

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After five years of fighting and a U.S. appeals court ruling, four former Chrysler dealerships could have a shot at opening their doors once more.

Automotive News reports three Detroit area dealerships — Livonia Chrysler Jeep Inc., Fox Hills Chrysler Jeep and Village Chrysler Jeep — and one based in Las Vegas — Jim Marsh Chrysler Jeep — could reopen after the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that a federal arbitration law allowing 789 dealers to fight against closure by Chrysler overruled state laws allowing local dealers to legally fight against nearby competitors from opening doors.

The court added the victory wasn’t an unconditional reinstatement, yet “should meaningfully facilitate incorporation of prevailing dealerships back into the network.” FCA US issued a statement praising the district court for its decision, and is reviewing legal options to take regarding the four dealerships.

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New Apps, Infotainment Systems Turn Up At 2015 CES http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/01/new-apps-infotainment-systems-turn-2015-ces/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/01/new-apps-infotainment-systems-turn-2015-ces/#comments Thu, 08 Jan 2015 14:00:15 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=973610 Autonomous alien luxury pods and royalty-free hydrogen patents aren’t the only things coming onto the stage during the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Today, we’ll show you the latest and greatest from BMW, FCA, Audi and Ford, with the help from our brothers and sisters over at AutoGuide. BMW introduced non-contact gesture controls […]

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FCA Uconnect Access Services

Autonomous alien luxury pods and royalty-free hydrogen patents aren’t the only things coming onto the stage during the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Today, we’ll show you the latest and greatest from BMW, FCA, Audi and Ford, with the help from our brothers and sisters over at AutoGuide.

BMW introduced non-contact gesture controls for its Control Display touchscreen infotainment system, allowing drivers to input a given address with directed gestures made between the instrument panel and gear shift, among other tasks. Another system, Touch Command, will use a standard Samsung tablet to handle all infotainment and comfort functions, and provides wireless access to all onboard electronics for all passengers.

Over at FCA, the automaker debuted new additions to its Uconnect Access suite of apps: Vehicle Finder, Send Destination to Vehicle, Monthly Vehicle Report and Vehicle Health Alert. All four allow owners to keep tabs on their vehicle’s systems, easily navigate to a given destination, and know where their vehicle is at all times. The new suite will debut in H1 2015 on select FCA products equipped with either 8.4A or 8.4AN Uconnect systems.

Audi showed off the new interior of the next-gen Q7 — set to bow in Detroit next week as a 2016 model — to the media in attendance at the 2015 CES. The dashboard arrangement is derived from the TT, featuring a 12.3-inch Audi Virtual Cockpit display with 3D maps and other important information. An additional pop-up central display uses a rotary knob and touch-sensitive pad to operate, while two large, removable, Wi-Fi-enabled tablets mounted in the back of the front headrests provide navigation info and entertainment for those seated in back.

Finally, Ford has added on AccuWeather and Life360 to the AppLink suite of apps on-board the new, QNX-based Sync 3 system. The Life360 Sync 3 app has a special Drive Mode feature that sends text messages to a driver’s friends and family so that they know not to contact the user while driving, with a follow-up text sent upon arrival at the user’s destination. AccuWeather, meanwhile, will use GPS to give minute-by-minute weather forecasts to help drivers better deal with and plan around inclement weather.

BMW CES 2015 01 BMW CES 2015 02 BMW CES 2015 03 BMW CES 2015 04 Uconnect_Access_Smartphone_App_ Vehicle_Finder Send_Destination_to_Vehicle_FCA Monthly_Vehicle_Health_Report Audi Q7 CES 2015 01 Audi Q7 CES 2015 02 Audi Q7 CES 2015 03 Audi Q7 CES 2015 04 Ford CES 2015 01 Ford CES 2015 02 Ford CES 2015 03 Ford CES 2015 04

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Capsule Review: 2015 Chrysler 300 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/capsule-review-2015-chrysler-300/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/capsule-review-2015-chrysler-300/#comments Tue, 30 Dec 2014 13:30:20 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=969481 25 years ago, every American automaker offered at least one vehicle that fit what Kim Clark and Takahiro Fujimoto called “the American Plan”: body-on-frame construction, rear-wheel-drive, V8 power, and a roughly 120-inch wheelbase. This was in stark contrast to the increasingly popular offerings from offshore, which were the antithesis of the American Plan. Today, no […]

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25 years ago, every American automaker offered at least one vehicle that fit what Kim Clark and Takahiro Fujimoto called “the American Plan”: body-on-frame construction, rear-wheel-drive, V8 power, and a roughly 120-inch wheelbase. This was in stark contrast to the increasingly popular offerings from offshore, which were the antithesis of the American Plan. Today, no American automaker offers such a product.

The modern family car has abandoned the American plan in favor of the transverse, front-drive layout that was once the exclusive province of compact and subcompact cars. Chrysler’s dependence on the K platform meant that they were committed to such a change early in the game. They were also arguably the first of the Big Three to abandon the American Plan when their M-Body cars died in 1989. Today, however, they are the only ones that offer anything close to it.

Allow me to pre-empt cries of “BIAS!” from fans of the bowtie brand. The Chevrolet SS, as enticing as it is, is an ultra-low-volume specialty car meant to compete with high-zoot versions of the Dodge Charger. In another life, GM may have introduced a Zeta-based Impala. But that dream died along with Lehman Brothers. The LX cars, meanwhile, have soldiered on, getting progressively better with age. Not long ago,Jack had good things to say about a rental 2014 model with the V6/8-speed combo. As of about now, that version is obsolete.

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New for 2015 is a larger grille with a prominent Chrysler badge. It recalls the “Bentley grille” aftermarket add-ons that were popular during the 300’s introduction in 2005. There are also slight changes to the lighting and wheel and tire packages and an updated gauge cluster (no ATS-style 80’s dials here). A rotary gear knob also replaces the awkward short-throw shifter that Jack’s 300 employed.

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The biggest news for 2015 might be the demise of the SRT versions of the 300 – at least in our market. Certain overseas markets will get a new 300 SRT, since they don’t get the Charger. North American customers who want a hi-po 300 will have to make do with the 300S V8, which features bespoke styling treatments like side skirts and a rear wing, as well as slightly stiffer suspension settings.

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But in keeping with TTAC tradition, we made a bee-line for the “base” car, the 300 Limited. Base is a bit of a misnomer, since this version has just about everything one could possibly want in a large sedan. The standard spec sheet reads like a checklist of everything we like about Chrysler products: the 3.6L Pentastar V6, made to an 8-speed automatic transmission, the UConnect 8.4″ touchscreen and the Alpine stereo (which Jack nominated as one of the best in the business), an all-new electric power steering system borrowed from other rear-drive Chrysler products that surpasses the old hydraulic unit.

Opting for the Limited means you can’t get the 363 horsepower Hemi V8 or the 300-horsepower variant of the 3.6L Pentastar V6 – instead, you must settle for a mere 292 horsepower. But the Limited does offer a choice of either rear or all-wheel drive, and a driving experience free of extraneous technology like Lane Departure Warning with Lane Keep Assist, Forward Collision Warning with Active Braking and Adaptive Cruise Control (which, it must be said, works quite well).

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What you do get is a sedan based on a 21st century version of the American Plan. The 120-inch wheelbase makes this an ideal interstate cruiser, though the Charger has a bigger trunk. The Pentastar V6 makes far more power than the V8s of a quarter century ago and the 8-speed transmission (double the number of ratios found in that same era) makes the most of all 292 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque. Over mixed driving on the freeways and back roads of Austin, Texas, we saw about 24 mpg, while highway mileage is claimed by FCA to sit at 31 mpg.

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For not much more than thirty grand (or less, when you factor in the inevitable cash on the hood, or buying a year-old ex-rental) you can have a proper American sedan that will leave you satisfy in every single way, assuming you never try the V8 version. Chrysler was keen to tout the V8 powered 300S, but I’ll take the regular 300C (the black car in our photos), without any of the sporting pretensions or superfluous body modifications. Where the V6 starts to run out of breath above 80 mph, the 5.7L Hemi keeps on pulling well into the triple digits. The 8-speed is a welcome replacement for the durable but antiquated 5-speed Benz unit.
The new EPAS system will be familiar to anyone who has driven a new Jeep Grand Cherokee – the steering is weighted nicely, but doesn’t provide the most lucid feedback, Body motions are well controlled, and the 300 is about as responsive and nimble as you’d expect a two-tonne full-size sedan to be. The lone disappointment are the brakes. The pedal felt soft and lazy, forcing me to press the toe of my Ariat Ropers towards the carpet far quicker than I’d have liked when coming to a halt from high speeds. One could live without most of the performance gear from the SRT versions on a daily basis. The big binders from the 6.4L Charger wouldn’t hurt on the 300.
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While the changes to the 300 itself are incremental, what really matters is that Chrysler has finally managed to separate the 300 and Charger into two distinct product lines. The 2015 300 Limited is only $2,000 more than a comparable equipped $29,995 Charger SXT, but the difference in interior quality is significant enough that only the most die-hard skinflint, Dodge brand fanatic or rental car company would consider the Charger as a serious alternative. Of course, there is a base model Charger SE at  $27,995, as well as the big block 6.4L and 6.2L SRT Chargers, but that’s the point; Dodge now has Charger options to bookend the 300, whereas before, it was a mish-mash of John Varvatos Luxury Editions and Scat Packs and Super Bees at intersecting price points.
The rationalization of the two product lines doesn’t solve the essential question of who the 300 is for. It’s not as sporting as a Cadillac CTS, but sharper than a V6 Hyundai Genesis. It’s bigger, roomier and pricier than a V6 Camcord, but an Impala or an Avalon is probably better for hauling rear seat passengers.
But that’s ok. The weird niche that the 300 (and Charger) occupy is what allow it to exist. It has the market sewn up for itself, and nobody has the stones to challenge Chrysler. It’s a formula employed by everything from the Mercedes E-Class Wagon to the Toyota Tacoma to the Mazda MX-5 – niche products that serve a particular customer, and serve it well.
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The Most De-Pressing Reviews Ever http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/de-pressing-reviews-ever/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/de-pressing-reviews-ever/#comments Tue, 23 Dec 2014 16:23:48 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=964570 Two Chryslers, both alike in dignity (In fair Miami, where we lay our scene) It was the perfect storm. Derek was in Miami for a vacation; I had to go to Florida for a funeral. Derek had a well-equipped Chrysler 200 Pentastar, courtesy of our friends at FCA; I rented a bare-bones MultiAir-powered Chrysler 200 […]

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Two Chryslers, both alike in dignity
(In fair Miami, where we lay our scene)

It was the perfect storm. Derek was in Miami for a vacation; I had to go to Florida for a funeral. Derek had a well-equipped Chrysler 200 Pentastar, courtesy of our friends at FCA; I rented a bare-bones MultiAir-powered Chrysler 200 at the airport. At a harbor steakhouse, as the Ketel One poured in the shadow of Mark Cuban’s 288-foot Feadship and a bored 21-year-old Cuban student in a skin-tight black dress drummed her fingers on the table and yawned in protest, we planned a pair of reviews.

First, Derek’s going to acquaint you with his opinion of the bases-loaded 200S, with its leather interior and Alpine system. Then I’m going to tell you about an 800-mile weekend spent trying not to run out of fuel in the “Alligator Alley”. One of these cars suits the 200’s basic virtues more than the other, but which? And would anyone in their right mind select this sleek mongrel over the Honda Accord? Stay tuned.

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NHTSA Ready To Force Nationwide Takata Airbag Recall http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/nhtsa-ready-force-nationwide-takata-airbag-recall/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/nhtsa-ready-force-nationwide-takata-airbag-recall/#comments Wed, 17 Dec 2014 14:00:05 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=962073 The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is ready to force Takata and three of its clients into a nationwide recall over the catastrophic failure of the supplier’s airbags. The Detroit News reports the agency will bring Ford, FCA US and BMW to court if necessary, compelling the automakers to recall 5 million affected vehicles in […]

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The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is ready to force Takata and three of its clients into a nationwide recall over the catastrophic failure of the supplier’s airbags.

The Detroit News reports the agency will bring Ford, FCA US and BMW to court if necessary, compelling the automakers to recall 5 million affected vehicles in addition to those already recalled.

The first act in bringing the named parties to trial will be a formal demand letter issued to all concerned. Upon refusal, the NHTSA will file a suit against each party in U.S. District Court, a process that could last for months, if not years.

The die was cast when Takata rebuffed the agency’s request earlier this month to expand its recall efforts beyond high-humidity locations in warm climates around the United States, including Florida and Hawaii.

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Chrysler Group Now FCA US LLC http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/chrysler-group-now-fca-us-llc/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/chrysler-group-now-fca-us-llc/#comments Wed, 17 Dec 2014 13:00:47 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=962041 Fiat Chrysler Automobile’s Chrysler Group is dead; long live FCA US LLC. The subsidiary made the name change official today, following the naming convention established by its parent company. Fiat, too, has cast its old corporate identity to the wind of change, now going by the name FCA Italy SpA. Other entities under the FCA […]

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Fiat Chrysler Automobile’s Chrysler Group is dead; long live FCA US LLC.

The subsidiary made the name change official today, following the naming convention established by its parent company. Fiat, too, has cast its old corporate identity to the wind of change, now going by the name FCA Italy SpA. Other entities under the FCA Group umbrella will follow in due time.

The changes won’t filter down into individual brands or marketing, so the B&B will still be able to buy a Fiat 500 or Chrysler Town & Country without seeing an FCA badge.

The move marks the first time in the U.S. subsidiary’s history without the Chrysler name, first given by its founder, Walter P. Chrysler, in 1925.

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Review: 2014 Chrysler 300 V6 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/review-2014-chrysler-300-v6/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/review-2014-chrysler-300-v6/#comments Thu, 11 Dec 2014 13:00:09 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=957793 Hey! You! Over there in the corner! I see you looking at that leather-interior Accord or Camry or Altima or Fusion or whatever. How’d you like to buy a lot more car for just a little more money? The four-cylinder Honda Accord EX-L is $28,420. It’s a hell of a car and it has a […]

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Hey! You! Over there in the corner! I see you looking at that leather-interior Accord or Camry or Altima or Fusion or whatever. How’d you like to buy a lot more car for just a little more money?

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The four-cylinder Honda Accord EX-L is $28,420. It’s a hell of a car and it has a remarkably complete set of virtues. A Camry XLE with a moonrood is $30,060. That, too, is a solid automobile. I could go on, but you see the point, right? A four-cylinder family car with most of the options will run you between twenty-eight and thirty-two grand, depending on what badge you want on the nose and what you need in the way of particular equipment. You can also plump for a six-cylinder or turbocharged four-cylinder engine in nearly all the segment contenders, but most people don’t bother to do so. The modern big-stroke four-bangers (hee hee) offer enough power for daily use and they make up a majority of purchases that is both considerable and continuing to grow.

For $33,645, you can have the Chrysler 300 pictured above, complete with panoramic two-row sunroof. That’s before the deals and the discounting and the rebates for this and that. We all know that you’ll get a better price at a Chrysler dealer than you will at a Honda shop, although the days when our very own Steve Lynch reigned sort-of-supreme over Honda dealer allocation and ADP stickers were SuperGlued to the window of every Accord hatchback are long gone. I paid under invoice for my Accord V6 and I think you probably should as well. But Honda will never do the kind of rebates and incentives that are just part of business as usual under the Pentastar.

I had the good fortune to rent this nearly-new, extremely low-mileage 300 for a recent trip to Oklahoma. Back and forth I went from Tulsa to Oklahoma City, driving a mix of 75mph toll roads and unimproved dirt tracks. I’m very well acqainted with the five-speed old-school Pentastar Charger, but this was my first chance to sample the eight-speed automatic and the V6 together, not to mention the wide range of interior and exterior upgrades that differentiate the Charger and 300 in this soon-to-be-replaced generation. (Derek’s driving the new one even as we speak.)

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As much as I loved the Pentastar Charger, I have to admit that I have always found the tiny uConnect screen and the acres of vaguely/variously dark plastic to be a real letdown. For that reason alone, I’d take a 300 with my own money over the Dodge. Every surface you see and touch is improved, from the decent leather in the seats to the cheerful luminescent gauges. While the shifter takes some getting used to — am I in Park? If so, why? How do I get out? Why can’t I get back in? — it’s a much more upscale-feeling affair than the old five-speed gate, which felt and looked like something that didn’t quite make the cut for the pre-facelift Avenger.

There’s also a real improvement in acceleration and responsiveness with the extra three cogs between engine and rear wheels. This now feels like a quick car and I have no doubt that it will dust all the four-cylinder family sedans out there. How it would fare against a Camry V6 is a different matter; this is, after all, a larger and heavier automobile than any of the FWD competition. Still, it’s no trouble to run up to eighty or so out of a toll booth in a hurry, something you’ll do fairly often in the Southwest.

Once at speed, two things about the 300 immediately stand out vis-a-vis both the Charger and the competition:

* The lack of road noise, which is wonderful.
* The stereo system, which is very good for the class.

There’s a “Beats” audio upgrade available for this car but surely only the most boom-bastic of pimp-juices will require it. Really, this has to be the best standard-equipment offering in the class. For all the hype about the ELS system in the Acura TLX, most of that hype being well-deserved, this is just as good, and it has the advantage of operating in a quiet, more soothing automobile. The rest of the uConnect system is just as good as it’s always been, by the way.

Dynamically, the 300 is absolutely perfect for American freeways. Although it’s probably the spiritual successor of the M-body Gran Fury and Diplomat, it rolls down the road with a stateliness more reminiscent of the last truly full-sized New Yorkers. Yet there’s still a suggestion of the Daimler contributions beneath; when I had to dodge a blown retread on fairly short notice, the change of direction was prompt and easily handled without flashing the ESC or plowing the nose. Control efforts are light, reassuring, and well-matched.

While this 300 continues to share many components with the egg-crate-grille 2005 model, there’s simply nothing to indicate that to the driver except the annoyingly small windows. It’s faster, quieter, better-behaved, more comfortable, better-built, and far better in all the little details. Now, as then, it continues to have no direct competition. Everybody else is offering a front-wheel-drive platform or a much smaller footprint for the same money. In fact, they usually offer both. Probably the competitor offering the nearest match in terms of general virtues is Lexus with the ES350, but I find that the Camry/Avalon origins of that vehicle are too indifferently disguised in the current model.

In a perfect world, everybody who was going to buy a cheap Bimmer or Audi would try this Chrysler out. They’d see that it offers the same rock-solid feel, comparable interior materials, and acceptable performance, all in a platform that more closely resembles the next size up of the sausage by dint of being a distant cousin to an old E-Class. No, the 300 isn’t perfect. It has cliff-face interior panels and about as much window area as a 688-class submarine. It weighs more than it should and offers less rear-seat room than you expect. The “five-meter car” justification for having the short trunk on the Chrysler compared to the Dodge should have been jettisoned when the 300’s pretensions to Euro-market relevance hit the recycle bin seven years ago. Surely the next platform for this car will offer the same quiet ride and bump resistance through the miracle of a modern unibody, not a Lena Dunham level of interior panel padding.

When all is said and done, however, the 300’s biggest enemy is the HEMI-engined 300. The omnipresence in the media of that automobile, particularly in dearly-departed SRT-8 form, made the Pentastar look like a weak sister or a bargain-basement choice instead of the perfectly decent automobile it truly is. Yeah, the V-8 is well worth the additional money, but that doesn’t mean that the six is a bad deal. If you’re planning on buying a $45,000 mid-luxury car, there are more modern, more dynamically capable, and more feature-laden choices available than the loaded 300C. At thirty-three grand, however, wouldn’t you really rather have a… Chrysler?

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Chrysler Group Introduces PUG Plan For Pentastar V6 Family http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/chrysler-group-introduces-pug-plan-pentastar-v6-family/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/chrysler-group-introduces-pug-plan-pentastar-v6-family/#comments Tue, 09 Dec 2014 12:00:55 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=957330 Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ Chrysler Group has big plans for its venerable Pentastar engine family, all in the name of improved fuel efficiency and power. Automotive News reports the Pentastar Upgrade — or PUG — will include turbocharging of current naturally aspirated mills, direct injection and other technologies, with the first updated 3.6-liter V6 to turn […]

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pentastar-v6-628

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ Chrysler Group has big plans for its venerable Pentastar engine family, all in the name of improved fuel efficiency and power.

Automotive News reports the Pentastar Upgrade — or PUG — will include turbocharging of current naturally aspirated mills, direct injection and other technologies, with the first updated 3.6-liter V6 to turn up in 2015 under the bonnet of the Jeep Grand Cherokee.

The next engine under PUG will be a 3.2-liter V6, which will replace the current 3.6-liter unit powering the Chrysler Town & Country when the next-gen model enters showrooms in 2016. The new engine will be paired with the nine-speed automatic found in some trims of the Jeep Cherokee, and is expected to deliver a 25 percent improvement to fuel economy over the current arrangement’s 17 mpg city, 25 mpg highway EPA rating.

Should all go as planned, the aforementioned 3.6-liter could also help the Ram 1500 take the gasoline-efficiency crown back from the Ford F-150 EcoBoost, which it lost to said truck in November.

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TTAC Readers Call it: Town & Country Troubles http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/ttac-readers-call-town-country-troubles/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/ttac-readers-call-town-country-troubles/#comments Sat, 06 Dec 2014 20:28:41 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=955890 Way back on August 13, 2013, just two comments into the discussion in which I trumpeted to the world the selection of the Chrysler Town and Country S as the chariot of choice for the mid-size Kreutzer family, user “Infinitime” wrote: The only hesitation I have about buying a Caravan when the time comes, is […]

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Way back on August 13, 2013, just two comments into the discussion in which I trumpeted to the world the selection of the Chrysler Town and Country S as the chariot of choice for the mid-size Kreutzer family, user “Infinitime” wrote: The only hesitation I have about buying a Caravan when the time comes, is their propensity to use the most fragile components for the automatic transmission. Hopefully, the design of the new six-speed has finally addressed this concern. Well, here we are just a year and three months later and I am forced to acknowledge the wisdom of the best and the brightest and ponder, once again, why it is that transmissions always seem to grenade on rainy, crappy days.

Over the past few months I have been off pursuing a master’s degree and have been unable to contribute to our favorite website. Recent events, however, have demanded that I break my self-imposed hiatus to bring you news that, as several astute readers predicted, the transmission in my Town & Country did, in fact, give up the ghost with less than 12K easy miles on the clock. While checking on the repairs a couple of days later, I was shown the transmission oil pan and snapped a photo of what appears to be a dead sea-urchin. How that creature found its way into my transmission is a mystery at this point, but the effects of its arrival were catastrophic.

Transmission urchin

It started a few weeks ago. I noticed that the van hesitated when I was backing up a small slope. It went, but it acted almost like I had forgotten to release the emergency brake. After that we went on our merry way without any difficulties. Then, a day or two before the transmission decided to leave us stranded, I backed out of the garage, made a full stop, and shifted into drive. The transmission gave a mighty metallic thump and went into gear. I probably should have had it looked at then, but since there seemed to be no follow-on effects, we continued to drive the vehicle for another week.

The day the transmission died involved a trip to our local mall. We left home and made the 30 minute drive without trouble, but after a brief stop at Target we were greeted by a high pitched whine, similar to what your power steering pump might do when the fluid gets low, when I restarted the engine. We ran a couple of blocks up the street to have lunch and when we came back out the whine began again as we made our way out to the street. As we turned onto the main road the van struggled forward and then all momentum dropped off while the RPMs went up. After a couple of minutes of fiddling with the gear selector and revving the engine, I was able to get enough momentum to get us off the street and into a parking spot from which I called Chrysler roadside assistance.

If there is a good side to this story, it’s that Chrysler roadside assistance got us a tow truck in short order. Because there are five of us, including three in booster seats, we weren’t able to get a large taxi right away but, after making a few calls, I was able to summon a friend who could come and take the family home while I waited for the tow truck. After dropping me at home the driver, who told me he makes a lot of money hauling around late model Dodge and Chrysler minivans, took it to the dealer and left it on their lot.

T&C Back

Ten days later, after a full transmission rebuild, the van came home. Since its return, we’ve used it for errands around town and taken a couple of trips out onto faster roads in the country just to make sure things are normal. To my local Chrysler shop’s credit, the van seems like it runs better than ever and shifts so smoothly you can’t even feel the gear changes. Chrysler, of course, picked up the entire bill under their 5 year/100,000 mile warranty program but I am hoping that this is the last of it.

It’s no secret to regular readers that I am a Mopar guy. Over the past 25 years I have owned several used Dodge and Chrysler products and this van is the second Chrysler product I have purchased new. I can tell you from personal experience that the quality of Chrysler products has definitely climbed over the past two decades but this latest experience, especially when I consider the fact that TTAC’s readers expressed this exact concern at the time of my purchase, takes away some of my warm and fuzzies. I wrote when I purchased it that I intend to have this vehicle a long, long time and that it will likely follow me around the world and home again. Reliability is important to me and despite the fact that Chrysler’s quality is improving, it seems to me that they still have some work to do.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Leavenworth, Kansas with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast, he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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Shimizu: Takata Hasn’t Found The Cause Of Airbag Failures http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/shimizu-takata-hasnt-found-cause-airbag-failures/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/shimizu-takata-hasnt-found-cause-airbag-failures/#comments Fri, 05 Dec 2014 15:00:28 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=955722 Takata has yet to find the root cause of the defect affecting its airbags; Autoliv will supply replacements to Honda; and Toyota, Mazda and Chrysler are expanding their recalls. Reuters reports Takata hasn’t found the cause behind the catastrophic failures in its airbags, per testimony given by safety executive Hiroshi Shimizu before Congress Wednesday. That […]

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Shimizu, Takata's Senior Vice President for global quality assurance, testifies before a U.S. House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee hearing in Washington

Takata has yet to find the root cause of the defect affecting its airbags; Autoliv will supply replacements to Honda; and Toyota, Mazda and Chrysler are expanding their recalls.

Reuters reports Takata hasn’t found the cause behind the catastrophic failures in its airbags, per testimony given by safety executive Hiroshi Shimizu before Congress Wednesday. That said, Shimizu said his company was of “the strong opinion that (there) is a factor contributing to this defect: which is high humidity, temperature and the life of the product.” He also claimed the ammonium nitrate used in the airbags was safe and stable, though he admitted replacements weren’t coming fast enough.

Meanwhile, competitor Autoliv announced it would supply replacements to Honda for vehicles in the United States. The automaker had mentioned before Congress it was in talks with the supplier and another, Daicel, regarding expanded production to replace modules in a nationwide recall. Autoliv will add capacity in its existing plants, with deliveries to come after six months.

Among the other affected automakers, Chrysler, Toyota and Mazda have stepped up their individual recall efforts. AutoGuide says the subsidiary of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles has called back 149,150 Dodge Ram 1500, 2500 and 3500 models from the 2003 model year, covering Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, and the U.S. territories of American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, Saipan and the Virgin Islands. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration stated the move wasn’t enough, and is looking at what action to take next.

Over in Japan, Bloomberg reports Toyota is recalling 190,000 affected vehicles in its local market and in China. The recall comes on the news of a catastrophic detonation at a junkyard of a Takata airbag inside a 2003 WiLL Cypha; the detonation was part of the procedures outlined by Japan’s Automobile Recycling Law, which also requires dismantlers to report any problem to the automaker to determine if a recall is necessary.

Finally, The Detroit News says Mazda is recalling 40,000 more vehicles — including the 2003-2007 Mazda6, 2004-2008 RX-8, 2006-2007 Mazdaspeed6, 2004-2005 MPV and 2004 B-Series — in Florida, Hawaii, Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia, Texas and Alabama. The automaker previously recalled 44,000 units in the U.S. and 2,600 in Puerto Rico.

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Capsule Review: 2015 Chrysler 200S AWD http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/10/capsule-review-2015-chrysler-200s-awd/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/10/capsule-review-2015-chrysler-200s-awd/#comments Tue, 28 Oct 2014 12:14:35 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=936994 I just spent a week with the all-new, all-wheel-drive 2015 Chrysler 200 S. It was one of Chrysler Canada’s press cars, priced at $38,815. Equipped as it was with big wheels and a dual pane sunroof and blind spot monitoring and navigation, it would have been priced at $35,560 in the United States. Yes, $35,560. […]

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2015 Chrysler 200 S AWD rear angleI just spent a week with the all-new, all-wheel-drive 2015 Chrysler 200 S. It was one of Chrysler Canada’s press cars, priced at $38,815. Equipped as it was with big wheels and a dual pane sunroof and blind spot monitoring and navigation, it would have been priced at $35,560 in the United States.

Yes, $35,560. And that’s not the top of the range. I know this because there are three conspicuous, dare I say ostentatious, blanked-out switches placed on the steering wheel, an owner’s most frequent touch point.

The steering wheel is what you grasp for the duration of your 35-minute commute each morning after you’re done grasping a toothbrush, a spouse, a child, a bagel, and a set of keys. It’s an intimate connection, even private.

You don’t allow anybody else to hold your toothbrush, your bagel, your spouse, or your child first thing in the morning. Similarly, you don’t hand your keys off to a random acquaintance and say, “Yeah, take’er out for a rip.”

You know the stitching of the heated steering wheel’s leather. You know how to find the big cruise control buttons without looking. You and the steering wheel share secrets, like the location of volume controls on the back of the middle spoke. The Bluetooth hang-up button, well, it doth fall readily to thy hand.

Yet all the while, the steering wheel in this rather costly Chrysler 200 tells you, nay, it screams at you: “I could have been better! You could have made me better! Am I not worth it? Did you need to order an unfulfilled version of myself?” And all the while, you’re left to stare at three pieces of glaring evidence every single day. After dropping $35,560 on a Chrysler 200, you’re still $3000 shy of possessing a fully equipped Chrysler 200.

2015 Chrysler 200 S steering wheel buttonsOh, who are we kidding? You didn’t spend $35,560 on a new Chrysler 200. 2015 models have only recently arrived at dealers, yet my local Chrysler store has 200s prominently parked out front with “Save $4000” stickers plastered across the doors and updated stickers on the windshield declaring $5295 discounts. Even with an eye-catching design and a vastly improved interior, a new midsize car trades on the reputation of its predecessor, which in this case was too strongly connected to a product line Chrysler would probably prefer to forget. Thus, Chrysler dealers already know consumers aren’t going to pay top dollar for this car, even if it is now a worthy contender.

Pricing aside, the blanked-out switches can only be an affront because of their high-profile positioning. Many more costly cars feature such buttons, as well, only with less distinguished placement. The only other reason the would-be adaptive cruise control blanked-out switches merit a mention is because of the way they symbolize the 200’s indecisive interior.

At $35,560, the 200 S better be slick inside, and for the most part it is. But the cupholder slider which covers a massive bin between the front seats jiggles about in its tracks. The blue “wood” applique strewn across the dashboard is ghastly. The upgraded Alpine audio system can’t cope with moderate increases in volume and caused many an interior part to quiver long before maximum output was called upon. It is not at all about that bass.

In a mostly hushed cabin, the amount of wind noise when the panoramic roof’s sunshade is open is shocking. The passenger’s seat is not powered. Shift paddles which grow out of volume and tune buttons on the back of the steering wheel are a bit dorky.  Rear seat space is not midsize-like, and the bench would still be deemed uncomfortable even if there was real Camryesque capacity. Visibility for the driver is severely impinged upon by a thick, steeply raked A-pillar and the coupe-like roofline all around. Likewise, the trunk’s 16 cubic feet of capacity is crowded by long goosenecks.

2015 Chrysler 200 S AWD front angleErgonomically, however, the quad-knob layout liberally spread out beside the driver for volume, scrolling, climate, and gear selection is ideal. UConnect is brilliantly straightforward, faster than most equivalent systems, and its touch screen never felt too far away. As much as I want to remain true to convention and call for a traditional gear lever, this third meeting with a rotary dial shifter made for three occasions in which it felt perfectly natural.

There are niggling little nitpicky issues inside the Chrysler 200, but poor visibility and a somewhat tight rear seat are the only characteristics capable of overriding the elegant simplicity encountered by the driver via the oft-used infotainment unit.

In this S-is-for-Sport variant of the new 200, ride quality remains comfortable despite low-profile 19-inch rubber. The 200 S is firm on 235/40R19s, but it’s not busy or crashy. The composed ride doesn’t really pay dividends in terms of outright handling ability, as the all-wheel-drive 200 is simply too heavy for athletics. Chrysler’s all-wheel-drive system has a the ability to disconnect the rear axle, but because it can’t discard and recoup the rear axle on a whim, it adds 322 pounds to a V6-engined 200 S.

2015 Chrysler 200 rotary dial shifterAt 3795 pounds before options – and before adding you, you bagel-eating glutton, you – the 200 S AWD weighs about 100 pounds more than the last all-wheel-drive midsize sedan I drove, Subaru’s Legacy 3.6R. (The weight gap between the 200 S AWD and Ford’s lighter Fusion Titanium AWD is greater.)

As a result of all that girth, 295 horsepower doesn’t feel quite like 295 horsepower. The 200 is undoubtedly a quick car, but it takes some prodding. Toss the 200 into a corner with its weighty but slow steering and it remains nicely level, but it’s not terribly willing to quickly change direction again. Powering out of the corner with haste will require a firm press of the throttle, though, and you might see a kickdown of two or three gears when a single kickdown would have been effective. (At least the intense growl of the engine is musical.)

Indeed, the nine-speed automatic operates much more like it ought to when you demand quicker progress from the car. Meandering about, this 200 was of a mind to shift economically but couldn’t make those shifts happen with alacrity, hanging on to revs before finally falling into second, then third, then fourth. There’s some hunting around in the higher register, though you’ll rarely, if ever, see ninth. But that hunting is more evident in the digital read-out than in sound or sensation. The nine-speed is certainly not what I’d call a good transmission, but those less sensitive to the differences between a great modern eight-speed like ZF’s (or the Ram pickup’s) and this nine-speed likely won’t be bothered.

2015 Chrysler 200 S interiorIn our house, the nine-speed’s suboptimal shift quality couldn’t make up for the 3.6L’s appeal. The poor visibility detracts from what could be an otherwise pleasant interior. At 21 miles per gallon in our mix of city and highway driving, the 200 wasn’t exactly thrifty, either.

Still, going back a number of months, few cars in the affordable realm have appealed to my neighbours and friends as much as this 200. They were enticed by an attractive car which, with a boatload of features and space superior to that of their current compact, can be had at an alluring price they saw on the back of the newspaper they were perusing while waiting to get their flu shot.

With a front-wheel-drive V6 S adding just $1950 to the price of a four-cylinder S, it’s easy to see why they could be seduced.

All-wheel-drive, on the other hand, is only available with the V6 and adds $2250 to the cost of a 200 S V6 or 200 C V6. The subsequent weight increase isn’t worth it when good winter tires will accomplish more.

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