By on January 17, 2011

I didn’t get to spend much time with Chrysler’s revamped lineup at last week’s NAIAS, but my lovely assistant did take me on a brief tour of the lowlights: wiggly-jiggly dials, door handles that feel like they’re about to fall off in your hand and other overlooked details. Anyone can accuse me of anti-Chrysler bias, but in the preconception-free words of the light of my life (a non-TTAC-reading architectural historian), the updated 2011 Chrysler Group models were “the weakest bunch of cars at the show.”

Her harsh words were vindicated on the flight home, when a perusal of the latest Motor Trend (February 2011, featuring the news of late November 2010) struggled to justify the first part of its headline COMEBACK!: Can Chrysler Make It Stick This Time? Though MT gave the new ChryCo its best dose of pro-Detroit generosity (for example, determining that the 2011 Charger R/T is a “proper” transmission away from earning E39 M5-like “reverence”), nearly every write-up ended with a question or a qualification. And if MT isn’t willing to definitively say that these products will save Chrysler, who will? Apparently not CEO Sergio Marchionne, who is already hyping the products behind the next door…

Speaking to Automotive News [sub], Sergio noted that Chrysler had hit its 1.6m unit global sales goal for Chrysler Group last year, despite losing .6 percent of the retail market in the US (resulting in about 700k retail sales units). We will have to see what kind of impact that had on ChryCo’s year-end financial results, but Marchionne made it clear that he thinks

We are where we need to be in terms of the path to recovery

But next year will be yet another challenge, as the firm’s five-year plan calls for a 600k-unit bump in global volume based on this revamped lineup of improved (but unproven) products. And, rather than focusing on that challenge, Marchionne instead

flouted the industry taboo that discourages executives from talking about future products.

First up, a Jeep Grand Wagoneer which Marchionne promises by January 2013. That seven-passenger vehicle will replace the departing Jeep Commander, which Sergio savaged, saying

That car was unfit for human consumption. We sold some. But I don’t know why people bought them.

Man, what a hater… So much for his credibility! In all seriousness though, Marchionne sees the new Grand Wagoneer as a V8-powered “upper scale” offering, positioned at a premium to the firm’s top-level SUVs like Dodge Durango Citadel or Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland Summit.

Marchionne will also kill one of Chrysler Group’s two minivans, meaning either the Chrysler Town & Country or the Dodge Caravan will die off when the next generation of Chrysler’s most-successful product arrives in 2014. The killed-off model will be replaced at that time with

some kind of “people mover,” perhaps without sliding doors.

Fiat Multipla? Fiat Doblò? The return of the Dodge Magnum? Your wild-eyed speculation is as good as ours… and we have the better part of three years to debate it!

A long-rumored Jeep pickup based on the Wrangler chassis is also on Marchionne’s “love to produce” list, but because of conflicts with the Ram brand, it would not be sold in North America. So let’s just forget about that one for now…

Marchionne also noted that the Nitro/Liberty family is

the most significant hole in our product portfolio.

Sergio says the decision not to refresh these vehicles for 2011 was a conscious one, and that his execs are about 40 days away from a decision on a Nitro replacement. But, he warned, a Nitro replacement won’t necessarily be a Dodge-branded SUV… so there’s more mystery there.

Finally, and possibly most significantly, Marchionne touted the 2013 arrival of a 9-speed ZF transmission for front-drive products and an 8-cogger for the LX platform. One of the biggest obstacles facing MT’s pro-Chrysler enthusiasm was the continued use of unloveable five-speed autos, and weak fuel economy from the six-speed auto-equipped 200 and Journey. A hybrid 300 is also in Marchionne’s plans for 2013.

All of these developments sound like positive news for Chrysler, and we certainly hope the firms hangs tough for long enough to implement them… but they’re all quite a long ways off. And in the meantime, the real question is whether the new products can realistically generate the momentum needed to keep up with Sergio’s ambitious Five-Year Plan. Having read MT’s testing and interpreted it as a resounding “Maybe,” we at TTAC are anxiously awaiting our chance to find out for ourselves.

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28 Comments on “Marchionne: You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet…...”

  • avatar

    Drove a caravan a couple weeks back. It’s full of little things that grate after any amount of driving. The rear-view mirror angle-toggle didn’t really work. Also, the way they designed the gas pedal means your foot needs to be above the pedal pressing directly down rather than resting on the pedal pressing forward and down. It’s a subtle difference, but it becomes aggravating after the third time you go to accelerate, with your foot resting on the gas, and you press the pedal and get… nothing, because the pedal mechanism isn’t designed to move that way, only down. Given that the pedal sits pretty far off the floor, it seems to me you’d have to keep your foot elevated above the floor at all times to ensure a smooth pedal motion. Something really minor that sort of ruins the driving experience and could have easily been fixed if any design thought went into it.

  • avatar
    SVX pearlie

    Clearly then, we should all heed Marchionne’s advice and postpone any Chrysler purchases until the new models arrive!

  • avatar

    They need to re-create the original minivan for Dodge, with the Chrysler brand being the extended length version.  De-content it as well.  Who really needs two rear TVs?

    • 0 avatar

      A couple of inches of the legroom difference between a Grand Caravan and a standard wheelbase van seemed to be in the driver’s legroom. Really unfortunate. This is a good idea if they can avoid that mistake. Mazda 5 has the same issue with lack of driver’s legroom.

      As far as a family mover without sliding rear doors, it was hard enough to keep one kid from walloping the next car over with conventional hinged doors.  I can’t imagine being successful at it with more than one.

    • 0 avatar

      We’ve got a 5, and the sliding doors are a godsend.  With a vehicle that size or larger, I don’t know why anyone would want anything other than sliding doors.
      I agree that the 5 needs a few more inches in length and width.  That would really open up the interior while still keeping it substantially smaller than todays ‘mini’ vans.

  • avatar

    I kept hearing about the “midsized CUV hole” that Chrysler allegedly has last week, and never once heard anybody utter the word “Journey.”  Too embarassed?

  • avatar

    Like someone else on this board noted last week, it’s easy for Marchionne to dismiss the ‘old’ Chrysler products, he didn’t have any skin in them.
    Let’s see how things shake out in about 5 years when HIS stuff is on the showroom floor. I bet he won’t be so outspoken then…

  • avatar

    I am no Chrysler fan but a lot of people on here and other sites thought Chrysler wouldn`t see the end of 2009 let alone get to 2011 in reasonable shape. They have made it this far it seems probable they will get to the end of the 5 year plan in reasonable shape.

  • avatar
    steve from virginia

    Fiat should simply die and take Chrysler with it.
    Let the Fiat management become farmers. It would be penance. They could clean out the chicken houses.

  • avatar

    Just watching the video, Sergio comes across as much more competent than the former regime at Chrysler and Ackerman at GM.
    One of my two concerns are first Marchionne may not get the importance of Dodge as a brand.  It is the volume brand of Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep.  I still don’t get why Ram trucks aren’t Dodges. Chrysler is almost a dead brand walking in my opinion and yet it is the brand getting the attention.  Chrysler is supposed to be a higher specified, premier brand, that sells to an upper income clientele, but its best seller is a van.
    Just like Ackerman at GM, where making Chevrolet a leader needs to be job one, I didn’t get the Marchionne got that Dodge is a paramount brand and needs to get up to speed quick.
    My second concern is that Fiats may be too damn small for the North American market.  He states that he’ll replace the Nitro, but what Dodge needs more is a competitive C-segment that is sportier than the Cruze and can handle as well as the Focus.  A European A or B segment design is not going to get the job done.

  • avatar

    A long-rumored Jeep pickup based on the Wrangler chassis is also on Marchionne’s “love to produce” list, but because of conflicts with the Ram brand, it would not be sold in North America. So let’s just forget about that one for now…
    I’m not sure if Dodge… er Ram offers the Dakota in a standard cab, but the extended cab version has a wheelbase about 12″ longer than that of the Wrangler Unlimited/J8 military pickup. If they marketed a Jeep pickup as a compact pickup, it might not compete directly with the Dakota, which Chrysler has long marketed as a “mid size” truck.

    • 0 avatar

      The Dakota has not been that big of a seller, its a 4/5 the size of a proper 1/2 ton with the price and fuel economy of one.
      Given the low marginal cost to put a pickup bed on the Unlimited Wrangler you’d think it would be a slam dunk.
      IMHO they would gain far more in conquest sales from those who would have otherwise bought a Tacoma or Ranger than they would lose in Dakota cannibalization.

  • avatar

    OldandSlow makes a good point about Dodge being the volume brand.  A lot of people buy Chevrolets and Fords (and Dodges) not despite the lack of pretentiousness, but BECAUSE OF the lack of pretentiousness.  Look at “slightly pretentious” Mercury – it’s a dead brand now.

  • avatar

    All well and good. But with oil prices at $92 and climbing, Chrysler doesn’t have 3 years to get better, more efficient vehicles on the market. Months, maybe. The only thing keeping them alive is RAM, and maybe Cherokee. The cars, and other vehicles are still awful. Even with their new interiors. And the new V-6.
    This summer could be like that of 2008. If oil goes to $140 again, Chrysler doesn’t survive. OR most of the world economy for that matter.

  • avatar

    I was confused Ed on your first paragraph. I though this story was about Chrysler, not Kia/Hyundai.

  • avatar

    It’s almost as if no one on here reads any other car review magazines, sites – or even TTAC’s own car reviews.

    All of Chrysler’s updated vehicles have been getting fantastic reviews. Charger, Journey, Durango, T&C/Caravan, RAM, Cherokee. They have all gotten great reviews, and almost every review points out just how good the interiors are. Even TTAC commended the T&C on how upscale its interior felt – saying it was much better than any of its competitors. Yet Niedermeyer says they were the worst of the bunch?

    About the only car that Chrysler has updated that is still not-as-good-as-it-should-be is the 200C, and they’re expected to kill that off and replace it shortly anyways. I haven’t seen any reviews on the 300C yet, but I don’t except them to be any different than the rest.

    It is quite obvious that Sergio does understand how important Dodge is. Hence why they have completely revamped the Charger, Journey, and brought brought back the Durango. Dodge is not only the volume brand, but also the sportier, more masculine brand – and their latest vehicles show that.

    As far as the Jeep Pickup goes: “I like that vehicle. I liked it the first day I saw it. There’s a better than 50 percent chance that you’ll get one. Regardless of what Ram says. They’re totally peeved off at the fact that we’re going to have anything that looks like a pickup truck with a Jeep badge on it. I actually think that there’s space for it”. It certainly sounds a lot more likely than you make it out to be.

    Chrysler’s dramatic turn around in so little time is nothing short of miraculous. It has taken Ford 6 years to get where they are now since Mulally joined, yet people are criticizing Chrysler for doing an almost 180* turn around in just 1.5 years?

    IMO, The only one who “ain’t seen nothing yet” is you Niedermeyer. You even said it yourself that you didn’t thoroughly check them out at the show. Everyone seems to love the new Chrysler products – even your own damn staff/contributors like them. If you’re going to continue relentlessly bashing Chrysler, why don’t you go out and *drive* their new products – even rent one if you have to, so you actually have some ground to stand on regarding their current offerings.

    Sorry if I come off rude, I really don’t mean to, but I’m just getting tired of all the Chrysler bashing, when nearly every single other automotive outlet says the exact opposite. I know it’s not wise to cheer-lead Chrysler and say they’re out of the water – when they are far from it actually, but at least give them a chance to try and prove themselves. Give it another year or two, and that will really show whether or not they plan to be a real competitor in the market.

  • avatar

    …amazing as to how something that doesn’t conform to the (distorted) party line “awaits moderation” and sits in the hopper. Alternative viewpoints don’t count I guess.

  • avatar

    Of course the cars aren’t going to live up to the hype in the car rags.  It’s amazing the crap that Motor Trend puts out.  But what’s also amazing is the improvement even the lowliest Mopars are showing after just one year.  Sure maybe they aren’t screwed together as well as a Honda or even a Ford.  But you’re forgetting just how awful the ’10s were.
    Now some of the products, like the Durango/Grand Cherokee and 300/Charger, along with the Pentastar engine started under Cerberus.  But the crash programs to redo the interiors and suspensions was all Fiat.  The results are pretty commendable in such a short timeframe.  It’ll be really something to see the first all-new small and midsize cars.
    And Marchionne is quite the breath of fresh air in Detroit.  I love his candor; calling the Commander “unfit for human consumption” was just priceless.  He despises incompetence and all the upper-level corporate bullshit.  He fired on the spot the manager who suggested doubling the cash for clunkers incentive.  He strikes me as Mullaly, Lutz and Iacocca rolled into one, and that’s exactly what Chrysler needs.
    Even after the revolving door of CEOs and divisional heads, GM’s still run by the same type of fourteenth floor stooges that ran the company into the ground.  Yes, it’s leaner and the products are more competitive, but it’s very much the same company.  But Marchionne turned Chrysler upside down, much like he did with Fiat.  Fiat may not be the strongest automaker right now, but they’re nowhere near the basket case they were at the start of the decade when GM had to spend a billion dollars to, uh, not buy them.
    Conventional wisdom says that GM was the stronger company of the two going into the bailout, and maybe the only one worth saving.  But Chrysler ends up being the only one that was truly transformed by the bankruptcy.  And I wouldn’t be surprised if Chrysler’s the stronger company five years from now, although it may well not resemble the company we grew up with.

    • 0 avatar

      I am glad to see that I am not alone in my assessment of Chrysler relative to GM.  Akerson may be more competent than Nardelli, but I look at it as a difference of degree, not one of kind.  Marchionne has done at Chrysler what was needed at both companies. 

      Chrysler’s 2008-10 products look a lot to me like GMs of around 2002-03.  It took Lutz at GM 5 years or more to bring product up to where it is now.  Chrysler has done it in a year and a half with lots less money. 

      It is true that Chrysler is right now weak on small cars that will sell if gas hits $5.  But this is because Daimler/Cerberus so screwed up the Caliber that Marchionne has decided it is beyond salvage, and better to spend the money on something that has a chance, even if it comes in a year or two later.  I think that Chrysler will do better this year than a lot of people think, particularly if gas stays where it is.  If the new Grand Cherokee is any guide, Chrysler will make some progress this year.

    • 0 avatar

      Akerson<Marchionne, in fact it’s not even close. Akerson has a history of leaving wrecks behind him. I’m much more optimistic about the future of Chrysler compared to GM. They (Chrysler) still have a long way to go but at least they realize just how much better they need to be. GM is like the hustler who thinks he can talk his way out of anything without having to change anything about himself.

  • avatar

    I had the pleasure today of checking out the new Caravan, Durango, and Avenger.
    I was shocked at how improved the interiors were. Shocked. And the features for the price? Even the salesman was commenting. “We have a 2010 right next to it if you want to compare them.” We didn’t.
    The Avenger was amazing. If it had had the red interior, I may have brought it home. But I’m holding out to see if the Charger delivers, and if the SRT-8 model will have a stick. If it will, I will whip out my checkbook.
    Keep at it, Chrysler. You’re bucking the odds and doing the impossible.

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    calling the Commander “unfit for human consumption” was just priceless.
    I’m sure comments like that salve my brother-in-law as he reaches mid-point on his 60 month Commander loan.  I highly doubt he’ll be back to Jeep, however….

  • avatar
    Gardiner Westbound

    “Marchionne touted the 2013 arrival of a 9-speed ZF transmission for front-drive products and an 8-cogger for the LX platform.”
    When even Honda cannot build a reliable 5-speed automatic transmission the prospect of a 9-speed auto built to Chrysler’s price point sets my stomach churning.

    • 0 avatar

      With Chrysler’s new commitment to quality and current ‘price point’ (don’t they have thousands more to put into the vehicle now, free of legacy costs, etc.?) and the fact that ZF is building it rather soothes my stomach.
      But, I guess we’ll see. Same with the 8 speed auto.

  • avatar

    Cruze66 +1. @ gardiner….even though the new trans will be a ZF design it will be built in Chrysler’s Kokomo, Indiana plant making costs a fraction of what they would be if Chrysler bought them as complete units. ZF happens to be one of the world class transmission makers, they supply transmissions for many different cars and trucks. Honda would do well to switch to them.

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