The Truth About Cars » Jeep The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Sun, 27 Jul 2014 14:03:49 +0000 en-US hourly 1 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 (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Jeep Chrysler Group Asks For Hitch Production Boost Amid NHTSA Inquiry Mon, 21 Jul 2014 12:00:22 +0000 2002-2004_Jeep_Liberty_Sport

A day after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration asked what was taking so long for a supplier to make enough hitches to cover 2.5 million recalled vehicles, Chrysler Group ordered its supplier to boost production.

Automotive News reports the inquiry, sent July 2, noted that it would take five years for Chrysler to repair all 2.5 million 1993 – 1998 Jeep Grand Cherokees and 2002 – 2007 Libertys with trailer hitches meant to minimize the potential for fuel tank ruptures and fires in low-speed rear-end accidents. In turn, Chrysler told supplier Northern Stamping Inc. to raise its daily production rate from 2,205 to 3,511 hitches.

The affected vehicles will be able to be equipped with the hitches beginning August 1, with the last ones to receive theirs by March of 2015.

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Capsule Review: 2014 Jeep Wrangler Sport S Fri, 18 Jul 2014 12:30:27 +0000  


A common complaint among the Best & Brightest is that certain consumer oriented publications don’t get the Jeep Wrangler. America’s sports car, as Enzo Ferrari once labeled it, is unfairly docked for performing poorly on-road, without taking into account that its mission is to excel off-roadEven though I’ve driven off-road precisely twice in my life, I decided to get to the heart of the matter.

Most press vehicles are fully-loaded, top trim examples with abnormally high sticker prices and all the bells and whistles that one can possibly order. Not this baby.


The Wrangler Sport seen here has – get ready for it – manual locks, crank windows, no touch screen and an honest-to-god manual transmission. In any other car, this level of equipment would bear the odious stench of poverty and poor credit. In a Jeep, it’s somewhat charming. The UConnect 130 is an old-school head unit unlike the rest of the range, with knobs and buttons replacing touch screens and QNX software. There’s an auxiliary port and a hidden USB port – you’re better off using the former if you want to play your music off of an iPod.



As refreshing as it may be to see an honest Wrangler on paved roads, rather than a top-spec Mickey Thompson-shod Unlimited Rubicon, there’s still the unavoidable fact that no Wrangler is particularly pleasant to drive on the street. It’s simply not made for it, in the same way that a McLaren 650S, with its carbon fiber bodywork, shouldn’t be driven on a dirt road pockmarked with rocks and divots.


Unfortunately, the majority of our infrastructure does consist of paved roads, and depending on their condition, the Wrangler’s ride quality ranges from “oscillating” to “back of the school bus”, in terms of how severely it crashes and bounds over bumps, ripples and potholes.


Is it my own damn fault that I’m driving the Wrangler in an environment that is totally unsuitable for the car? Yes, but, I’d venture to say that the majority of these vehicles are driven in urban and suburban areas, and buyers hardly seem to care – or they put up with the Wrangler’s dynamic drawbacks because of its aesthetic appeal and rugged image.


That’s not to say it’s all negative: with its small footprint and ultra-high driving position, you get a good view of the road, even if the Wrangler isn’t the most nimble-footed beast. Parking is a cinch relative to a lot of other SUVs, and the rear can be used for either human or material cargo in a pinch – but not necessarily both. That distinctive shape may give it tough-guy “Defender-lite” looks, but it also has the aerodynamics of a garden shed, and fuel economy in town was dismal, around 15 mpg.

The sole glaring drawback is with the removable soft top, which is needlessly complex to operate and poorly explained in the instruction manual. I will cop to being a bit dense when it comes to manual tasks that require pattern recognition, and the multiple latches, zippers, tabs and closures required to raise and lower the roof are my own idea of hell. Perhaps I was under the mistaken impression that should one get caught in a rain storm, one could simply pull over by the side of the road, hop out and raise the top, like you can in a Miata. I was wrong, and my passenger and I got a 55 mph baptismal thanks to my ineptitude. At the very least, Jeep should look into a new technical writer for their owner’s manual.


Despite the myriad flaws and unsuitability for my own driving conditions, I kept coming back to the Wrangler with an overriding sense of affection. Car enthusiasts talk about the purity of the XJ Cherokee and the Mazda Miata as if they are two sides of the same enthusiast vehicle proposition, and always seem to skip over the one that started it all. But here we have an honest-to-god basic vehicle, made in America, for $25,295 (if you don’t need A/C, a base model sport is just $22,395) that has charm and authenticity in spades. The Wrangler is not for everyone – and certainly not for me. But Jeep manages to sell every example they make, and consumers seem utterly unaffected by these negative reports.



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FCA Is Hungry For Diesels Mon, 07 Jul 2014 15:22:44 +0000  
2014-Ram-1500-diese-logo-450x337Fiat Chrysler is hungry for more 3.0L VM Motori V6 diesel engines, but capacity constraints are limiting how many engines can be allocated for North America.

VM Motori, a subsidiary of FCA, can build about 100,000 V6 diesel engines, with about half of those destined for North America. The V6 is offered in both the Ram 1500 pickup as well as the Jeep Grand Cherokee.

But a report in Automotive News paints an interesting picture of the demand for the V6 in each vehicle. The take rate for diesel Grand Cherokees has leveled off at about 8 percent, or 15,000 units annually.

By contrast, Ram boss Reid Bigland claims that

“We got well in excess of 10,000 orders in just the first few days that we opened this thing up, and that ordering and demand has really sustained itself,”

According to Bigland, the EcoDiesel Ram 1500s spend an average of 13 days on dealer lots, versus 94 days for gasoline versions. A search of shows just 1,839 EcoDiesel Rams, but 3,907 Grand Cherokees, suggesting that the Ram (which sells in much bigger numbers) has a much tighter supply of their oil-burners.

Even so, Manley and Bigland denied that they are horse trading over diesel allocation for their respective brands.

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Next-Generation Jeep Wrangler To Take Fight To Soft-Roaders, Hold Rubicon Mon, 07 Jul 2014 12:00:13 +0000 5-2013-wrangler-rubicon-10th-anniversary-anvil

With more SUVs preferring the high street over muddy, rocky trails, Jeep boss Mike Manley plans for the next-generation Wrangler to better compete against these soft-roaders while still maintaining its Rubicon cred.

Automotive News reports Manley’s plan to include “continued improvements of the powertrain package,” which may mean being fitted with Chrysler’s eight-speed automatic and either a smaller gasoline engine than the current 3.6-liter V6 or a diesel like that found in Ram’s 1500 EcoDiesel.

Regarding weight, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles CEO Sergio Marchionne believes aluminium would be another key ingredient in not only bringing down weight, but improving fuel economy on top of the aforementioned powertrain upgrades.

As for the solid front and rear axles that give the Wrangler its off-road prowess to compensate for increased weight and rougher highway travel, Manley didn’t say whether or not they would stay for the next generation of the iconic vehicle — due sometime in 2017 at the earliest — though he vowed Jeep would not “dilute what Wrangler stands for,” citing his killing of the two-wheel-drive Wrangler upon taking the brand’s reins.

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Capsule Review: Jeep Grand Cherokee EcoDiesel Sat, 05 Jul 2014 16:00:36 +0000 2014-Jeep-Grand-Cherokee-EcoDiesel-4

To most North American consumers, diesel is an exotic powertrain option, full of promise when it comes to torque and efficiency. It rarely delivers on the promise.

Based on our impressions of the Ram 1500 EcoDiesel, the same 3.0L V6 fitted to the Jeep Grand Cherokee seemed to be extremely promising – especially now that gas prices have spiked to record highs. But something was lost in the transition from truck to SUV.

The most jarring difference is the lack of smoothness that won us over in the Ram. The same engine that is nearly silent and effortlessly smooth in the Ram seems to have a much more audible, agricultural note, with inferior NVH characteristics. Somehow, the leisure-oriented SUV ends up feeling more like the work vehicle.

Diesel die-hards may shrug this off as panty-waist behavior from someone not used to compression ignition engines, but convincing customers to spend the extra $4,500 is going to be a tough sell for anyone who didn’t buy a diesel Grand Cherokee last time around. Especially when they hit the remote start only to be greeted with a school-bus soundtrack on cold starts.

That’s not to say that there are only drawbacks with the diesel. There is prodigious torque on tap (420 lb-ft, and 240 horsepower), and all that power is a great match for the silky smooth 8-speed ZF gearbox. Even compared to the 5.7L Hemi, passing is effortless at speed, while highway cruising tends to downplay the drivetrain noise. Only the woosh of the turbo is heard when you summon the prodigious twist of the VM Motori V6.

The rest of the car, like all Grand Cherokees, is superb. The steering has more feel than many passenger cars, while the air suspension gives superb ride characteristics on any road. I am on record as being UConnect’s biggest fan, and I can think of no better car to cover long distances in. Except for a gasoline powered Grand Cherokee.

Even though the EcoDiesel returned about 27 mpg (and that’s cruising at 75 mph with the A/C on – the EPA rates it at 28 mpg highway), I would find it hard to justify buying anything beyond the Pentastar V6/8-speed combo, similar to what Jack’s father bought.

If you are doing serious towing, or covering enough miles to justify the added cost of the diesel engine (and the higher resale value of the diesel should also help), then perhaps it makes sense. For myself, and many other consumers, the V6, V8 – hell, even the SRT – models will make more sense, given how quickly the higher trim level Summit models with the EcoDiesel can breach the $60k barrier.

As far as I’m concerned, the Grand Cherokee is still the best SUV on sale at any price. It has just the right mix of luxury, performance and discretion to be appropriate in any environment. The driving experience is more in line with premium European offerings than anything built by America or Japan. And given all this, I had high hopes for the diesel, and it did deliver on the promise of V8-like power with much better fuel economy. But I’m not sure it’s the all-purpose solution that many people were expecting. For me, that would be a nicely equipped Laredo with the gasoline V6.

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Subaru Behind Jeep, Ram As Most Off-Roaded Automaker Wed, 02 Jul 2014 10:00:37 +0000 green subaru xv crosstrek hybrid

Jeep may be the first thing to come to mind when the idea of going off-road comes up in conversation, but when taking a trip from Los Angeles to that secret pool/art installation in the middle of the desert, you might find a Subaru waiting nearby.

Autoblog reports the automaker’s vehicles are the third most off-roaded in a 2013 J.D. Power study, where 29.5 percent can be found departing the highway for the trail; only Ram and Jeep bested Subaru at 30.2 percent and 31 percent, respectively. Subaru’s director of corporate communications, Michael McHale, added that owners of his company’s offerings were “190 percent more likely to do outdoor activities than other brands,” meriting those treks off the beaten path.

Regarding individual vehicles, the Outback sees the highest use in the dust and mud at 34.7 percent. Meanwhile, most Jeep Grand Cherokee owners prefer the high street over high peaks, with only 21.1 percent deciding to experience just how “trail-rated” their SUVs are. The Outback is also among Subaru’s top three best-selling vehicles in 2013, sandwiched between the Forester and the XV Crosstek as the automaker celebrated its sixth consecutive year of record sales; 424,683 units were sold in the United States alone that year.

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Don’t Hold Your Breath For A Diesel Jeep Cherokee Fri, 27 Jun 2014 12:30:44 +0000 550x365x2014-Jeep-Cherokee-001-550x365.jpg.pagespeed.ic.ku6Uutu7nr

The Jeep Grand Cherokee received a diesel option earlier this year, but don’t look for the Cherokee to get one any time soon – at least not in North America.

Speaking to Automotive News, Manley said that while the Grand Cherokee diesel take rate is about 8 percent, that number would have to increase before the Cherokee could get a diesel

“Cherokee is slightly different because of its weight and size. When I think about bringing Cherokee diesel here, I would like to see Grand Cherokee diesel get much higher than 8 percent…It would have to be in mid-double digits.”

While a diesel Cherokee likely has many fans on the internet, reality is more complex. A diesel Cherokee would have to sell in sufficient numbers to meet very stringent U.S. regulations, and would have to come in at a pricepoint that is palatable to American buyers. In the Grand Cherokee, the diesel carries a $4,500 premium.

There’s also the matter of capacity. With Jeep building about 250,000 units globally at its Toledo, Ohio plant, they may not have room to mess with the current model mix by adding a diesel. The Cherokee may not be tops on the compact CUV sales charts, sales are brisk and inventories are well controlled. Jeep is likely selling every Cherokee they can produce for the U.S. market, and a diesel may not be necessary – yet.

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Select 2015 Chrysler 200, Jeep Cherokee Models To Receive Stop-Start Wed, 25 Jun 2014 11:00:40 +0000 2015-chrysler-2001

A select group of 2015 Chrysler 200s and Jeep Cherokees will enter showrooms with stop-start technology on-board later this year.

Automotive News reports Chrysler Group will install the tech in Cherokees equipped with its 3.2-liter V6 in Q3 2014, while 200s with the 2.4-liter I4 will receive it in Q4 2014. Cherokees with the 2.4 and 200s with the 3.6 V6 will not have stop-start aboard.

With stop-start, the Cherokee will net 19 mpg in the city at its most fuel-efficient configuration. The 200 fares slightly better at 23 mpg for its most efficient model.

Both the sedan and crossover share the same platform and a number of components, including Chrysler’s new nine-speed automatic transmission.

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Jeep Re-Builds UK Dealer Network In Advance Of Cherokee Launch Wed, 25 Jun 2014 11:00:22 +0000 382x350xphoto-13-382x350.jpg.pagespeed.ic.rJdyDkrfPC

For a brief stretch of time, Jeep did business in the UK as a purveyor of authentic American SUVs. The Cherokee, Wrangler and Grand Cherokee had a respected niche, even if they didn’t sell in particularly large numbers. And then it all went down the tubes.

According to Just-Auto, Jeep lost over half their dealer network in 2012, creating a problem for Jeep’s UK division. Major ad campaigns were useless, since it was impossible to advertise when franchises could be situated far away from major population centers.

But with the introduction of the Grand Cherokee, Jeep has rebounded. Sales are up 70 percent, and by year end, there should be over 70 dealers in the UK. The next step is the launch of the Cherokee, which Jeep is ambitiously positioning as a rival to the Audi Q5 and BMW X3, as well as the smaller Renegade. Sound crazy? Perhaps. But don’t forget, these are premium vehicles in much of the world.

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NHTSA Investigates Chrysler Group Air Bag, Ignition Issues Thu, 19 Jun 2014 11:00:10 +0000 2010-dodge-grand-caravan

General Motors no longer has the monopoly on ignition and air bag problems, as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is looking into Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ Chrysler Group over those very issues.

Detroit Free Press reports the agency has opened two investigations into 1.2 million vehicles as follows:

  • 2005 – 2006 Jeep Grand Cherokee; 2006 – 2007 Jeep Commander: Faulty air bags; 700,000 under preliminary investigation
  • 2008 – 2010 Dodge Journey; 2010 Chrysler Town & Country; 2010 Dodge Grand Caravan: Ignition switches shifting out of “on” position; 525,000 under recall query

The NHTSA received 23 complaints over air bags problems, though none involved non-deployment, and 32 complaints about the ignition switch. Both parties are working to find any links to the problems, though no more information has been made available thus far.

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Jeep’s Nine-Speed Undergoes Second Reflash For 100k Cherokees Fri, 30 May 2014 10:00:10 +0000 2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited V6 Exterior-002

Remember the nine-speed transmission in the new Jeep Cherokee that gave our rising superstar managing editor a hard time, followed by everyone else giving him a hard time about the truth of this car before walking back their statements in light of their seeing the light? More than 100,000 of the crossovers built before May 5 will need theirs readjusted.

Automotive News reports the software in the affected units will be subject to a five-minute software reflash, followed by a 78-minute test drive to ensure the transmission’s ability to learn how its owner drives is no longer hindered by digital bugs. While all owners will not need to bring their vehicles in for the work, those who do feel their transmission is lacking will have the fix covered for free under warranty.

The nine-speed, which also feeds power to the front and/or all four corners of the 2015 Chrysler 200, has been reflashed once before, and problems early on led to a delay in the introduction of the new Cherokee to sort out the kinks. For what it’s worth, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles CEO Sergio Marchionne isn’t concerned about what may be dinging the quality of the new transmission:

There are always teething issues with every transmission I’ve ever built, and I mean that literally. We keep tuning the transmission more and more as we get more familiar with it.

I’m never satisfied, but I think I’m OK with its application in the current car. It will get better six months from now, trust me.

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Marchionne: Aluminium Better Used In Wrangler Over Ram 1500 Tue, 13 May 2014 13:00:50 +0000 2014 Jeep Wrangler

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles CEO Sergio Marchionne may be watching Ford experiment aluminium-bodied pickups from afar, but as far as the 2018 Jeep Wrangler is concerned, the lightweight metal may wind up on the iconic vehicle before the Ram 1500 considers taking the plunge.

Automotive News reports Jeep’s engineers and designers are already at work finalizing design work for the next-gen Wrangler, set to enter production in 2017. Based on recent job postings, the brand as an eye on dropping weight for the vehicle as part of its plan to meet ever-tightening CAFE goals. The current Wrangler holds an average of 17 city/21 highway while weighing anywhere from 3,785 to 4,340 pounds depending on trim, while the new Cherokee 4×4 — based on a lighter foundation — pulls 19 city/25 highway at a weight of 4,044 pounds.

Other key components of the plan on the table include an eight-speed automatic and an expanded lineup of fuel-efficient gasoline and diesel powerplants.

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Analysis: The Definitive Guide To The Fiat Chrysler 5-Year Plan Tue, 06 May 2014 22:34:32 +0000 fcainvestorday

Wednesday marks the 16th anniversary of the Daimler-Chrysler merger. One day prior to this milestone, Fiat Chrysler has unveiled their business plan for the next 5 years. While the industry norm is to keep future product plans, brand strategies and sales targets as a closely guarded secret, FCA took the unusual step of making it all public, with FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne headlining the event (billed as a conference for investors) at an event in Auburn Hills, Michigan. Each of FCA’s brands and subsidiaries was given the chance to present their strategy through 2018, with healthy helpings of new vehicles, future technology and corporate strategy being revealed.

ChryslerCurrently, the Chrysler brand is arguably the weakest in FCA’s portfolio, with just three offerings – the D-segment Chrysler 200, the E-segment Chrysler 300 and the Town and Country minivan. Combined, those account for just 350,000 units globally, a tiny number in the context of a 16 or 17 million unit market in the United States alone. As part of its growth plan, Chrysler will shift away from being a pseudo-premium brand to a mainstream line, aiming to compete with brands like Ford, Hyundai, Chevrolet, Toyota and Honda. The brand will add a new compact sedan, and two new crossovers, as well as hybrid capability on the larger CUV and the Town & Country minivan. Chrysler is aiming to increase sales to 800,000 units globally by 2018, equal to its best years ever in America, in the middle of the last decade – but Chrysler will be relying on stronger global sales to reach this number.

  • The Chrysler 100 sedan will debut in 2016, ostensibly as a sister car to the Dodge Dart. While details were not revealed, we can expect both the 1.4L Turbo 4-cylinder engine, as well as the 2.4L 4-cylinder paired to a 9-speed automatic. Although the latter combination was promised for the Dart long ago, it has failed to materialize. The Dart is scheduled for a 2016 refresh, and the 2.4L/9-speed could appear at that time.
  • The Chrysler 300 will receive a refresh later this year, while the 200 will get one in 2017.
  • A larger crossover, sized to compete with the Toyota Highlander and Chevrolet Traverse, launches in 2017. This will likely share a platform with the Chrysler Town & Country minivan, due to its footprint and its plug-in hybrid capability.
  • A mid-size crossover, comparable to the Hyundai Santa Fe or Ford Edge, bows in 2018. This will likely share the CUSW underpinnings of the Chrysler 200 and Jeep Cherokee.
  • The Chrysler Town & Country will be the sole minivan in FCA’s portfolio, bowing in 2016. It will be available as a plug-in hybrid to help meet regulatory requirements for ZEVs.

Dodge: In the “internal turf war” for mainstream volume offerings, Dodge is the clear loser. The upshot for enthusiasts is that Dodge will transition to being a more emotional and performance oriented brand, while still retaining its price point as a mainstream value brand. As part of Chrysler’s consolidation and push for “brand purity”, the Grand Caravan and Avenger will disappear, with the former departing in 2016. Dodge sales are expected to stay flat, with 600,000 units targeted in 2018 – Dodge sold roughly 596,000 units in 2013, and is expected to see lower volumes in the intermittent years.

  • A new B-segment Dodge will debut in 2018, offering both sedan and hatchback bodystyles, as well as undisclosed turbocharged engines. Previous rumors have suggested that a small Dodge would carry the Hornet name.
  • The Dart will soldier on until 2016, with FCA planning to market the car with aggressive leases and better content. 2016 will bring cosmetic changes as well as improvements to the driving dynamics and powertrains. A Dart SRT, with a high-performance turbocharged engine and all-wheel drive, will bow at the end of 2016.
  • A replacement for the Dodge Journey – including an SRT version – will bow in mid-2016.
  • All-new versions of the Dodge Charger and Challenger will bow in 2018 (alongside a new Chrysler 300), with SRT versions arriving at the end of 2018.
  • The Dodge Durango will continue through 2018, though it may disappear to make room for a three-row Jeep Grand Wagoneer.
  • The SRT Viper will become a Dodge again, and carry on through 2018.

FerrariFCA CEO Sergio Marchionne presented Ferrari’s outline, which was light on product plans. Ferrari will cap production at 7,000 units per year, introducing one new model every year. There are provisions to increase capacity to 10,000 units annually, and each model will be on a four year cycle, with updated variants (think 458 Speciale) launched as well. While Marchionne stressed that “Ferrari is not for sale”.

With a volume of 10,000 units, EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) is estimated to be around $1 billion for Ferrari alone, thanks to its three custom car lines (which presumably generates huge margins) and the extremely lucrative revenue stream built into the brand – its merchandising and licensing business. Ferrari licenses its brand to everything from laptops to athletic apparel to model cars, and these are frequently sold as luxury goods. By comparison, Marchionne noted that conventional luxury good companies are often valued at 9x-12x EBITDA – and his presentation made explicit mention of Ferrari’s target of 15 percent gross margin, and an apparent valuation of between 3.3 and 5.4 billion euros.

FiatFiat’s presentation was the most confusing, with the brand eschewing the unidirectional approach taken by the other marques in FCA’s portfolio. A more apt-description is that Fiat is the exact opposite of “One Ford”, with the brand offering distinct product for NAFTA, Latin America, Europe and Asia.

  • Fiat will dump the Suzuki SX4-based Sedici (replaced by the Fiat 500L) and the C-segment Fiat Bravo (replaced by the Fiat 500/Panda).
  • Future product will straddle the line between functional, mainstream transportation with a “cool” bent (mostly in Europe and other developed world markets) and a novel, European brand (NAFTA). This dichotomy was presented in the form of the Fiat 124 and 124 Sport (a family car and a sports car) and the smaller Uno being sold alongside the dramatic, performance oriented Fiat Coupe of the mid-1990s.
  • In Brazil and Latin America, Fiat will shed many of its legacy nameplates, including the Palio, Siena and Linea. They will be replaced with a new A-segment car, a new Uno, a Punto/Palio replacement, a new Grand Siena, a new compact CUV and a new pickup, as well as the Strada small pickup.
  • Fiat will bring the Renegade-based 500X crossover to North America, as well as a “Speciality” product, presumed to be a Fiat/Abarth branded sports car, based off the next Mazda MX-5.

JeepJeep is one of FCA’s profit centers, and the SUV brand will undergo a major re-orientation from a NAFTA-centric maker of rough-and-ready SUVs to a global brand composed of both crossovers and traditional off-road vehicles. Jeep will transofrm from a brand of 800,000 American-made vehicles to one with manufacturing facilities in the USA, Brazil, India, China and the EU, with sales projections of 1.9 million units globally. Jeep will gain 9 new plants in 5 new countries .

  • Jeep will introduce a new replacement for the Compass and Patriot in 2016, consolidated under one nameplate.
  • The Grand Wagoneer will return in 2018 as a three-row vehicle, potentially replacing the Dodge Durango.
  • A new Wrangler and Grand Cherokee will bow in 2017.

MaseratiAlong with Alfa Romeo, Maserati will be positioned as a premium performance brand, with new product offerings. Although the Levante SUV is still on, more details were released about the Alfieri Coupe and Convertible. Maserati is aiming to increase sales from 15,000 to 75,000 units.

  • The Alfieri will offer turbocharged V6 (410, 450 and 520 horsepower), and all-wheel drive. Rear drive will be available only on the lower output V6 model.
  • The Levante will offer 350 and 425 horsepower V6 engines and a 560 horsepower V8 as well as a range of diesels.

Alfa Romeo: After nearly a decade of broken promises, we have yet another Alfa Romeo product plant that is being presented as the savoir of this once hallowed brand. Alfa Romeo’s narrative has always been grander than its financial success, but things are particularly dismal, with sales below 200,000 units and a lineup of just two small, front-drive hatchbacks and a low volume sports car.

As part of Alfa’s latest revival attempt, the brand has been transformed into what it dubs a “skunk works”, akin to what Chrysler wanted to do with SRT – create an independent workshop that is conducive to experimentation and creativity, free from bureaucracy and rigid corporate processes. Alfa’s top bosses are two Ferrari engineers, with a staff of 200 hand-picked individuals, which FCA hopes to expand to 600 by 2015.

  • Alfa is aiming to launch 8 new products by 2018, with a range of 4 and 6-cylinder gasoline and diesel engines. Alfas will be exclusively rear or all-wheel drive.
  • The first new vehicle, a mid-size sedan, will bow in 2015. From there, a full-size sedan, two CUVs and a new “speciality” car will debut by 2018.
  • The Mito and Giulietta compacts will die.
  • FCA is aiming for 400,000 units by 2018, including 150,000 units in the United States.

RamAs one of FCA’s other big profit centers, Ram is a key brand for the company, but exists largely in the NAFTA region. The half-ton trucks will see a refresh in 2015, along with a redesign in 2017, with heavy-duty trucks getting freshened in alternate years. Aluminum will likely not be a part of the new trucks, as Ram feels that the diesel half-ton truck is competitive against Ford’s aluminum RAM, and has been downplaying the durability and cost-effectiveness of the aluminum F-150. On the commercial vehicle front, a small Ram ProMaster City, based on the Fiat Doblo, bows this year.

Powertrains and Architectures:

While auto makers like Volkswagen, Toyota and Nissan are moving to radical solutions for platform consolidation, FCA’s plan showed little evidence of any move to substantially combine existing product architectures. Currently, FCA has 18 vehicle architectures, with the top 4 platforms accounting for just under half of total volume, 12 architectures representing 95 percent of volume. By 2018, this number will shrink to just 15 architectures, with the top for accounting for 70 percent of volume, and 9 architectures accounting for 95 percent of volume.

Proportionally, this is not much of a reduction, and it lags far behind Volkswagen’s strategy of just 4 modular “kits”. FCA also lacks the level of scale and volume that VW has, which would make it easier to absorb the costs and inefficiencies that come with having so many different architectures. FCA discussed its goals of bringing down costs via better purchasing practices, more shared components (like lighting, HVAC systems and interior pieces), but their plan for increasing efficiencies via shared architectures was markedly less sophisticated than much of the competition. Given the importance of achieving significant economies of scale in the future (a topic that Sergio Marchionne frequently expounds on), it was surprising to see FCA unveil a plan that is already behind the times relative to the larger OEMs that it must compete with.

On the powertrain front, FCA is downplaying the importance of fuel cell and EV powertrains, introducing EVs for regulatory compliance in the USA. Plug-in hybrids will trickle into the lineup in future, as will mild-hybrid technology like start-stop systems and Belt Starter Generators. FCA dismissed fuel cells as a non-viable alternative, and said that CNG and diesel will play a role in world markets more than in NAFTA. FCA will continue to buy emissions credits in the interim.

FinanceWhile much of the presentation material was focused on global issues, two things stood out.

  • FCA will continue to use Santander as its captive arm, and will not start a new one.
  • The overall tone regarding subprime financing was bullish, with executives dismissive suggestions of any systemic issues.

Sales and Global Markets: Separate presentations were conducted for Asia, Latin America, Europe and NAFTA regions.

  • In the NAFTA region, FCA sold 2.1 million units in 2013, and is projecting a steady increase in the U.S. SAAR, rising to 17 million units by 2018.  By that time, FCA is looking to sell another 1 million units in the NAFTA zone and increase exports by 33 percent to 380,000 units. However, no capacity increases were discussed for NAFTA, and Marchionne commented on his distaste for two-tier wages in the UAW, suggesting that profit sharing was an option in the future. Difficulties negotiating with organized labor could spell trouble for FCA’s plans.
  • In Europe, FCA has seen sales decline by over half since 2010, while capacity utilization has declined from over 100 percent to around 67 percent – a dangerously low level for a volume auto maker. Fiat’s home market of Italy was among the hardest hit, and Europe’s 13.8 million vehicle market in 2013 is at its lowest levels since 2007. FCA now has to reposition Fiat not just as an Italian mainstream brand, but one that fits the current paradigm where “cool” budget brands like Dacia and premium brands like Audi are stealing market share with their offerings that encroach on the turf of volume vehicles. Higher margin brands like Jeep, Alfa Romeo and certain Fiat products (like the 500) are their weapons of choice, as FCA aims for an increase from 1.1 million in 2013 to 1.5 million units by 2018.
  • In Latin America, FCA is well established in Brazil and Argentina, with multiple assembly plants in the two countries running at over 100 percent capacity. FCA expects the market to grow from 5.9 million units this year to 6.9 million units in 2018, with most of that growth coming from Brazil, a country where Fiat is the closest thing to a national brand. Jeep is also expected to be a strong player, with Brazilian production of the Renegade expected to start in 2015. FCA is planning to increase sales from 900,000 units this year to 1.3 million units in 2018. Fiat is expected to account for 1.1 million units, Jeep for 200,000 units and other brands making up the remainder.
  • Asia, India, Australia and other Pacific markets are also being given increasing attention by FCA, with China remaining the dominant market at 28 million units. FCA expects India to overtake Japan as its second largest market by 2018, with 5 million units annually. While FCA projects an increase from 200,000 units in 2013 to 1.1 million units by 2018, on the back of strong sales of Jeep crossovers in India and China, as well as a wide new range of Fiat product. The only question is – how will they pay for all this new product?


FCA’s day-long meeting was an anomaly in the industry, providing car enthusiasts with a detailed look at future product offerings, and intense discussions of FCA’s various brands and their respective visions. No other OEM is so candid with their upcoming debuts, and FCA deserves praise for setting a positive example for other OEMs.

But dig a little deeper, and many important questions remain answered.

  • FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne is one of the biggest advocates for the necessity of economics of scale via increasing volumes, yet his plan for reducing the number of architectures looks amateur compared to the extremely aggressive plans laid out by archrival Volkswagen. While VWs global volume was 9.7 million units in 2013, it is paring down its architectures to just 4. Meanwhile, FCA, which sold 1.5 million units globally in 2013, will have 15 architectures and volumes of 5.7 million units worldwide. Compared to VW, Nissan, Toyota and even General Motors (which has a sophisticated set of architectures for its global products), FCA’s strategy seems bloated, if not obsolete, from Day 1.
  • FCA is all-in on the internal combustion engine, and is only just dipping its toe into the water of plug-in vehicles, with a plug-in hybrid. EVs are solely produced to appease regulators, and fuel cell vehicles are not in the cards. Even long-time advocates of the internal combustion engine have some kind of ZEV program (such as Hyundai, which has a fuel-cell program). This is a risky gambit, with significant upside and downside potential. Many EV programs aren’t going as well as OEMs had hoped, but FCA could be left in the dust in terms of R&D.
  •  FCA is dangerously reliant on both Jeep and RAM for their profits. A 2008-like combination of spiking gas prices and a downturn in the economy (especially housing starts, which are a key driver of pickup sales) could leave FCA exposed to both falling demand for gas-guzzling trucks and have a severe impact on the high numbers of FCA vehicles financed via subprime rates. These less credit-worthy borrowers would likely be the first to default on their payments, and a mass repossession of FCA vehicles could be another blow at an inopportune time.
  • There has been no mention of how the substantial increase in NAFTA sales will come without any additional NAFTA capacity (something Sergio Marchionne has previously sworn off). Jeeps imported from Italy and Brazil (and even China) could be an option, but booming sales of Ram trucks couldn’t be built anywhere else. Marchionne’s comments about his distaste for two-tier wages could also spell trouble for his hourly workforce when it’s time to negotiate their contracts in 2016.
  • Who is financing all of the(mostly Fiat) new product earmarked for Asia? And why all this talk of Ferrari’s value if the company is not for sale?
  • Is Alfa really going to sell 150,000 units (volumes comparable to Audi) in America? Even the most dewey-eyed Alfa diehards in the industry find that to be a bit of a stretch.

Marchionne and FCA have been known to say one thing and then completely change direction, miss deadlines and dodge questions about missing deliverables (the 9-speed Dart is the automotive world’s Jimmy Hoffa). But they’ve also presented an admirable turnaround for a once-ailing car maker, even when the rest of the world was prepared to write them off. Yes, one may argue that Marchionne and Fiat bought Chrysler’s assets for a song, and that the road has at times been rocky. But a decade ago, plans for Jeep’s global expansion, Ram’s possible conquest of GM trucks and a thriving line of Chrysler and Dodge products would have been the stuff of only the most zealous Mopar fan. It’s now a very real possibility.

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New or Used: Can One Car Last Through Five Kids? Fri, 18 Apr 2014 22:58:29 +0000 brady1

I currently have three cars and I feel a hankering to buy a fourth. My wife has bought into the idea, now it’s just a matter of what to get.

The particulars:

- Five kids between the ages of 5 and 15…

- Active duty military with seven (7!) moves since 2005 with a couple more likely over the next several years
- Three current cars are all paid for
- Commute is 35 highway miles each way and will be that way for at least the next 18 months and maybe longer
- Car #1 – 2006 Honda Odyssey with ~120,000 miles (bought new)
- Car #2 – 2007 Honda Accord 5 speed with ~83,000 miles (bought used)
- Car #3 – 1969 Jeepster Commando that’s been in my family since 1973.

Our oldest turns 16 in a few months and we’d like to get a vehicle that the kids can all drive over the next 13 years. Note that I said ‘a’ vehicle as we keep our cars a long time and don’t intend on getting another car for the kids to share. One and done.

What should that fourth vehicle be? I see really only two paths that make sense.

First option: Get a car that pushes 40+mpg to ease the pain at the pump my commute causes. Possible vehicle: my Dad is selling his 2011 Jetta TDI 5 speed wagon this fall and I have dibs, if I so choose. This option would mean that the kids would drive the Accord, which we’re fine with.

Second option: Get something that can double as the kids’ car and that we can use to tow the Commando on our future moves. This means I would keep commuting in my Accord, which is also fine. Budget is about $7K max and we’ll pay cash.

We are leaning strongly towards getting a third gen 4Runner (’96-’01) with a V6, 4×4 and tow package as the min requirements. Manual is highly desired but not required. There are several for sale where we live (north of LA) and examples with 150-175k miles can be found for around $5k, although most are automatics. Reviews and 4Runner forums seem to portend good news regarding longevity with relatively straight forward maintenance required. My fear? My vehicle aperture isn’t nearly wide enough and that there are lots of other good options out there that we’re not considering. Whatever the fourth vehicle ends up being, there isn’t a requirement that it be able to carry all seven of us.

I leave it in your capable hands. What does your magic 8 ball say? (It better not say to buy a Panther, ’cause it ain’t happening!)


Steve Says

I like your first option the best.

If your kids learn how to drive a stick (good move there!), they will eventually get a far better vehicle in the marketplace as they get older and more independent.

As a car dealer circa 2014, it amazes me how so few people know how to drive a stick these days. When it comes to older vehicles, I find that sticks will go for about 15% to 35% cheaper than their automatic counterparts with a few notable exceptions

I still buy a lot of em’ for retail, and although they sit at my lot for longer periods of time, they also attract customers who are far more conscientious about maintenance and upkeep. This helps me when it comes to financing these rides. Since a car that is well kept tends to have fewer issues.

As for option 2, yes, the Toyota 4Runner has an excellent long-term reliability record. But let me throw in an alternative that will cost thousands less and have a solid reliability record as well.

I would consider a Mitsubishi Montero  from the early 2000′s. If you buy one with the 3.5 Liter, they are virtually bulletproof, and the kids will benefit from a higher seating position.  The gas mileage will remain abysmal. But in the real world the 3.5 Liter in the Montero will get you a vehicle with about half the miles of the 4Runner for the same price, and the reliability of that particular powertrain is solid (<—click).

Maintenance history is critically important when buying older SUV’s because a lot of them are neglected and inevitably hot-potatoed in the used car market . So get it independently inspected and only opt for ones that have a strong maintenance regimen. Otherwise you will also be buying someone else’s problems.

Good luck! Oh, and if you decide to not buy an older SUV, I have a beige on beige Toyota Solara with a V6, no CD player, and a hand shaker in between the front seats. I’m thinking about naming it, “The Rolling Leper” in honor if it more or less being an unsellable car.

If you don’t have to tow, go find the west coast version of a low-spec Solara. In a non-rust climate like central California, I think a car like that would probably be the optimal fit.

All the best.

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Capsule Review: Jeep Cherokee Take Two Thu, 27 Mar 2014 15:12:20 +0000 photo (13)

The problem with a “take-no-prisoners” approach to evaluating new cars is that when you’re the only one adopting a particular stance, it can get pretty lonely – even your own readers begin to doubt you. My initial review of the Jeep Cherokee was a great example of this. Most reports are fairly positive – and indeed, there was plenty to like about the car, as my own review mentioned – but many of the car’s flaws were glossed over or simply not mentioned. On the other hand, we at TTAC gave you the unvarnished truth about the Cherokee – and Chrysler was gracious enough to let us review the Cherokee again.

On the launch program in California, there was some confusion over whether the vehicles were pre-production or production units. This time, there was none, and it showed in the overall fit and finish of the Cherokee. The unsightly stitching on the steering wheel? Gone. The wobbly console? Not quite perfect, but less wobbly than before. Like the newly released Chrysler 200, the fit and finish, particularly of the supplied interior components, is very nicely executed. Next to an Escape, CR-V or RAV4, the interior of our Cherokee Limited tester was undoubtedly a cut above the others. If nothing else, Chrysler has managed to carve out a real leader with the UConnect 8.4, offering the best infotainment system along with excellent tactile controls.

Judging from my test example, Jeep has made strides in other areas that previously came up for criticism. After a harsh winter of volatile temperatures, our local roads have been mutilated by potholes and divots, but the Cherokee handled them with aplomb. It would be a stretch to call the ride “plush”, but the little trucklet felt much more sedate than it did on the launch loop, and if FCA plans on selling these in world markets, it’s a good indication of how it will fare on the roads of Europe and developing countries. Similarly, the ZF 9-speed was far less frenetic in its operation, and felt better equipped to handle the more-than-adequate power of the 3.2L Pentastar V6. The major disappointment here was the rather dismal fuel economy.

Driving mostly in heavy stop-and-go traffic, I netted just 15 mpg, despite slow speeds and a rather gentle foot (helped by the much improved throttle calibration – another bone of contention at launch). One can chalk that up to the (literally) freezing temperatures, winter tires, all-wheel drive or my incompetence as a vehicle reviewer. I had assumed that a V6 would be a more economical alternative to a larger turbo 4-cylinder such as the Escape 2.0T, which is known for delivering sub-par fuel economy in the real world. Apparently not. The EPA rates the AWD V6 Cherokee with Active-Drive II (included on my tester) at just 19 mpg around town, so perhaps the results aren’t terribly off base. This is also one heavy CUV, weighing in at over two tons, thanks to the sophisticated AWD, the V6 engine and the hearty CUSW architecture.

Of course, some of my original complaints still remain. The brakes, which I initially compared to a damp dishrag, are still weak, and seem to engage only when the pedal is millimeters away from the floor, as if the whole system was in bad need of bleeding and some new fluid.

The other problem, which is literally impossible to change barring a total redesign, is the rather cramped rear seat area and small cargo compartment. Having driven every vehicle built of CUSW, I realize that this is something that is endemic to this particular architecture, but the Cherokee especially is the kind of “lifestyle” vehicle that should be able to carry people and property with minimal fuss. Nearly everyone who rode around in the back found it cramped, especially if they were above 5’10″. Cargo room is tight, with just 24.8 cubic feet of space in the back – by comparison, a CR-V has 37.2 cubic feet, which makes all the difference when you’re doing a Costco run.

The last major annoyance was something that was not readily apparent on the launch, though it proved to be a real bear around town. The Rear Cross Path detection system would seemingly brake the car for no reason when parallel parking or backing into a stall at just a touch above crawl speed. While I can understand the good intentions and legal rationale behind this programming, it simply turned into annoyance in the real world, where experienced drivers can perform that at more than a snail’s pace. If I were to buy one, I would do whatever I could to opt out.

Having had the chance to experience the car on my home turf, and gain a better understanding of its capabilities, I was able to warm to it more than I did in September. In a segment full of anodyne entrants, the Cherokee is something unique, both aesthetically and mechanically. Unfortunately, it’s missing a few key elements in terms of practicality that would make it a true class leader.

Nonetheless, I’m far more optimistic after having driven the Chrysler 200. It seems that CUSW improves with each iteration: the Dart’s weak point was the powertrain. The Cherokee had a number of initial quality teething issues. The 200 still needs a bit more space for rear passengers. If the pattern of continuous improvement sustains itself, then the next-Cherokee could be a serious player in the market. Not that the Cherokee isn’t competitive, but you better be willing to accept some compromises for the sake of non-conformity.

Chrysler provided the vehicle and a tank of gas for this review.

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Jeep Considering Power-Retractable Top For Fourth-Gen Wrangler Mon, 10 Mar 2014 14:00:16 +0000 002-jeep-wrangler-polar-edition-1

Rumored to be in the early stages of development, the fourth generation of the Jeep Wrangler could have an power-retractable top as one of a few items designed to attract more customers to the off-roading legend.

Road & Track reports the top would be aimed as a high-end option at those who can’t be bothered undoing the soft-top or disassembling the hard top found on current models. Also on the agenda are removable doors and a frame redesign aimed at delivering a smoother ride while retaining the Wrangler’s solid axles.

What won’t make it to the new Wrangler? The folding windshield and rear-mounted spare tire, due to safety concerns and an overall goal of saving weight.

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Manley: Renegade Will Appeal To U.S. Customers Despite Italian Roots Fri, 07 Mar 2014 20:30:39 +0000 2015 Jeep Renegade Trailhawk

According to Jeep boss Mike Manley, the Italian-built Renegade will appeal to the off-road brand’s United States customer base despite its Italian roots, especially in Trailhawk form.

Automotive News Europe reports the main concern regarding the Renegade is its off-road capability, which Manley believes will be resolved once the trail-rated Trailhawk arrives in showrooms in 2015 along with the rest of the Renegade family. He also noted the design language expressed by the entry-level Jeep, as well as its footprint, echo that of the CJ family:

The Renegade’s footprint is similar to one of the CJs. It’s much more Wrangler. We’re very pleased, and I think it will work well in the United States.

Though Manley remained silent on the subject of sales figures for the Renegade and platform sibling Fiat 500X, supplier sources expect a total of 280,000 units annually between the two, with Jeep moving 150,000 units and Fiat accounting for 130,000. Price of admission will be announced by Jeep in Q4 2014 for the U.S., Q2 2014 for the European market.

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Smaller Jeep To Slot Beneath Renegade Thu, 06 Mar 2014 14:00:39 +0000 Jeep-Renegade-18

Though the Jeep Renegade already bowed at the 2014 Geneva Auto Show, the off-road brand has plans for not only a fullsize SUV similar to the discontinued Commander, but an A segment SUV slotted beneath the Renegade, as well.

Auto Express reports the A segment vehicle could possibly be underpinned by the next-generation Fiat 500, though would face greater engineering challenges than those faced by the Renegade — built upon Fiat’s “small-wide” archecture underpinning the upcoming 500X — to make it Rubicon-ready, as Jeep boss Mike Manley explained:

We couldn’t make an SUV off of “small wide” as you can’t get the ground clearance. It was completely changed by Jeep engineers so now it’s “small wide 4×4″ architecture.

The A segment Jeep could also aid in bringing the brand into compliance with increasing CO2 emissions standards, though the improvement drive — much like the vehicle itself — will be a long, hard road to hew:

There’s relentless pressure to reduce CO2 and there’s much more for us to do. We’re trying to stay away from complexity and improvements are slowly coming.

Meanwhile, Manley’s focus is toward the Grand Wagoneer, which will slot above the Grand Cherokee. The fullsize SUV will boast room for seven and “be bigger than the old Commander” made between 2006 and 2010.

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Geneva 2014: Jeep Renegade Live Shots Tue, 04 Mar 2014 15:29:11 +0000 Jeep-Renegade-23


Our photographers bring you live shots of the Jeep Renegade on the floor at Geneva. They even took snapshots of a Diesel Trailhawk, the best combination that we won’t get in North America. Gallery after the jump.



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Editorial: The Jeep Renegade Is Geneva’s Most Important Debut Tue, 04 Mar 2014 05:23:30 +0000 2015 Jeep Renegade Trailhawk

What you’re looking at is a four-wheeled ATM for Fiat Chrysler. The Jeep Renegade is a unibody crossover based on a Fiat car platform. To satisfy the Jeep faithful, it has an available all-wheel drive system with a 20:1 crawl ratio, 8.7 inches of ground clearance and a rock crawling mode as well as a 2,000 lb towing capability with the 2.4L 4-cylinder (Euro-spec diesels get as much as 3,300 lbs). None of that matters as much as the fact that it’s an entrant for Jeep in one of the automotive world’s fastest growing segments.

The Renegade will be they key to FCA’s plan to turn Jeep into a “global brand”. The Geneva unveiling is just the tip of the iceberg, with the car expressly designed for the needs of world markets – two diesel powertrains, a 1.6L making 118 horsepower and 236 lb-ft of torque, and a 2.0L making 140 or 170 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque will be offered outside North America. Both the diesels, the 1.4L Multiair engines and the naturally aspirated 1.6L gasoline I4 get start-stop, with a 6-Speed DCT offered on certain 1.4 models.

The wide range of powertrains will help the Renegade stay competitive in Europe, Asia and other markets where high fuel costs and taxes on displacement and CO2 emissions. Other features like blind spot monitoring, forward collision warning and lane departure warning, as well as UConnect, offer advanced active safety features in what is typically a value segment.

Vehicles like the Dacia Duster and Ford Ecosport have been more no-frills, valued priced affairs. The Opel Mokka and Renault Captur offer more content, but both feature the “amorphous blob” aesthetic so typical of most entrants in this segment. The Renegade, on the other hand, looks like nothing else. Practicality aside, buyers in the small crossover segment are looking to make a statement, rather than opting for the same old B and C-segment hatchbacks – especially in emerging markets.

In many ways, Jeep can thank Fiat for what is essentially a Panda 4×4 dressed up in Carhartt jeans and Red Wing boots. Fiat has provided the platform, the powertrains, the assembly plant and the understanding of what it takes to compete in world markets. But only Jeep could make the Renegade so desirable, with its just-right proportions, Wrangler-esque design cues, and the halo effect of the Jeep brand.

The Renegade looks to be a rare synthesis of the best parts of the Fiat-Chrysler partnership. It is the right product, delivered at a time when the automotive market cannot get enough small crossovers. FCA’s biggest problem will be finding enough capacity to build them.

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Jeep Renegade High-Res Photos Mon, 03 Mar 2014 18:52:02 +0000 Jeep-Renegade-2015-14


Carscoops is the latest to blow the lid off the embargo. 34 photo high-res gallery after the jump.


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Here’s What Most Jeep Renegades Will Look Like Mon, 03 Mar 2014 14:44:13 +0000 2015-jeep-renegade-2


Courtesy of Jalopnik and Autoguide, we have an exterior shot of the Jeep Renegade in non-Trailhawk trim, as well as an interior shot. Gallery below.

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2015 Jeep Renegade: 9-Speeds And A Manual-Only Powertrain Sun, 02 Mar 2014 19:30:34 +0000 2015-jeep-renegade


Our friends at Jalopnik published the first decent photo of the new Jeep Renegade – which shares a platform with the Fiat 500X and replaces the Jeep Patroit/Compass – but kudos to Autoblog for publishing tiny thumbnails of the Trailhawk’s rear end (above is the Trailhawk) and the standard model’s front end. Both are in the gallery below. UPDATE: Two more photos added.

Our sources tell us that North America will get a 1.4T powered version with a 6-speed manual as the sole transmission option. The other engine will be the familiar 2.4L 4-cylinder with a 9-speed automatic. Reports claim that some kind of removable roof will be an option as well.

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Japanese Brands Dominate Consumer Reports Rankings, Detroit Three Struggling Wed, 26 Feb 2014 15:30:54 +0000 2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Exterior-004

Though quality and performance have improved as of late for products made by the Detroit Three, they still have a ways to go to beat the Japanese brands dominating Consumer Reports‘ current rankings.

Automotive News reports seven of the top 10 brands rated for overall reliability and road-test performance as conducted by the magazine are Japanese, while the two top Detroit brands — Buick and GMC — tied for 12th; Ford and Jeep tied for last place.

The top-rated brand for the second consecutive year was Lexus, scoring 79 out of 100 for their lineup deemed “quiet, plush, and very reliable” by Consumer Reports. Following the luxury brand were Acura, Audi, Subaru and Toyota (tied for fourth place), Mazda, Honda, Infiniti, Mercedes-Benz, and BMW and Volvo (tied for 10th).

As for where the remaining Detroit Three brands landed, Chrysler took up the 14th position while Chevrolet, Cadillac, Dodge and the aforementioned Ford and Jeep rounding out the bottom of the rankings behind Nissan, the lowest ranked Japanese brand in a tie with Volkswagen for 19th.

Ford and Jeep’s dead-last ranking is the result of technology woes for the former’s MyFord Touch infotainment system, and a “crude and outdated” lineup — including a Grand Cherokee suffering from weakened reliability, and a Cherokee that the magazine says “isn’t that competitive” — for the latter. Ford, in particular, is a “sad story” according to CR director of auto testing Jake Fisher:

The Ford Fusion, not only does it look, but it drives like a good European sports car. It really does. The problem is the reliability, and that’s what’s dragging down that brand.

Meanwhile, Fisher notes that if General Motors had “a whole lineup of Impalas,” considered the best large sedan based on road tests conducted by the magazine, the automaker would be at the top of the rankings. Overall, Fisher believes the Detroit Three as a whole are “going the right way” in terms of reliability and performance.

Regarding individual models, the Ram 1500 was rated the Best Pickup over the Silverado/Sierra twins in part due to the lack of reliability information for the latter two, while Hyundai captured the trophy Best Mid-Size SUV for their Santa Fe, Subaru holding off the Honda CR-V with their Forester for Best Small SUV, and Tesla, whose Model S holds the highest overall score ever given by the magazine: 99 out of 100, takes home the Overall trophy.

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Ur-Turn: Saturation Dive Into The ZF 9-Speed Tue, 25 Feb 2014 18:03:02 +0000 fig1

A TTAC reader is an engineer with a major powertrain company, and offered his extremely detailed analysis of the ZF 9-speed. Consider this an AP level course in powertrain engineering.

Before we dive right in to the 9-speed gearbox, let’s take a quick refresher on the basics of gears. The simplest gear set consists of 2 parallel gears mounted on 2 parallel shafts. Shown in Fig.1 is a gear set with a 20 tooth drive gear on the right and a 30 tooth driven gear on the left. For this gear set the speed of the driven gear is 1.5 times lower than the drive gear, and assuming no frictional losses anywhere, the torque on the driven gear is 1.5 times higher. This gear set has a ratio of 1.5:1. This type of a gear set is usually not favorable for packaging since it requires 2 parallel shafts, and there are largest separating forces that push the 2 gears apart which means that the bearings supporting the shafts have significant radial loads on them, in addition to an axial load if the gears are helical.


A simple planetary arrangement is shown in Fig.2 - this is the basis of most modern automatic transmissions. A simple planetary gear set has 3 members mounted on concentric shafts, the innermost gear is called a sun gear, the outermost gear is called the ring gear, and there are evenly spaced planetary pinions that mesh with both the sun gear and the ring gear. These pinions are free to spin around their own axes, and ride on the planetary carrier, which is the third concentric member. The radial forces in a planetary gear arrangement cancel out due to symmetry, and therefore the bearings supporting these shafts do not see much, if any radial loads. Since the 3 shafts are concentric, there are significant packaging advantages as well. This particular planetary arrangement has a 30 tooth sun gear, 72 tooth ring gear, and 21 tooth pinions. For this gear arrangement to go together, the difference between the number of teeth on the ring gear and the number of teeth on the sun gear has to be an even number, and the sum of teeth on the ring gear and the sun gear has to be divisible by the number of planetary pinions. In this case, the sum of the number of teeth on the ring gear and the sun gear is 102, which is divisible by the number of planets (3), hence this is a feasible gear arrangement.

Since there are 3 members in a planetary gear set, one member has to be grounded (i.e. forced to stand still) for there to be a ratio. There are 3 possible ground members (the sun gear, the ring gear, or the carrier), and 2 possible input and output combinations possible for each ground member, therefore this arrangement can provide 6 different speeds. If the number of teeth on the ring gear is denoted by R and the number of teeth on the sun gear is denoted by S

  1. If the ring gear is grounded by the use of a brake, the sun gear is the input and the carrier is the output, the
    ratio of this arrangement is S+R/S or 3.4, i.e. the carrier is rotating 3.4 times slower
    than the sun gear. Therefore in this configuration output is underdriven with respect to the input. If the carrier is
    the input, and the sun gear is the output, then the output is overdriven by the same ratio.
  2. If the sun gear is grounded, the ring gear is the input and the carrier is the output, the
    ratio of this arrangement is S+R/R or 1.417, i.e. the carrier is rotating 1.417 times
    slower than the ring gear. If the carrier is
    the input, and the ring gear is the output, then the output is overdriven by the same ratio.
  3. If the planetary carrier is grounded, the sun gear is the input and the ring gear is the
    output, the ratio of this arrangement is R/S or -2.1875, i.e. the ring gear is rotating
    2.1875 times slower than the sun gear and in the opposite direction. Therefore this arrangement
    provides a reverse underdrive gear. If the ring gear is the input and the sun gear is the output,
    this arrangement becomes a reverse overdrive, and who needs a reverse overdrive?

If 2 of the members are tied together, then the ratio of planetary becomes 1:1, as all members turn at the same speed. A single planetary gear with the right set of clutches and brakes to change the ground member, the input, and the output can provide 5 forward ratios and 2 reverse ratios with 9 shifting elements (6 clutches and 3 brakes). Of course it is not be possible to package the all 9 of the shifting
elements in a practical manner, and the 5 forward ratios are 3.4, 1.417, 1.0, 0.7, and 0.29 – not very useful even if it were possible to achieve them. In engineering literature, a stick diagram”is often used as short-hand to describe planetary gear sets, for the planetary shown in Fig.2 the stick diagram is shown in Fig.3.


Planetary gears can also carry a lot more torque in the same packaging envelope because the load is distributed between multiple gear meshes. Need more torque capacity than the 3 planet gears can provide? You can nearly double that by putting in 6 planets on the planetary carrier.

Now on to the ZF 9 speed – there is a high level presentation available from the ZF website. This presentation has some detailed CAD renders in it, but not a whole lot of detail on the exact function of the transmission. The 2 CAD renders are shown tell us that there are 4 planetary gear sets in this transmission.


Image converted using ifftoany

Image converted using ifftoany

From these CAD renders the patient among the B&B can see that the one ring gear visible in Fig.4 has 86 teeth, and the 4 planets have 22 teeth, which means the sun gear that is not fully visible in the view is a 42 tooth gear. Fig.6 shows the stick diagram representation of the ZF 9 speed transmission, with 4 planetary gear sets numbered 1 through 4 from left to right. If one were to spend 10 minutes gawking at the cut-away transmissions that ZF does bring to trade shows, the following gear specifications can be established quite easily

  1. Gear set 1 has a 42 tooth sun gear and a 110 tooth ring gear
  2. Gear set 2 has a 42 tooth sun gear and a 110 tooth ring gear
  3. Gear set 3 has a 91 tooth sun gear and a 133 tooth ring gear 1
  4. Gear set 4 has a 42 tooth sun gear and a 86 tooth ring gear


The input is the output shaft of the torque converter, which is not shown in Fig.6. The torque converter is obviously driven by the engine. The planetary carrier of gear set 1 is the output to the final drive of the transmission. The following elements are rigidly linked

  1. The 2 sun gears for gear sets 1 and 2 are connected together, in fact it is one wide gear
  2. The ring gear for gear set 1 is linked to the planetary carrier of gear set 2.
  3. The ring gear for gear set 2 is connected to the planetary carrier for gear set 3, which is also the
    planetary carrier for gear set 4
  4. The sun gear for gear set 3 is linked to the sun gear of gear set 4

Additionally, the 6 shifting elements work as follows

  1. Dog clutch A in connected state connects the sun gear of gear set 3 and the ring gear of gear set 4 to the
    input shaft
  2. Friction clutch B couples the sun gear of gear set 4 to the input shaft
  3. Friction brake C ties the sun gear of gear set 4 to ground, i.e. stops it from turning
  4. Friction brake D ties the ring gear of gear set 3 to ground
  5. Friction clutch E couples the planetary carrier of gear set 2 and the ring gear of gear set 1
    to the input shaft
  6. Dog brake F ties the sun gears of gear sets 1 and 2 to the ground

Now on to the gory calculations

First gear

First gear is achieved by engaging shift elements A, F, and D. In this configuration gear sets 1, 2, and 3 are used in series as underdrives, gear set 4 is just along for the ride. The sun gear of gear set 3 is connected to the input, and the ring gear is grounded, which leads to the carrier going slower than the input. The carrier is in turn connected to the ring gear of gear set 2, while the sun gear for gear set 2 is
grounded, causing the carrier of gear set 2 to be further under driven. Since the planetary carrier of gear set 2 is connected to the ring gear of gear set 1, and the sun gear of gear set 1 is connected to ground as well, the transmission output is underdriven even more. The overall ratio is


Second gear

An upshift to second gear is achieved by turning friction brake D off and engaging friction brake C, i.e. shift elements A, F, and C are engaged. Now gears sets 1, 2, and 4 are used as a cascaded series of underdrives. Operation of gears sets 1 and 2 is identical to the first gear, gear set 4 acts as an underdrive, while gear set 3 is along for the ride now. Gear set 4 acts as an underdrive because the transmission input is connected to the ring gear, the sun gear is held stationary by brake C, and the planetary carrier is the output. This leads to a ratio of


Third gear

The upshift to third hear is accomplished by releasing brake C and engaging clutch B. This operation causes both the ring gear and the sun gear of gear set 4 to be connected to the input, therefore the planetary carrier also turns at the same speed as the input. Since the planetary carrier of gear set 4 is connected to the ring gear of gear set 2, they both turn at the same speed, i.e. the input speed. The operation of gear sets 1 and 2 is unchanged, and they act as cascaded underdrives, yielding a gear ratio of


Fourth gear

By releasing clutch B and engaging clutch E, the transmission up shifts to 4th gear, i.e. shift elements A, F, and E are engaged. This action connects the ring gear of gear set 1 to the input, while the sun gear is connected to ground, setting up a straightforward underdrive ratio of


At this point, the 4 gear ratios have been achieved by leaving the 2 dog” elements engaged, and
cycling through the 4 friction elements – and the shifts between these gears are therefore expected
to feel normal”. At this point, the vehicle is going at 30-35 mph and the shift to gear 5 is coming
up, and things get a little interesting.

Fifth gear

To achieve fifth gear, dog brake F needs to be disengaged. This now leads to a brief torque interruption because as brake F is disengaged, the transmission is in Neutral and engaging the frictional element B prematurely would just lead to wear and tear on the transmission for no reason. At this point the transmission ECU and engine ECU are working in tandem to get this upshift done as quickly as possible. The ratio calculation is fairly trivial though, all 4 gear sets are turning at the speed of the input. Why? Because engaging elements A, B, and E means that

  • The ring gear and the sun gear of gear set 4 are connected to the input, i.e. the planetary carrier
    spins at the same speed as the input
  • Consequently, the sun gear and the planetary carrier for gear set 3 are spinning at the same
    speed as the input, i.e. the ring gear gears for gear sets 2 and 3 are turning at the same speed as
    the input
  • Through shift element E, the carrier of gear set 2 is turning at the same speed as the input,
    therefore the sun gear of gear set 2 (which is also the sun gear for gear set 1) is spinning at
    input speed
  • Since the ring gear and the sun gear of gear set 1 is turning at the same speed as the input,
    the planetary carrier which is the transmission output is turning at input speed

The ratio therefore is quite simply


Sixth gear

So far, things have been pretty simple but now the magic begins where planetary gear sets are going to act as mixer” modules, i.e. the input and output turn at different speeds, but the reacting or grounding member is also turning at some speed. The upshift to sixth gear is achieved by releasing clutch B and engaging brake C. This causes gear set 4 to act as an underdrive just like second gear, therefore ring gear of gear set 2 is turning at a speed which is approximately 1.5 times slower than the input speed. The difference between second gear and sixth gear is that brake F is disengaged andclutch E is engaged, which means that the common sun gear for gear sets 1 and 2 is spinning at approximately 1.85 times faster than the input. This sets up a kinematic state for gear set 1 where the ring gear is turning at the same speed as the input but the sun gear is turning at 1.85 times the speed of the input, therefore the carrier has to spin at approximately 1.25 times faster than the input speed – overdrive!. Since the B&B do not deal in approximations, the exact ratio is


Seventh gear

As sixth gear shows us, an underdriven ring gear of gear set 2 sets up an overdrive, seventh gear kicks it up a notch by underdriving the ring gear of gear set 2 even further. This is accomplished by releasing brake C and engaging brake D. The sun gear of gear set 3 through clutch A is connected to the input, while the ring gear is connected to the ground via brake D, which means that the carrier spins 2.46
times slower than the ring input, and the carrier is connected to ring gear of gear set 2. Therefore gear set 3 is in the same kinematic state as it is in first gear. This sets up a kinematic state for gear set 1 where the ring gear turns at the same speed as the input, but
the sun spins at a speed that is 2.85 times higher. Therefore at 2000 rpm engine speed, the sun gear of gear set 1 is spinning at 5700 rpm. A dog brake has essentially 0 parasitic losses, while a friction brake would have cost about a 0.2 horsepower drag. The ratio is


Eighth gear

Eighth gear is achieved by closing brakes C and D at the same time, while disconnecting clutch A. At this point in time, the torque levels are low enough that in my humble opinion only the most discerning driver would be able to feel the torque interruption. This causes gear sets 3 and 4 to stop turning entirely, therefore the ring gear of gear set 2 is grounded. This causes the sun gear for gear sets 1 and 2 to spin faster – 3.65 times the input speed and sets up another over drive ratio


Therefore at 2000 rpm engine the sun gear for gear sets 1 and 2 is turning at 7300 rpm. But we are
not done yet – things turn faster.

Ninth gear

If underdriving the ring gear of gear set 2 set up 2 overdrives, and grounding it set up another one, there is only one thing left to do, spin it backwards. Ninth gear does exactly that – by connecting clutch B and by the virtue of the fact that the ring gear for gear set 4 and the sun gear for gear set 3 are linked together, we have a very interesting kinematic state. Sun gear of gear set 4 spins at the input speed, the carrier for gear set 4 spins backwards at approximately half the input speed, and the ring gear turns backwards at 1.2 times the input speed. This means that the ring gear for gear set 2 is now spinning backwards at approximately half the input speed. The sun
gear of gear sets 1 and 2 is now turning at 4.95 times the input speed. If the car is going at 85 mph in the 4 cylinder engine variant at an engine speed of 2000 rpm, this little gear is going at any eye watering 9500 rpm. The use of a dog brake at F instead of a friction brake is saving 0.4 hp or about 0.4 miles per gallon, the ratio is


The interesting thing about the Ninth gear is that there are parts in the transmission spinning
backwards to send you forward.

Reverse gear

Reverse and 9th have the same kinematic states for gear sets 3 and 4, i.e. the ring gear for gear set 2 turns backwards at approximately half in the input speed. But gear sets 1 and 2 are switched over to an underdrive configuration which is identical to the configuration in First gear, i.e. brake F is engaged. The ratio is therefore



The only real kink when shifting up through the gears is that the 4 to 5 shift might have an objectionable torque interruption, but otherwise this transmission is going to be well behaved. Downshifting from say 7th to 5th is no problem as well, but a downshift from 8th or 9th to 5th is hard work for this design. As an example if the engine speed is 1700 rpm and a shift from 8th to 5th
is required (passing on 2 lane highways), clutch A has 1700 rpm of slip that needs to be reduced to 0 before it can be engaged. So as a first order of business brakes D needs to be disengaged (100 milliseconds), then engine ECU needs to blip the throttle” to increase speed to approximately 2350 rpm (another 400 milliseconds), then engine power needs to be cut and dog clutch A needs to be
engaged (another 100 milliseconds), and now you are in sixth after a half a second of no torque at all at the wheels, then another 200 milliseconds of low torque as the transmission finds fifth with a more conventional frictional clutch to frictional clutch shift and your engine speed is finally at the 2900 rpm.

From eighth gear to fourth gear is going to be even more of a contortion, with a torque interruption that is about a second long as the transmission ECU and the engine ECU do this delicate dance required to get both the dog shifting elements to engage. When you are looking to pass on a 2 lane road at 60 mph, a second can feel like an eternity, especially to a driver who has to use those paddle shifters to get into the right gear before executing the pass.

Gear spacing

Another issue that the reviewers (including our own Alex L. Dykes) tend to take note of is the wide spacing between first and second gears. Unfortunately this is a direct result of the transmission lay out. Gear set 3 is pushed to the limit with the ratio, trying to make first gear ratio any lower than 4.7 would make the planetary gear pinion speed unreasonably high. So the first gear ratio is more or less
a given. It would be possible to change the tooth count on gear set 4 to numerically increase the second gear ratio. As a thought experiment, we could change the sun gear of gear set 4 to 46 or 50 teeth instead of the 42 it has, the result?

Gear Ratios with S4 = 42 Ratios with S4 = 50 Ratios with S4=46
1st 4.700 4.700 4.700
2nd 2.842 3.020 2.931
3rd 1.909 1.909 1.909
4th 1.382 1.382 1.382
5th 1.000 1.000 1.000
6th 0.808 0.790 0.799
7th 0.699 0.699 0.699
8th 0.580 0.580 0.580
9th 0.479 0.454 0.467
Rev -3.805 -2.891 -3.308

So a 50 tooth sun gets better spacing between first and second, somewhat worse spacing between second and third, all other gears are largely unchanged, expect that reverse gets screwed up – it is perhaps not low enough for vehicles with off road ambitions. So perhaps a happier middle ground could have been a 46 tooth sun of gear set 4, that leads to a reverse of 3.308 with a second gear ratio of
2.9307. It also gives the transmission an overall ratio spread of 10.065, which sounds better for marketing purposes than the 9.81 that exists currently. This alternate reverse ratio is almost identical to the reverse in the ZF 8 speed RWD transmissions. So this 42 tooth sun gear is a bit of a head scratcher – perhaps keeping the tooth count at 42 saves some money because there is manufacturing tools can be shared between this sun gear and the sun gear for gear sets 1 and 2.


I give a Colbert Tip of the Hat” to the engineers at ZF for this design. It is obviously a clever design but one that could cause some drivability surprises to an average driver, though durability-wise, I see nothing that causes major concerns. Design and development of a transmission concept like this ranges from 20 million dollars
to 50 million dollars, so the ZF management had some serious cojones to OK this design, it is a risk that has paid off to an extent. I know of many a management teams that would have said no, but time will tell just how compact other 8/9/10 speed transmissions and just how good a decision this is..

Some CAD renders
available on line show a 78 tooth sun with 114 tooth ring gear, this is a kinematic
equivalent of 91 tooth sun gear and 133 tooth ring gear

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