In 1993, Chrysler started showing changes that had been sweeping through the inside of the company. When Francois Castaing had been put in charge of Chrysler engineering, he changed the bureaucratic, slow, compartmentalized car creation process to American Motors’ fast, efficient process; the first result was the Dodge Viper, followed quickly by the new LH large cars (Intrepid, Concorde, Vision, LHS, New Yorker) and then the Neon, the first small American car to earn a profit in many years.
Even as the company pumped out completely new cars and trucks, engineers worked to modernize existing cars, trucks, and vans, including their powertrains, trying to catch up from years of penny-pinching and turf wars. Seeking a way to show their pride in the company, someone brought back the old Chrysler seal, in an updated form; it was used on some Chrysler cars. The pentastar had already come back into use on one fender.
The big news for 1995 was the launch of the 1996 Chrysler Sebring Convertible, a stunning car that was designed from the start to be a convertible — built that way, not made as a coupe or sedan and converted by another company. (The arrival of the Sebring spelled the end of the LeBaron convertible, launched in 1987.) They also launched the 1996 Plymouth Breeze and a right hand drive 1996 Jeep Wrangler.
The 1995 Neon had been unveiled in late 1993, with production starting in January 1994; waiting lists at dealerships were not uncommon in the first months. By early 1995, dealers had some stock on the lots, but some were still selling at straight retail, and discounts were few and far between; there were no rebates. Neon was still hot, with more power than most competitors, better handling than any, and a large interior, with reasonable gas mileage from the five-speed. (The three-speed automatic, which stayed with the car throughout the entire first generation, slowed acceleration and limited fuel economy.)
The LH cars, Dodge Intrepid, Chrysler Concorde, LHS, New Yorker, and Eagle Vision, were still hot, with no direct competitors. The most modern American full sized cars by a large margin, they combined the space of larger cars with the handling of smaller cars. The Concorde had 104.4 cubic feet of interior space, with 16.6 cubic feet of trunk space. The family had a 161 hp 3.3 liter engine (181 lb-ft), with the optional 214-hp 3.5 liter engine (221 lb-ft); both were hooked up to a four speed automatic. With the base 3.3, the huge Concorde was rated at 20 city, 28 highway.
LHS had the 3.5 engine standard, along with various other features; the car boasted a bigger 108 cubic foot interior and 18 cubic foot trunk.
For 1995, Chrysler tweaked the transmission and emission controls, upgraded the remote entry, switched from six to seven tumbler lock cylinders, upgraded the headlights, added a cancel button to the cruise, improved the radio, and implemented black-on-yellow identification to the service check-points.
Grand Cherokee’s 318 (5.2 liter) V8 gained a broader torque curve, thanks to a new camshaft, which boosted torque by up to 30 lb-ft, below 3200 rpm, and raised the peak to 289 lb-ft (15 lb-ft more) — at 3200 rpm, 400 rpm less than with the previous cam. Peak horsepower remained at 220, but the rated speed was 400 rpm lower, at 4400 rpm, so the engine did not need to be revved as high to get power. The result was 3% better acceleration over the first 5 seconds, with a better launch feel, and 8% better gradability in overdrive — 7% better in direct drive. The change also cut valve train noise.
More obvious to buyers was the new Orvis Edition Grand Cherokee Limited at the top of the line; Orvis made outdoor equipment. Grand Cherokee also had standard four-wheel antilock disk brakes on all models, and an optional integrated child seat — not just a booster, but a safer, more secure seat for smaller children; and had larger all-terrain tires in the Up Country package.
Grand Cherokee started with the SE, moved up to Laredo, and finished with Laredo; SE and Laredo were both sold in rear or four wheel drive, with Limited sold as a 4x4 only. The base engine was an AMC six with 225 lb-ft of torque; the optional Chrysler V8 (the first in a midsized SUV) produced 300 lb-ft.
On a somewhat more trivial note, Jeep Wrangler added a new “Rio Grande” edition. Wrangler started with the four-cylinder (123 hp) S, then up to SE and Sahara. Every Wrangler had part-time four wheel drive, with a base manual transmission and optional three-speed automatic.
Jeep Cherokee added a standard driver’s-side airbag. Cherokee’s base engine was an AMC four-cylinder (130 hp), with an optional AMC six-cylinder (190 hp); both had a standard five-speed manual transmission, with a four-speed automatic optional with the six. Cherokee had a choice of part-time and full-time four wheel drive systems.
The 3.5 liter V6 engine (only used in LH cars) was modified to meet Tier 1 emission rules and increase fuel economy, without lowering power or torque. There were three major changes: adding a friction-reducing coating to the piston skirts, increasing the airflow of the intake ports, and adding a larger water pump valley to reduce the flow rate, cutting parasitic drag at high speeds.
The company also provided a progressive action on the throttle cams, so response was slower during low and cruising speed, avoiding a “jumpy” feeling.
The 42LE transmission switched from a dual-row chain (between the output shaft and the final drive transfer shaft) to two single-row chains, with sprocket teeth given an angular offset of 1/2-pitch. The new chain system was quieter, stronger, lighter, and more compact. The snubber material, which cut noise by restricting chain free play, was upgraded from plastic to rubber.
The transmission fluid dipstick was also lengthened by 2 inches and the stick rotated to make it easier to check the fluid.
The 41TE transmission was given a new “overspeed reduction” feature, in software, which downshifted if the car was going downhill, in fourth gear, above the cruise-control speed by over 4 mph, with a closed throttle. The computer waited until the throttle was opened at least 8° by the speed control system before upshifting to Overdrive again, even if cruise was cut off. The upshift was also delayed for half a second after reaching the 8° throttle opening, in case the driver pushed the pedal down far enough to justify going into third; this was done to prevent “busy shifting.”
In addition, software changes smoothed 2-1 low speed, heavy throttle downshifts and kick-down shifts after coasting down in third.
A lower helix angle in the transfer gear set reduced noise. An increase in the helix angle from 27.5 degrees to 32 degrees made the gears quieter by placing more teeth in simultaneous contact.
Cherokee added an optional automatic transmission (30RH) with the AMC four-cylinder engine; it used a computer-controlled lockup torque converter. Ratios were 2.45, 1.45, and 1.00, as in other Chrysler-built 3-speed automatic transmissions.
Chrysler could seemingly do no wrong from 1994 to 1998. Awards for 1995 included:
As Chrysler worked on building its worldwide footprint again, the company repurchased distribution rights in Brazil, Argentina, and Japan, started building Jeep Cherokees in Thailand, opened two new offshore parts distribution centers, started selling cars again in Vietnam and South Africa, and started work on a new plant in Argentina and a new European headquarters in Brussels.
Chrysler sold 2.7 million vehicles in 1995, down somewhat from 1994. The vast bulk of sales were in the US and Canada, where the company maintained its 14.7% combined market share. The net profit was $2 billion, the third highest in Chrysler’s history.
Chrysler had 112,500 employees, up from 111,600 in 1994, and started adding to its new Chrysler Technology Center to house them; they also added 550,000 square feet to it for a new headquarters. Overall, the complex cost $1.1 billion.
The company had paid off some debt, bringing it down to $2.0 billion from $2.4 billion the year before; the company raised dividends and announced a $2 billion stock repurchase.
SCORE — a supplier cost reduction project — cut expenses by $765 million in 1995 alone. Suppliers shared in the savings. 1995 also saw the launch of Chrysler’s internal television network and a computerized job posting system. In addition, while four truck plants made J.D. Power’s “ten best” list for factories, Harbour Report rated Chrysler the lowest-cost producer in North America.
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