The Dodge China Cars (2008)
December 8, 2008 update
Chery has been officially ruled out as a partner — as Allpar said in November 2007.
June 16, 2008 update
The Hornet has been taken from China and moved to Nissan, according to Inside Line; it will share a platform with the Cube and Renault Clio. The Hornet will first be built in Japan, and if successful, will move to Mexico, according to Inside Line. The two companies had said that they would produce a vehicle "based on a unique Chrysler concept and design." The term "design" can be used to describe the appearance of a vehicle rather than its engineering; likewise, "platform" is technically merely a series of measurements. This leaves no small degree of uncertainty regarding the car's architecture and powertrain.
November 20, 2007 update
Chrysler executives have decided that Chery platforms are inappropriate for a vehicle to be sold under the Dodge or Chrysler name. Over summer and fall 2007, job postings went out for engineers to work in China, presumably for this car; it appears now as though Chrysler will be engineering a new small car using some Chery engineers but mainly their own staff, and will not be rebadging or putting a new “top hat” onto an existing Chinese car. The 2008-introduction schedule is no longer applicable. Chrysler also recently hired Phil Murtaugh, who grew General Motors’ operations in China and then worked with Chinese automaker SAIC, to run the company’s Asian operations. This puts prior plans in doubt, though it is still possible that China will be producing the C412 (as noted later), which has already largely been engineered and should be ready for sale starting in 2008.
June 7, 2007 Dodge China car update
We now have confirmation that there will be three basic China cars. First is the volume seller, the C412, also to be sold by Mercedes as the A-Class and B-Class. It was jointly engineered by Chrysler and Mercedes, in an environment where Chrysler could actually win some fights, and should be less costly to build than the current money-losing Mercedes small cars. The first Chrysler and Mercedes versions of this car are both due in late 2007 or 2008; the Chrysler version will apparently be built in China, while the Mercedes will be built in Germany or East Europe.
This car is around 13-14 feet long and five feet wide, and Chrysler expects it to sell nearly as many copies as the Neon or PT Cruiser, starting in model-year 2008. This vehicle is due soon, and is the long-anticipated entry-level car. As far as we can tell this is closer to being a Chrysler than a Chery, and unless the company is working with surprising speed or pushing back the production date, the design is probably set in stone and will not benefit from the company’s freedom from Mercedes.
Another China-car under consideration is a considerably smaller vehicle, around 11 feet long and five feet wide, with for export sales only; this one is essentially a rebadged Chery, as far as we can tell, but it might have a custom "top hat" (the visible parts, inside and out). This one is to be introduced in 2009, as a 2010 model, to fill out the Chrysler product line. Then we have the infamous Hornet, to be sold as a niche car in the United States with a low projected volume.
Automotive News is now almost certain that the Chery-based Chrysler vehicle, presumably to be sold as a Dodge unless Plymouth makes a sudden, welcome, and unexpected return, will be a moderately re-engineering of an existing Chery car, built in kit form in China, and sent to Mexico and South America to be assembled for sale in those markets. They said the vehicle might not be sold in the US. We think they might have gotten the high-volume Mercedes-Chrysler creation mixed up with the export-only smaller-car.
Ralph Gilles told Automotive News’ Rick Kranz that creating a Dodge (or Chrysler) from the Chery vehicle would be “a very light design exercise” in the near term, with little differentiating the two. The vehicle to be imported will be Aveo-sized. It is worth noting that Gilles is a stylist, and that even if the outer sheet metal looks the same, there could be very substantial differences between the Chery and the unnamed Dodge.
On March 17 we wrote: According to a Wall Street Journal article, the first Chery car made for Chrysler Group will be a hatchback, based on the A1. The A1 has exterior styling by Bertone, and interior styling courtesy of a British company; but these would likely be jettisoned in favor of a new Chrysler-engineered "top hat." According to previous reports, Chrysler will be re-engineering much of the A1 to increase quality and suitability for American audiences. This might have changed, however.
China car impressions
“TripleT” wrote: I took a few minutes out of a very busy schedule to take a look at the new Chery A1 [while in China]. It was the dealer’s first one and was not to leave the showroom, so I have no comments on how it drives. First, the quality is way up from previous models. The body panels are tight and the car feels more solid Aveo. There is room for 4 Western Adults with its high seating position. The interior it laid out well and attractive. The dash is nice more content than a Yaris but the material is cheap. Standard China ABS plastic for most of the interior components. Looks nice but I think an upgrade in materials would be in order for long term durablility. Some sort of co-polymer could be used with the existing tooling would go a long way to upgrading the feel.
What really gave it away as a Chery was the seating. In no way would it fly in the West or even South America. Felt like the headrest could be pulled off with a quick tug. The urethane in the seats was of a very low density. The fabric was very cheap. They would have to be replaced with proper seating. The other issue was the pedals are to close together. I could easily bridge the brake and gas / brake and clutch with one foot.
Overall it was a much nicer and attractive car than the I expected. Replace the seats and I would take it over a Aveo in a heartbeat.
The Dodge China car will be built
A B-sized car will be made in China by Chery Automobile for Chrysler to sell under the Dodge brand throughout the world. The car will have a Chrysler engine, imported to China from North America, and will ride on a basic Chery chassis and architecture with a Chrysler interior and sheet metal. Chery or Chrysler may design the suspension - we don’t know yet but believe it will be Chery perhaps with Chrysler tuning. Quality will be worked on by Chrysler, maker of the most reliable DaimlerChrysler cars. An artist’s impression of how the car may look, based on the Chery chassis and past Dodge styling cues (we suspect they’ll use the “truck face” rather than the “Intrepid face”), is above, with a suggested name in case Dodge is open to suggestions.
A prototype is due “very soon,” according to Jason Vines, with cars arriving for sale in the United States and Canada within calendar-year 2008. The primary competition will be the Japanese-built Yaris and Fit, and the Korean-built Aveo (which includes GM engineering). Volumes are expected to be small in the US with most sales in Europe and other markets. The idea of building cars in China appears to have originated with Daimler’s Ruediger Grube.
Chrysler’s Tom LaSorda noted that Chrysler currently exports powertrains and other components to China for the locally built-and-bought 300C, Sebring, and minivan, and pointed out that Chrysler would not make a B-car without using a foreign automaker’s engineering and production facilities, so that, in his opinion, domestic jobs are not being lost. GM’s Aveo, styled in the United States (to look like a small Chrysler Town & Country), had most of its engineering done in Southeast Asia, as did Ford’s Aspire; while the only other America cars in this size were designed in Japan (unless you count the Mini, which is German).
Malcolm Bricklin is still expected to import Chinese cars to the US as well (he was originally to import Cherys).
I know what the globalists say about a world economy helping everyone, but that's a matter of ideology and faith, not fact and provable research. When I see an astronomical trade deficit and factories closing down left and right so we can move the world's entire industrial base to China, I worry about America's future, and whether we have one — especially since China has decided it doesn’t want to be beholden to an American company, and has (with neighbors) started working on their own computer operating system to replace Windows and MacOS! And then there’s the American deficit to China. If they ever stop taking our debt, or start selling it, they could destroy our economy, because they are still a major owner and buyer of American debt. Indeed, they could do that just by buying a lot of oil, due to their size.
Then there's the questions of training your replacements, intellectual property theft, supporting police states, and so on which come specifically from doing business with China.
The defeatism in engineering bothers me - as Tom LaSorda said, "their ability to engineer and design in those segments." I thought Chrysler was to be the engineering lead, according to Jason Vines? Well, maybe that's on the engine, sheet metal, and interior, which appear to be all that Chrysler will be involved in. Not quite "only 25% Chinese" (how do they count that? I wonder). Or maybe Chrysler will be more involved than they’re letting on. The press seems to think Chrysler can’t engineer its way out of a paper bag, except in big trucks, so maybe they’re playing up to the less intelligent (or lazier) reporters. I can’t forget how a bunch of “big truck” people did the Neon, which had they included a better head and exhaust gasket would have stayed a “miracle car” in reputation. It outran everyone else, it out-handled everyone else, it was bigger than everyone else, and it made more money. Had its small number of weak points been addressed earlier, it would probably be challenging the Civic in sales today.
Tom LaSorda did point out that the trade deficit will, from Chrysler's point of view, not be tipping completely in China's favor with this deal. Chrysler produces engines, transmissions, and other parts for cars assembled in China - the 300, minivan, and soon the Sebring - in the United States and Canada, and ships them over. So the China car will balance the trade, in his view. That makes sense.
By the way, whatever shows up, the Hornet is still an independent project.
Concept cars are often made so a car’s feel can be evaluated, problems can be foreseen, and reactions of the public can be judged. Some concepts test specific ideas, colors, controls, or materials — either subtle or out of proportion, to hide what’s being tested. Some are created to help designers think “out of the box.” The Challenger, Prowler, PT Cruiser, and Viper were all tested as production-based concepts dressed up to hide the production intent.