2001 Chryslers, Dodges, Plymouths, and Jeeps
2001 was a bad year for the former Chrysler Corporation. A continued, public stream of contemptuous statements about Chrysler from Daimler’s leaders, starting the year before, led to a series of sales declines, and in response, costs were cut... and cut again... and cut again; each cost cut led to more sales losses as cars were viciously de-contented.
One fifth of the company’s employees were dropped (19,000 union employees and 6,800 white-collar workers); the product development budget was cut by 10%. Chrysler's highly-praised, rapid, flexible development system (inherited from AMC) was replaced by an expensive, slow one from Mercedes. The profits of the 1990s were pointedly ignored as Daimler leaders claimed that only Mercedes could save Chrysler, whose cash reserves had been spent on Daimler’s stakes in Mitsubishi and Hyundai. Officials said that the Stratus and Sebring replacements would be based on Mitsubishis (the results were not well-received), and work began on a new engine to be shared by all three companies.
Still, the new Chrysler PT Cruiser (originally created as the second car in Plymouth’s revival), was hot — people paid far over list, waited in line, and flocked to PT enthusiast web sites, tracking cars bought sight-unseen as they made their way by rail to local dealers. The new Hemi, for trucks, was another high point; it cost less to make Hemis than any recent Chrysler V8, yet they were more fuel-efficient, quiet, durable, and powerful. PT Cruiser had been conceived under Chrysler, but was delayed by Daimler, under an edict that it had to get a five-star safety rating; that added an estimated 400 pounds to the design, but did prevent the need for a more extensive redesign as time went on.
The Jeep Cherokee, which was supposed to have been replaced first by (what became) the Grand Cherokee and then by (what became) the Jeep Liberty, was finally dropped in June 2001, after a last burst of sales. It had lasted nearly a year longer than intended, running down the assembly line at the same time as its two replacements. It could conceivably have lasted longer, but Liberty’s strong sales limited Cherokee capacity.
The Dodge Powerbox concept truck debuted; it was seen as being the basis for the next-generation Durango at the time, though few, if any, styling cues remained when Durango appeared. Powerbox bore no small resemblance to a blunter version of PT Cruiser.
The team that would create the SRT cars was formed in 2001, a decision that would have overwhelmingly positive results.
All models got new keys with logos moulded into the key head.
Plymouth was down to two cars, the Neon and Prowler; Voyager minivans became Chrysler Voyagers. The Prowler gained an optional "black tie edition" with black over silver paint, a stripe, silver instrument panel bezel, and silver floor mats. All Prowlers gained Dynamic Suspensions adjustable shock absorbers and keys with the Prowler logo. Orange joined the other colors. After Plymouth was dropped in June, Prowlers became Chryslers, but sales plummeted with the name change and the car was dropped entirely at the end of the year.
The loss of Plymouth led to the creation of a base model Town & Country and the Chrysler Town & Country EX, with the 3.8 liter engine, power rear liftgate, and other features, at a price of about $27,000.
The last Plymouth, a Neon — true to the brand’s roots — rolled off the Belvedere assembly line on June 28, 2001. The brand was created on June 14, 1928.
Dodge’s trim levels were renamed, making them both more and less confusing; base models of the Intrepid and Neon were SE, luxury went to ES, sport/luxury was R/T. The “Dodge. Different.” slogan, borrowed from “Apple. Think Different.,”was replaced in the summer by “Grab life by the horns.”
2001 Dodge Neon
For 2001, the Neon R/T (ACR hadn’t been made in 2000) came with a new SOHC Magnum engine whose 150 hp and 135 lb-ft of torque roughly matched the old DOHC engine. EPA fuel economy ratings were 28 city, 35 highway (manual transmission), the same as the standard engine; the differences were a different camshaft, electronically controlled dual-plenum intake, and dual exhaust/mufflers which include a 2.25 inch diameter exhaust pipe and stainless steel header. The R/T had fog lights and black headlamp bezels, as well as a color-keyed instrument panel, and low-back bucket seats.
The Neon ACR returned, after being absent in 2000, with the 150 hp Magnum engine and shared-with-R/T trunk lid spoiler. A revived Sport was based on ES, with a rear spoiler, 16-inch aluminum wheels, and performance suspension. Leather and side airbags were optional on the Neon ES and Neon R/T, after being available for years on Chrysler Neons (not sold in the U.S.)
Neon thus went SE, ES, R/T, and ACR. The SE was actually fairly well equipped, with standard Goodyear Eagle GA tires (P185/65R14); ES went to P185/60R15 Eagle LS tires and R/T came with P195/50R16H Goodyear Eagle RS-A tires. Sixteen-inch wheels were large for the era. The ACR came with P185/60R15 Goodyear NCT3 tires. All models except the SE came with ABS brakes.
Running changes from July 2000 included a modified manual transaxle with new second-and fourth-gear ratios, and child seat anchors. For 2001 rear center passengers got a shoulder harness, and people locked in the trunk got an emergency trunk lid release.
According to J.D. Power, the Dodge Neon beat the Honda Civic in initial quality, overall, beating the Ford Focus in feature and accessory quality, while equalling the Focus in every other measure. However, in late 2000, Chrysler announced that the Neon would be phased out and replaced by something based on Mitsubishi’s cars. This process took four years, and the result was the Dodge Caliber.
Dodge Ram van
Though the Ram van was officially near the end of its life, Chrysler had made a few improvements. There was a new trailer towing package with a hitch (class IV receiver), seven circuit wiring harness, and 7-to-4 circuit wiring adapter.
Interior changes included new colors, new tilt and fixed steering columns, a passenger assist handle, and a moulded front headliner. The transmission range was shown in a ditial display, and a chime replaced the buzzer. Front seat belt pretensioners increased safety during a frontal collision.
The B-vans’ long career was essentially ended by the news that the Mercedes Sprinter would be built in the South Carolina Freightliner plant, and sold as a Freightliner in the US; it would eventually be re-labelled as a Dodge (the decision was announced in November after lackluster sales of the Freightliner).
2001 Dodge Ram pickups
The 2500 and 3500 models got standard four wheel antilock disc brakes. The rear calipers had dual pistons, and the ABS systems included electronic variable proportioning for the best front-rear balance.
The Cummins turbo diesel engine got a power boost, up to 235 hp / 460 lb-ft of torque - with a new high output option of a whopping 245 hp / 505 lb-ft of torque (manual transmission only). The manual / Cummins option's cruise control was now fully electronic.
New color schemes were added, along with bright tailgate graphics and child seat anchors. Otherwise, changes waited for the 2002 models, which boasted a higher-power, higher-mileage 4.7 liter V8.
2001 Dodge Caravan
We have a special page for the 2001 minivans, but here are the highlights:
- Industry-first power up and power down liftgate
- Industry-first removable, powered center console
- Power dual sliding doors, allowing manual override, powered by an industry-first inside-the-door motor
- Industry-first power sliding door obstacle detection system
- More powerful engines, including a 3.5 with 230 horsepower, the most powerful minivan engine. The 3.3 went from 140 hp to 180, the 3.8 from 180 to 215 hp. The Mitsubishi 3.0 is gone, simplifying the lineup and making the base Caravan...faster.
- Minivan-first pop-up rear cargo organizer
- Minivan-first three-zone automatic temperature control system
- Split 50/50 Easy-Out Roller Seats¨
- Adjustable pedals
- Side air bags
- Front seat belt pretensioners
- Universal child seat anchors
A 3.5 liter V6-powered minivan had been planned, but was dropped in March; reportedly, some in the company felt customers would be hopelessly confused by having an optional engine that was smaller than the standard 3.8 V6.
Chrysler had finally woken up and realized that it needed to do something other than offer rebates to fight the Odyssey. The result was two new minivan options packages (billed as four new models, though they really are not) - the Voyager/Caravan eC, and the Town & Country/Grand Caravan eL. Despite the InterCap names, the models had a formula similar to the EX - namely, instead of having a high price that is discounted through rebates, they will have a lower price to start, and no rebates.
The eL came with air conditioning, captain's chairs, split rollout seats, storage trays under both first and second row seats, power windows and locks, remote keyless entry, trip computer, three-zone automatic climate control, antilock brakes, and heated/dimming exterior mirrors - at a stunning $24,175. That's an amazing amount of equipment even on a car. Chrysler's base minivans could be purchased for under $15,000 with a four-cylinder (150 hp), making them considerably cheaper than the new Kia Sedona, as well as optioned-out economy cars like the Toyota Corolla LE and Honda Civic EX.
Chrysler unveiled a fuel cell-powered minivan that ran on sodium boro-hydride, a compound related to borax, the naturally-occuring substance used in laundry soap. The van was not intended for production.
The concept Chrysler Town & Country Natrium, named for the Latin word for sodium, had a range of 300 miles. Thomas Moore, a Chrysler vice-president who directed fuel cell research and development, wrote, “there are no hydrocarbons to contribute to greenhouse gas buildup, no smog-producing emissions and the fuel can be recycled.”
Sodium boro-hydride is nontoxic, nonflammable, recyclable and readily available in the United States. It comes in powder form and can be mixed with water to create a fuel mix. In the Natrium, the fuel mix passes through a catalyst that extracts the hydrogen, which is combined with oxygen in the fuel cell stacks to create electricity that drives the minivan's electric motor. The byproducts are water and borax, which can be reprocessed into sodium boro-hydride and reused.
2001 Dodge Intrepid
The base model was renamed Dodge Intrepid SE. 16 inch aluminum wheels were offered as an option on the SE.
New windshield pillar moldings and thicker window glass were introduced for better noise insulation and to manage water better. Keys had a Dodge ram logo. Split folding rear seats with a center armrest (featuring cup holders) was optional on the SE and R/T, and the ES gained new Venice cloth seats. R/T had optional seats and door appliques. Steering wheel audio controls were added for Infinity-equipped models. Another power outlet was in the center console (with bucket seats).
Side airbags were optional. The center rear seat had a shoulder harness, and an emergency trunk release was added (to prevent people from being trapped in the trunk). All engines met low emission vehicle standards in every state.
Available on the Dodge Intrepid ES was the a 3.2-liter V-6 engine that delivered 225 horsepower at 6300 rpm and 225 lb.-ft. of torque at 3800 rpm with the AutoStick transmission. The 3.2-liter engine also benefited from an upgraded cooling module, which was first used in the Intrepid R/T, for additional cooling during extended idle and towing.
Dodge Intrepid R/T had an optional premium radio with cassette and four-disc in-dash CD changer with nine speakers. The Intrepid R/T featured a high-output 3.5-liter SOHC V-6 engine that delivered 242 horsepower at 6400 rpm and 250 lb.-ft. of torque at 3950 rpm, and was complemented by a selectable dual-mode AutoStick transaxle and performance-tuned exhaust.
In handling, the Intrepid managed the obstacle course in almost the exact same time as the Ford Police Interceptor. The Impala had a similar time, taking only two seconds longer in a one minute, 40 second run. The only real standouts in this test were the overachieving Camaro and the terribly underachieving Hummer, which, incidentally, also had the worst acceleration by an amazing margin, the lowest top speed, and the worst brakes.
The Intrepid achieved credible acceleration, trailing the Crown Victoria but only by fractions of a second in every speed group up to 100 mph. The Intrepid, however, had a top speed of 135, higher than any vehicle tested other than the Camaro (the next best was the Ford Police Interceptor). The Intrepid stopped in five fewer feet than the extended-wheelbase 2003 Ford Interceptor, but took ten more feet than the 2002 model.
The one area where the Intrepid really outshined the Ford Police Interceptor was gas mileage. Despite almost identical performance in every measured area, the Intrepid managed to get three more miles out of each gallon - 18 city vs 15, 26 highway vs 22, 21 combined vs 18. This can be an important difference over the course of 100,000 miles. The Impala, however, beat the Intrepid, with 20 city vs 18, 29 highway vs 26, 23 combined vs 21.
A police version based on the Intrepid R/T was created.
2001 Dodge Viper
Viper was hot off a historic win at the 24 Hours of Daytona in 2000. The Viper GTS-R won a class victory at LeMans, four FIA championships, and the American LeMans championship by 2000, when Team ORECA won the 24 Hours of Daytona — overall. They won a third straight LeMans class finish that year (seventh place overall) and ten races in American LeMans.
An optional comfort group, with air conditioning and improved stereo, was available. Four wheel disc antilock brakes were standard. New colors were yellow and blue pearl coat, with optional black center stripes on yellow. Keys had Viper-logo heads. The R/T 10 had an emergency internal trunk release.
2001 Dodge Stratus and Dodge Avenger
The Dodge Avenger nameplate died just as the car got an engine worthy of the name, an (optional) 200 hp Mitsubishi V6, available with a five-speed manual transmission. The Avenger, now called the Sebring Coupe, was built by Mitsubishi from the Eclipse platform. It was pretty quick, but from the inside, it was clearly designed by Mitsubishi, and was in the Dodge lineup solely because Chrysler did not have enough production capability or tolerance for risk to build a coupe that was actually based on the Stratus.
The Stratus Sedan, still an actual Dodge, gained the 2.7 V6 engine, producing 200 hp, used in the LH series, as an option. It was much more refined than in the past.
We have a more extensive page on the Stratus Sedan here.
2001 Dodge Dakota
Four wheel drive vehicles got new electronically shifted transfer cases with a rotary instrument panel control. Sport and SLT models got new 15" aluminum wheels, while special new Tire and Handling options with new wheels and tires were added. The Sport gained a body colored front fascia. All models got new 6x9 side mirrors.
The instrument panel had been redesigned. A new tilt steering column had more positions, and the transmission indicator had a digital display (44RE and 46RE automatics). The optional premium overhead console had a universal garage door opener. Stereo options were improved.
The interior had basically been redone, with more cupholders, compartments, and power outlets, more comfortable / better-padded seats, and leather available on the Quad Cab.
The vent system had been improved with more heating and cooling capacity, two additional outlets, and recirculated air available in bi-level mode.
A battery saver was standard, and a rear window defroster was available on the Club Cab. Front seat belt pretensioners were on the Quad Cab. The optional security alarm had a Sentry Key. The 3.9, 4.7, and (soon-to-be-replaced) 5.9 engines all met low emission vehicle standards in every state.
2001 Dodge Durango
The Durango, essentially a Dakota with an enclosed rear, gained all the changes of the Dakota. A Special Appearance Group, including a running board, was added. The Next Generation 4.7-liter Magnum® V-8 engine and multi-speed 45RFE automatic transmission were standard on 2WD models.
- Variable-delay intermittent rear window wiper system
- Automatic-dimming, heated, power 5x7-inch mirrors - (option on SLT)
- New aerodynamic power foldaway mirrors - (Trailer Tow Group)
- New instrument panel with color-keyed components and surface-mounted controls for radio and HVAC system
- New instrument cluster with engine oil level indicator
- New floor console with three cup holders, armrest, coin holder, tissue holder, pen holder, removable cassette and CD storage bin, cellular telephone compartment, 12-volt power outlet and interior lamp (only with bucket seats)
- Woodgrain trim added to floor console - SLT Plus Group only
- Manually adjustable lumbar support on passenger seat - SLT
- Power passenger seat - SLT Plus Group only
- Power lumbar support on driver and passenger power seats
- Leather front seats include heaters with 2-level temperature control
- Rear HVAC system with separate second and third seat air conditioning outlets and a separate heater.
2001 Jeep Cherokee
The Cherokee lost the underpowered 2.5 liter engine. A new steel blue color came late in the year. Child seat rear tether anchors were added. The sole engine met Low Emission Vehicle requirements. Sales had dropped like a stone, and some believed that Chrysler would not produce the Cherokee through the entire year, but would cancel the line as originally planned.
2001 Jeep Grand Cherokee
The Grand Cherokee got a hefty facelift to deal with increased competition:
- New options and equipment groups were added, including stereo upgrades.
- The 4.7 liter engine came with a 545RFE five-speed automatic transmission, essentially a four-speed automatic with a second overdrive ratio for better highway gas mileage and noise reduction.
- Larger 17 inch wheels were used.
- The 4.7 got a hydraulically driven engine cooling fan which reportedly raised gas mileage.
- Color changes were inevitable. A quarter-turn gas cap was added.
- New seats with gathered leather debuted on the Limited, along with additional color-keyed trim and aluminum-finish cluster dials.
- The Laredo got brushed aluminum instrument panel and clusterstack trim.
- A cargo net was standard for the left quarter trim panel.
- A connector for aftermarket electric trailer brakes was added in the tow group.
- Child seat tether anchors were added.
2001 Jeep Wrangler
The classic remained, for the moment. It was the sole user of the 2.5 liter AMC engine. A redesign loomed, however, and many were apprehensive after seeing the new Cherokee.
- Heavier fuel tank skid plate and quarter-turn gas cap.
- New antilock brakes.
- Long-life antifreeze.
- Quick-removal side steps.
- Thicker, quieter, more durable soft top.
- New tilt wheel mechanism with increased range and finer adjustments.
- Optional "add a trunk" and amplified subwoofer
- Redesigned mini and full console with, respectively, dual and rear seat cup holders.
- Changes to seat materials
- Wider inside rearview mirror
- Changes to controls and instrument panel; intermittent wipers were standard.
- Child seat anchors.
Chrysler launched its “Drive = Love” campaign, a notable flop, in August.
It seems that international versions of Chrysler vehicles with diesel engines were slowly being switched to Mercedes engines, though Detroit Diesel was a subsidiary of DCX. Presumably, Mercedes management was being pressured to show results, and this was a way of transferring cash from profitable Chrysler to meandering Mercedes.
Chrysler PT Cruiser
The “Plymouth Truck” — named in accordance with the long-forgotten PT line of Plymouths — debuted at its first auto show already rebadged. Despite having a clear Prowler inheritance, this car, once to be the second of a full line of retro-styled Plymouths, was badged a Chrysler — though it was intended to be a Plymouth.
The PT Cruiser was named Car of the Year at the Detroit Auto Show and the Leipzig Auto Show; its designer, Bryan Nesbitt, moved to General Motors (eventually heading up design there) after Chrysler showed no interest in his career. Production was boosted almost immediately after launch, and was added at Graz, Austria, in July. The car’s factory was rated by J.D. Power as being the second best plant, worldwide, for DaimlerChrysler, beating most Mercedes plants. The PT Cruiser was one of the five highest quality "premium compact" cars.
Chrysler Cirrus and 2001 Chrysler Sebring
Just as the Dodge Avenger had been folded into the Dodge Stratus, the Chrysler Cirrus was the sedan version of the Sebring. (The names were a trifle inconsistent, since here the actual Chrysler car was being named after the Mitsubishi, which in turn was named after a 1970s Plymouth). See the Dodge Stratus section for details. For the Sebring Sedan, click here.
2001 Chrysler 300M
The Chrysler 300M gained an optional luxury package, with automatically adjusting outside mirrors (which tilt down when driving in reverse) and real walnut trim. Chrome dual exhaust outlets and 17 inch, 12 spoke aluminum wheels had become standard across the line; chrome wheels were optional.
New tail lamps had clear lenses, the latest style. Window opening mouldings were bright anodized aluminum, and the folding outside mirrors had a high gloss. New mouldings around the windshield dealt with water better and reduced wind noise. Inside, radio controls were added to the steering wheel, and the shift knob had a chrome insert. The clock face added “jewel-like wings,” and a winged Chrysler medallion was on the horn pad. Finally, an extra power outlet was added to the center console.
Chrysler built a limited run of its new 2002 300M Special starting November 5. A total of 8,500 Chrysler 300M Specials were built at $32,595 each; Chrysler 300M Special had “ground effects” while height was lowered by one-half inch, while inside the woodgrain dash was replaced with faux carbon fiber, and a 150 mph speedometer replaced the 120 mph unit.
Concorde added audio controls to the steering wheel on cars with Infinity stereos only; the horn had a winged Chrysler medallion. See the Dodge Intrepid for other changes.
LHS had the same changes as the 300M, other than the lack of a Special.
2001 Chrysler Voyager and Town & Country had changes similar to Dodge Caravan.
The Dodge Stratus R/T and Chrysler Cirrus four-door sedans were introduced in Mexico, with a turbocharged 2.4 liter engine rated at 215 horsepower and better suited to the high altitude of Mexico City. The Cirrus was similar to the Chrysler Sebring sedan.
Factories and dealershps
It was a bad year for Chrysler factories.
- Lago Alberto eliminated, production moved to Saltillo
- Brand new Brazil plant at Campo Largo shuttered
- Cordoba plant closed
- Mound Road plant closed
- Pillette Road (B-van) plant expansion stopped and closure scheduled
- Toluca engine and transmission plants scheduled to be closed
- In December, Chrysler announced that it was selling a Dayton, Ohio parts plant
- Work started on selling the advanced Huntsville Electronics division; it would fianlly be sold in 2004
More plants would be closed and more businesses would be sold by the end of the decade.
Chrysler also cut dealer incentives, removed a $50 advertising fee and fuel tank filling fee, cut profit margins on accessories, and cut diagnostic time paid to mechanics.
Chrysler had reversed a long policy and was not only allowing Chrysler, Dodge, and Jeep to be sold in a single store, but was encouraging dealers to consolidate all three brands as part of “Project Alpha.” The company said that, when the new models arrived, they would be differentiated enough that buyers would not be able to immediately say, "Hey, that Dodge and Chrysler are the same!"
Mark Osborne's Hemi-powered Neon R/T became the first NHRA Pro Stock car to break 204 mph barrier. Osborne flew down the Maple Grove Raceway quarter-mile, reaching 204.35 mph - the new national speed record - and doing it in 6.754 seconds, the second quickest time in NHRA history. Osborne had just run the second-fast quarter mile in NHRA Pro Stock history, reaching 203.7 mph. Osborne credited the Hemi engine and the Mopar team's work with the new Neon.
Dodge Parts teammate Darrell Alderman, a three-time Winston Pro Stock World Champion, ran the quarter in 6.788 seconds, their first sub-6.8 second pass. Osborne actually broke Alderman's record, set recently in the Hemi Neon R/T - 202.64 mph. (Thanks for the heads up, Doug Hedrick!)