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|The Wall Street Journal Leaks Chrysler's Future Product Plans|
|Written by Rich Truesdell|
|Thursday, 29 October 2009 04:16|
In anticipation of the big press conference next Wednesday, details of Chrysler's Fiat-directed product plans leak courtesy of The Wall Street Journal.
Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne is expected to clearly outline Chrysler's product plans next Wednesday at an Auburn Hills media event expected to last SIX hours. The current Chrysler models expected to be axed include the Dodge Grand Caravan--with the Chrysler Town and Country taking up the slack, all the shared-platform front-wheel-drive-based compacts including the Dodge Caliber, the Jeep Patriot, the Jeep Compass, and the Chrysler PT Cruiser. All except the PT Cruiser are expected to be replaced with cars and crossovers based on new Fiat platforms.
While the unloved Dodge Nitro is scheduled for extension, no mention was made of its stable mate the Jeep Liberty. The Wall Street Journal says the Dodge Avenger is a goner but doesn't specifically mention its platform mate the Chrysler Sebring, which will possibly be re-born on a Fiat platform for 2012. All these moves come as little surprise except for the apparent decision to discontinue the Dodge Caravan minivan, which traditionally sells in higher volumes than the Chrysler Town and Country.
The materials leaked by The Wall Street Journal were essentially devoid of Chrysler and Fiat's plans for alternative-propulsion vehicles. Over the past 18 months Chrysler has shown a number of extended-range electric vehicle concepts that looked near production-ready. As recently as May, these vehicles were part of the announced product plans that helped the struggling automaker receive the last of its Federal bailout funds as it sped through bankruptcy proceedings. It is expected that next Wednesday Mr. Marchionne will provide more details on Chrysler's hybrid and electric vehicle programs, the fate of its ENVI division, and how Chrysler and Fiat will cooperate and collaborate on the design, engineering, and production of alternative-powered vehicles.
The Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger will be extensively refreshed for the 2011 model year and are expected to arrive next fall. This will lead to some interesting trans-Atlantic platform-sharing opportunities. It appears that Fiat will build up to 50,000 rear-wheel-drive sedans based on the Chrysler 300 architecture in the former Carrozzeria Bertone facility near Turin that it acquired earlier this year for its Lancia and Maserati brands. It will use a new V6 engine that will also debut in the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee. Whether it will share the existing Chrysler 300/Dodge Charger's 120-inch wheelbase or use a shorter version (the Dodge Challenger and the well-received Chrysler 200C concept sedan both ride on a 116-inch wheelbase) still remains to be seen. The 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee, expected late next spring, is the only totally new Chrysler product expected before 2012--when the Fiat-based models will show up in Chrysler showrooms--and shares many elements of its platform with the next Mercedes-Benz M-Class, a remnant of the failed DaimlerChrysler merger.
Confirmation has come that the Fiat 500, a direct competitor to the MINI in the premium subcompact category, will be produced in Toluca, Mexico where the PT Cruiser is currently built and will be sold in Chrysler showrooms. It is likely to be the only Fiat-branded product in Chrysler's US future. As predicted many months ago in Automotive Traveler, Alfa Romeo will make its return to the US market with a three-model lineup to be introduced beginning in late 2011, starting with the 2012 MiTo subcompact. Expected to range in price from $15,000 to $20,000, the MiTo--which many pundits thought too small for the US market--will give the Chrysler-Fiat combine a car to compete with Ford's subcompact Fiesta due to arrive next spring. The second car, expected in calendar year 2012, will be an extended C-segment mid-size car possibly on a platform shared with the next Chrysler Sebring. A third Alfa Romeo sedan, squarely in the mid-size category, is expected to debut six months after that. It is reported that all three will be built in North America.
The big question for Chrysler, who currently has the most dated product lineup in North America, is can it survive until 2012 when the first of the US-manufactured cars and crossovers based on Fiat platforms will come on-stream? This is expected to be among the first questions posed to Mr. Marchionne. How can Chrysler maintain market share in the still-shrinking, hyper-competitive US market with just three new or extensively refreshed products over the next 18 months--the just introduced heavy duty Dodge Ram pickup, the revised Chrysler 300/Dodge Charger sedans, and the all-new Jeep Grand Cherokee? Such is the dilemma facing Mr. Marchionne and his Italian-American management team in Auburn Hills.