Chrysler at the 2012 Detroit Auto Show (NAIAS)

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Now posted: Interviews with Pietro Gorlier, CEO of Mopar and head of dealer service, and Reid Bigland, CEO of Dodge. Also see, on dart-mouth.com, a full set of Dart cutaway images.

The 700C

Chrysler 700C concept minivan

In addition to the Dodge Dart, Chrysler quietly unveiled its swoopy-styled Chrysler 700C concept van. There did not seem to be a major event around it — they took away the screens, and there it was. Presumably they want to check customer reactions, but don’t want a concept to overshadow the Dart launch. Sergio Marchionne commented in an interview that this was not necessarily the future direction of Chrysler minivans; it may be a vehicle to test specific design features.

Chrysler people seemed interested in everyone’s impressions, and there a wide range of those, generally speaking in absolutes. The glass treatment and dual door handle garnered some praise, and the rest was more controversial — love it or hate it. Which is not a bad place to be if you’re not the market leader, which Chrysler is. It’s most likely that this is not meant to be a final vehicle but a test-bed for styling themes, some of which started with EcoVoyager, and some of which are likely to be part of the “Chrysler and Lancia shared styling language.”

The Detroit Auto Show In General

Dodge display

For 2012, the Chrysler area was in its usual location in the middle of the show; the Maserati Kubang, based on the Grand Cherokee, sat in the middle of the floor space, underneath a cover but clearly labelled. Ford, as usual, had lots of prime real estate, with the largest display (albeit the same size as GM’s), right by the doors. Ford is more noticeable than GM, partly due to the use of a special blue color throughout the display, an attractive effect.

Ford area

Toyota took up its usual long section in the back, next to GM this year; GM’s area was largely devoted to its Chevy muscle and to Cadillac, while Toyota seemed focused on “value.” Chrysler’s area had numerous pillars marked “Chrysler Technology,” even in the Fiat area; Ford’s had various messages such as “living connected.”  New this year to Chrysler was a series of dashboards, showing off the hot new interiors of the cars without forcing spectators to get into the cars.

Dave and Dart

Thanks to Michelin for once again providing the press rooms, well stocked with power and Ethernet cables.

Kubang launch

Chrysler’s display areas are large, and include white roofs and walls on two ends; white strips on either end show each of the Chrysler U.S. brands, namely, Dodge, SRT, Ram, Jeep, Fiat, and Chrysler. The new Super Bee is on a turntable on the primary corner, facing the entrance; the Charger Redline and 200 Super S both have floor space, along with a Jeep transmission display, various Rams (including Red Wings edition), and a sampling of everything else.

2012 Dodge Dart

The press event was better attended than any Chrysler event we have been to, reflecting a new interest in Chrysler by the media (and the largest media attendance ever recorded by the NAIAS / Detroit Auto Show). There was, indeed, not nearly enough room in the main presentation area for everyone — the first time we have ever seen this — and media were “standing room only” in the outer Chrysler display area, looking at a screen instead of the actual launch.

Dodge Dart tail

Reid Bigland, recently appointed CEO of Dodge, started the Dart reveal. Afterwards, the usual “scrum-then-emptiness” of Chrysler presentations over the past six years did not occur — the stage was packed until hours afterwards. The reveal was shorter in time than most have been, leaving more time for photography and questions, but even then the presentations following Chrysler’s must have suffered from poor attendance.

There were three giveaways for the media — a Dart box that opened to reveal a DVD; a Mopar oil-can-with-spark-plug-flash-drive; and a simple matchbox-sized USB stick with the rest of Chrysler’s 2012 press materials. Overall, a nice, attention-getting set of goodies. Pics of these to come later.

scrum

The Maserati announcement

Kubang launch

Maserati re-unveiled its Kubang, this time for a North American audience. They announced that the engine would be developed internally, by Maserati; we found in conversation with Maserati reps that it was indeed a truly internal project, not an adaptation of an existing Mopar (Pentastar) or Ferrari engine. It will be built by Ferrari, and the Kubang will be built by Chrysler alongside the Grand Cherokee.

Maserati Kubang

On the same day, a new Lincoln was unveiled. It is said to represent the brand’s future styling direction —  a direction opposite to that of Cadillac. While the “standard of the world” has gone to its angular look, dubbed for no apparent reason “Art and Science,” Lincoln is arriving at the fully rounded, contoured look that was justifiably popular during the 1990s. The front of the Lincoln brings up images of classic 1930s cars, as though Lincoln did market research at the Concours d’Elegance. Get used to the look, because it’s likely to spread through the line.

Pietro Gorlier, CEO of Mopar

We spoke for a time with Pietro Gorlier, CEO of Mopar. Some highlights include:

  • 77% of dealers are open on Saturdays for service, nearly meeting the 2014 goal of 80%, and around one third now offer Express Lube.
  • Accessories are accounting for a much higher proportion of sales at dealerships, replacing revenue lost from higher quality cars (fewer repairs).
  • Chrysler is pushing training at the dealerships, not only to increase customer satisfaction by having repairs done correctly, but also because dealers can be more profitable when technicians spend less time diagnosing and fixing problems
  • Mopar now starts designing accessories when the cars are first sketched, and continues to work with the engineers throughout development, so they can find new opportunities for customization. As in the pre-Daimler times, a group (the Serviceability Team) also works with development engineers to keep cars relatively easy to work on.
  • Pietro Gorlier personally reads the customer complaints sent to him and to the other executives, getting “the cream of the complaints.” These are investigated.
  • Mopar is being strengthened as a brand and given more visibility (e.g. the Mopar 10 Charger), and is being taken worldwide. Mopar will in fact serve Fiat brands in the same way it does Chrysler, partly because of the common ground in accessories.

Mopar display

Ryan Nagode on styling the Dodge Dart

One of the designers of the Dart was Ryan Nagode, responsible for interiors of the Dodge, Ram, and Fiat brands (Klaus Busse is in charge of styling interiors for all Chrysler brands — moving there from Ram — and Ralph Gilles is in charge of Chrysler Group styling overall). He said that on the 16 “revised products” released in the last year, the basic design was already set, and they focused on craftsmanship.

On the Dart, they were able to focus on fluid styling and scultping the interior. They started with sketches and clay molds for 3-4 months, a step which some companies have dropped, to get the design they wanted. Rayn said, “We had good building blocks,” including Fiat’s climate control system, which, being vertical (Chrysler’s is horizontal) made for a more efficient use of space — allowing the very deep glove compartment.

sergio scrum

Ryan said they worked hard on color and materials usage, being expressive in the color schemes; they brought back some grays, but unlike earlier cars, they used gray with bright highlights. With all the various option and styling packages, Ryan said the Dart could hit a wide range, from people looking for something fun and sporty to empty nesters down-sizing from a larger car, who might be happier with “more of a tan environment” like the cutaway:

cutaway dodge dart

The ambient lighting comes with the 8.4 inch touch screen, which will be optional on SXT (including Rallye) and standard on Limited and R/T. The 7 inch reconfigurable cluster is on the Limited and R/T. Still, even the base SE model has soft touch instrument panel, console lid, and door panels, using 10-12 mm of foam. “That was key — we didn’t want to make the base model feel like a base vehicle.”

As to cost, Ryan said that the key was to lay out what they wanted up front and work on hitting those zones, then spreading the rest of the money as needed. Where they fell short before, he said, was not having a good plan, then wanting to add later. In this case, they had a plan of the things they knew they needed, no matter what.

Other show news

The Charger Redline concept was brought out again, with a 426 Hemi engine (only for racing/offroad use).

426 Hemi in Charger Redline

charger redline

Yes, they still sell Jeeps.

Grand Cherokee

overflow area

profile

R/T rear

sausage

Super Bee

super bee logo

Dart cutaway

guages

rear seats

Day Two

Charger SRT8

Cobo helix

Dart full dash

Dart underbody

dart underbody service

Darts onstage

imported from detroit

The “Maserati spokesman” in these photos is Harald J. Wester, the CEO of Maserati, Alfa Romeo, and Abarth, and one of the top 20 people at Fiat-Chrysler.

Kubang

Sergio kubang

minivan interior

power wagon

200 super s

srt goodies

The other automakers

escape

hot wheels

lexus

caddy

smart

ubermini

Delta

Chevy Miray

miray

vette

covettes

Corvette

Porsche

sonic

45th anniversary Camaro

Getting to the Detroit Auto Show

Cobo Hall has parking inside, on the roof, and at private garages nearby, along with shuttle service from the Detroit Zoo and other locations; Cobo is also on the People Mover route. If you’re not coming first thing in the morning, the Zoo plus shuttle may be the best way in. The roof lot has reasonable prices, while surrounding private lots are pricier but nowhere near New York standards.

If you live in the area, go to the auto show. It may be the grandest show in the country and the facilities are much better than the press reports suggest.

For more, see Dodge Dart • 2011 NAIAS • Chrysler 700C • Detroit Show: Public DaysNew York Show

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