2009 NYIAS (New York International Auto Show) — Final Report

Saleen Challengers

purple car

The SMS 570 Challenger has new working “red butterfly” intakes, throttle-controlled. Steve joked that you don’t have to street race any more, just rev the engine, the butterflies open, and they back down.

The Steve Saleen-modified Challenger has carbon fiber side skirts with rear brake intakes, front splitter with brake and heat exchanger intakes, and rear diffuser. A six speed manual transmission is used; the final drive ratio is 3.92:1. There are custom aero and interior treatments, a boost gauge pod in the dash, GTX style grille, and black taillight surround. Five hundred will be available — from Dodge dealers.

SMS Challengers

The newly-introduced SMS 570X Challenger has new heads, a new driveline and transmission, and a new radiator; only the block is the same. The Hemi was enlarged to 6.0 liters, using the same supercharger as the 570; bigger tires and wheels are fitted, which required cutting the fenders and adding flares. The result is a 700 horsepower engine with 650 lb-ft of torque. The new supercharger is a custom design, also available on the aftermarket, with six integrated intercoolers. 150 of these will be available from Dodge dealers. (For many more photos and more details, see our SMS Challengers page.)

Steve Saleen and his cars

The Pentastar engine, née the Phoenix engine

According to Frank Klegon (interviewed by Jeremy White), the Phoenix engine has been renamed to Pentastar very recently, due to a hitherto unknown trademark-name conflict.

engine details

Studying the engine, it appears to have a non-interference design, so that a broken timing chain (or leaping over one sprocket) would not cause damage to the valvetrain. In the closeup photo, you can see that there are indentations on the piston corresponding to each of the four valves.


Spark plugs are installed at the end of a length tube. There is a spring running through the length of the tube, from the conventional-looking plugs up to the coils; we do not know whether the entire tube is removed, or (as we believe) the plug is removed via the spring, which is attached to the contact.


The engine accessories have no brackets; they are bolted directly to the block, cutting vibration. Since the air conditioner compressor and alternator are both bolted to the block, a tensioner is used with the serpentine belt to maintain appropriate tension.

The Phoenix engine was designed to be used in a North-South and East-West configuration, depending on the vehicle.

Fiat 500 and 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee introduction

Jim Press - Fiat 500

The 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee was just shown at the New York Auto Show, which will be open to the public from April 10th through April 19, 2009. Jim Press showed up in a Fiat 500, which quietly drove through a door in the backdrop; he parked it on the carpet, talked about how much fun it was to drive, noted that it was Europe’s Car of the Year and one of the best selling cars on the continent, and praised the “marriage” with Fiat. Press pointed out that Fiat and Chrysler do not compete in product or geography, said that Fiat had the lowest carbon dioxide emissions of any major automaker, and praised President Obama’s auto team for quickly approving of the deal.

Jim and Frank

Jim Press also talked about Chrysler's own restructurings, pointing out that the company now had its lowest employment since 1934, though not everyone would consider that a sign of success.

frank klegon and jim press

A new battery factory will be opened in Michigan to produce batteries for the upcoming electric car line, which will share a common battery and motor architecture; Massachussett’s A123 has won the contract to build the needed lithium-ion batteries.

climbing the steps

Finally, Jim stepped aside to let a Jeep Grand Cherokee come on-stage. Powered by the new Pentastar engine, the Jeep quickly climbed up several steep steps, then back down onto the rotating stage. As it rotated, Frank Klegon could be seen inside.


Frank went through the many luxury and safety features of the Grand Cherokee, including its soft-touch surfaces — every surface seems to have a soft touch and a pleasant feel — its high body rigidity, the four wheel drive systems, the all-terrain system, automatic raising and lowering, and, of course, the new Phoenix engine — which was badged Pentastar Engine in its display (and on the engine markings themselves). The Pentastar V6 engine runs on regular gas, is built in Trenton, Michigan, and is rated for 16 mpg city, 23 highway (22 highway with AWD).

phoenix engine


Agile reporter Jeremy White found out that the Grand Cherokee is due for launch in around one year — Spring 2010. He said the leather was very soft, and the back seats were comfortable and soft; the side sculpting is more dramatic in person. Ralph Gilles said that the platform was co-developed with Mercedes (as opposed to being an adaption of the ML as Jim Press implied); it is, indeed, stiffer than the Mercedes ML.

inside the Grand Cherokee

Jeremy noted that the steering wheel on the Grand Cherokee appears to be new to Chrysler; a very similar one, albeit with an unbroken chrome trim ring, is on the advance photo of the upcoming 300C.

The sunroof on the Grand Cherokee is impressive; because of its size, a power shade control is needed.



After the unveiling

Ralph Gilles referred to the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee as “my second baby,” leaving one to wonder whether the first was the 300 or the 2009 Ram. He also mentioned that the character lines in the side are as strong as they can be — to the limits of the metal.

steering wheel

Frank Klegon told Jeremy White that they were still pursuing an SRT version of the Grand Cherokee, but had not made any final decisions.

gilles and grand cherokee

A foray into the Grand Cherokee showed that it had very comfortable front and rear seats, with good rear legroom; the cargo space is also good. The power liftgate is a clever new design, hidden in one of the struts; the large gear assembly of existing units is not visible.

Other cars and trucks

The new Chrysler 300C will also have a much more impressive interior, as shown below. Informally, we were told that the 200C was designed to have identical hard points to the Dodge Challenger, including the wheelbase; this indicates that it was meant to be a production vehicle, since these values would not matter for a show car.


Frank Klegon said that while the A, B, and C segment cars (assuming an A-segment car is coming) would be based on Fiat designs, the “donor” platform for the D segment car is still unresolved. He said that Project D had completed its mission — to determine the need for various vehicle types to be based on a common architecture and platform — and that they had moved on to the next phase, which is determining which platform would be used. A final decision is expected by the end of the second quarter (June 2009).


A brief conversation with the rep in charge of sales, service, and parts revealed that 61% of dealerships are now selling all three Chrysler brands; of around 3,250 dealers, around 1,990 are selling Chrysler, Jeep, and Dodge. Project Genesis, the attempt to have every dealer sell all three brands so unnecessary duplication can be avoided, is still progressing, but without a definite timetable; due to greater economic issues, progress has slowed, but is still ongoing.

  • The 2010 Dodge Ram Heavy Duty line
  • Chrysler 200C concept
  • Dodge Circuit electric car concept
  • Chrysler Town & Country EV concept
  • 2009 Dodge Challenger R/T Classic
  • 2009 25th Anniversary Special Edition minivans

The Circuit has been restriped...


dodge circuit

The truck area is downstairs... and we never learned what the role of the piano player was. The Mopar guys didn’t get a place downstairs, possibly because of their Plymouth-centric display back in 2006.

piano player

Jeep area

battery packs

You can see the Phoenix engine in person; our (many) photos are posted on the Phoenix - Pentastar engine page.

Tickets are $14 for adults, $4 for children under 12, and $2 off for groups of ten or more people. Over one million people are expected. The show hours will be 11 am to 10:30 am except Sundays, when they open early and close early (10 am to 7 pm).

press breakfast

The New York Auto Show is at the Javits Center in Manhattan. Parking lots raise their rates to $40, so take the bus to Port Authority and catch the M42 bus (every 7-14 minutes) westwards. If coming by train to Penn Station, take the A-C-E subway to Port Authority; if coming to Grand Central, take the S shuttle or 7 line. Security is high, so backpacks are not be allowed. Wheelchairs are available and cameras are allowed.

Read about the 2008 New York Auto Show.

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