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2002 Chrysler news: from the Allpar archives

January 2, 2002: Turbo engines returning to Chrysler?

Visit PTCruizer for some up to date rumors on the possible return of the turbo 4 to the Chrysler lineup.

January 2, 2002: 7/100 warranty extended

It's not the best warranty in the business, but it's pretty darned good. Chrysler has extended the 7/100 powertrain warranty to all Dodge, Jeep, and Chrysler vehicles purchased by March 31, 2002.

January 3, 2002: Crossfire debuts

The 2004 Crossfire, which DCX says "combines American design with German engineering," will debut at NAIAS. The two-seater, to be built by Karmann in Germany, has a Mercedes suspension and drivetrain, including the Mercedes 3.2 liter engine with a six-speed manual for five-speed automatic transmission (the Chrysler 2.7 and 3.5 apparently lost out). The 3.2 makes 215 horsepower and 229 lb-ft of torque, which will be applied to the rear wheels. Four-wheel antilock brakes are standard, as are electronic stability control and all-speed traction control. We will post photos and specs shortly, but this is essentially a reskinned Mercedes.

January 3, 2002: Watch for a stolen silver 1964 300K

Keep an eye out for a recently stolen 1964 Chrysler 300-K Silver Edition two door hardtop, silver with black 1/2 vinyl top and black interior. [May have been repainted by now]. Badly faded paint with some primer spots, vinyl top partly gone. Washington "Collector Vehicle" licence plate #CV00736 (plate number appears to only say "00736" at first glance). VIN #8443206477. Has 300-K 413 with correct "V41 HP" code. If spotted do not approach, report location to police. San Francisco PD case number is #020 009 117.

January 3, 2002: Chrysler sales <b>rise</b> in December

Genciu wrote: Ram truck sales are up 9% from last year to 30,253... guess some people were worrying about the new design for naught. Also up were: Sebring Sedan +45%; Sebring Coupe +6%; Sebring Convertible +94%; Concorde +6%; PT Cruiser +16%; Voyager +8%; Town & Country +51%; Wrangler +7%; Grand Cherokee +3%; Dodge Neon +20%; Stratus Sedan +40%; Stratus Coupe +7%; Dakota +10%; Caravan +30%.

Overall: Dodge Division +6%; Chrysler Brand +19% and Jeep +4%. Liberty sold 12,763 (not bad; but not great).

Note that last year, Chrysler still had Plymouth, so without seeing the numbers we can't tell whether this is a net gain or a net loss. A large percentage gain for Chrysler brand is not as substantial as a large percentage gain for Dodge, for example, because they have less sales to start with. Still, December looks like a good month so far - we're waiting for the market share reports to make a final judgement.

January 3, 2002: Be sure to read the news tomorrow!

Good news a-coming!

January 4, 2002: Dodge Neon SRT-4 debuts!

Here's the real Chrysler news of the week - the home-grown, turbocharged Neon SRT will finally be produced, though not until next year. Complete with a restyled interior and nose, the SRT resembles a Subaru WRX from the front. Interior styling is more impressive. The real news, though, is not styling, and most Mopar fans would probably be just as happy if Dodge had left the original Neon appearance pretty much intact while changing the drivetrain.

Key features:

  • 0-60 in under 6 seconds
  • Top speed of 148 mph
  • 60-0 stopping in 120 feet
  • Priced at $20,000

We have a full page on this terrific car - click here to visit.

January 7, 2002: Full-year sales drop

GM's sales dipped 1.1 percent last year, Ford/Lincoln/Mercury dropped 6.1 percent, and Chrysler fell 9.9 percent. Toyota, Honda, Hyundai, Kia, and various luxury automakers made solid gains. It is worth noting that Chrysler may not have fallen had Plymouth sales not evaporated along with the brand - it seems most buyers went to other companies instead of Chrysler and Dodge.

January 7, 2002: Pacifica (CS/Citadel/Sportswagon) unveiled

The six-passenger, minivan-based station wagon has finally been named and unveiled. The Chrysler Pacifica has three rows of first-class eating, carlike handling, and a low step-in height, along with an appearance that matches other Chrysler models. The vehicle will feature adjustable pedals, a load-leveling rear suspension, and a second row of bucket seats with fold-flat capability. While front wheel drive, all wheel drive will be available on demand. The engine will, as expected, be a 225 horsepower version of the reliable 3.5 V6 that takes regular gas. Pricing will, surprisingly, be $25,000 - much less than the originally proposed $35,000. A four-seat variety may be produced, following Dieter Zetsche's resumption of the Chrysler tradition of actually making different varieties of the same vehicle.

January 8, 2002: Is DCX seeing the light?

Auto.com "is reporting that Neon and Lancer will only share about 35% of the same parts, each company will design their own body and interior. The mid sized cars designed by DC will be 65% of the same parts. Sounds like 'Chrysler Group' is coming out as the better off in this scenario." (Thanks, A.J. Hughes). Perhaps that's partly because DCX owns Chrysler outright, but only has about a third of Mitsubishi? Or perhaps it's because Neon sales continue to be strong, at least by Chrysler and Mitsubishi standards. Or maybe Dieter Zetsche really is having an impact - on Schrempp as much as anyone else.

January 8, 2002: Dodge Razor, Ram SRT-10 introduced

We have full details on these two amazing vehicles inside. In brief: The SRT-10. The Viper-tuned engine with handling and braking upgrades. 0-60 in 5 seconds. 500 horses. The Razor. $14,500. Rear wheel drive. 2.4 intercooled turbo. 0-60 in 6 seconds. Can you say "Road Runner"? We only wonder what the basis for this car is. Neon? Smart? A-class? More to come...see our main index page for links to the full pages.

January 8, 2002: Performance group details released

Mr. Source wrote:

The new group PVO (Performance Vehicle Operations), is a GO!. The new engineering team combines Chrysler Group's specialty vehicle and motorsports know-how, much like the profitable high-end vehicle conversion group at Mercedes-AMG.

This new team of people will create a line of extreme performance vehicles that will beat everyone else. PVO will bring together the best in performance, durable high-performance parts and some of the most talented and experienced motorsports and performance car engineers to produce exciting cars and trucks.

Performance Vehicle Operations will focus on enhancing Dodge, Jeep and Chrysler; they will create limited-volume specialty vehicles. PVO performance models engineered for the Dodge brand will carry the SRT badge. Their first creations are the 2003 Dodge Viper SRT-10, Dodge SRT-4, the Dodge Ram SRT-10.

PVO will also be responsible for motorsports engineering. PVO will become the Chrysler Group's center of expertise for application of technology in racing programs. They will also lead new product development efforts for the Mopar brand of performance parts.

They will work very close with product platforms to engineer and produce image vehicle conversions that support product image objectives As demonstrated by Viper and Prowler, PVO will provide a test bed for implementing new products, processes and material technologies for potential future high-volume applications, aftermarket-driven, performance packages for release through Mopar. PVO will provide technical expertise in support of all corporate motorsports programs. PVO provides a valued career path for the best Chrysler Group engineers.

The new team will be working mainly at Auburn Hills.

January 9, 2002: State of the industry - by Bill Cawthon

BMW leapfrogged over Mercedes to become America's favorite European luxury car. Going into October, BMW had looked like it might overtake segment leader Lexus, but a strong ad campaign from Toyota and a couple of good, but not great, months for the Bimmers kept them in second place. Mercedes dropped to third, followed by Cadillac, Acura and Lincoln. Volvo was the only other luxury brand to break 100,000 sales for the year. Audi had a very good year, outselling Infiniti, Jaguar, Saab, Porsche and Land Rover.

Since the combined U.S. sales of Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Aston-Martin, etc. don't total more than a thousand, I'm calling the race. Even if Volkswagen had sold the 5,000 Eurovans they had hoped, the import makers still definitely sold more passenger cars than Chrysler, Ford and GM. And light trucks definitely outsold cars in the land of the free and home of the brave. That's two very dubious firsts for the sales year. Top passenger car makers were GM, Ford, Toyota, Honda and Chrysler, in that order.

Incidentally, Americans still prefer German cars to Korean cars. The Germans are second only to the Japanese in total import sales. Volkswagen is the favorite with 2.08% of the total market.

Ford remains America's favorite brand. In addition to selling over 911,000 F-Series, a ton of Tauri and a flock of Foci, it also leads the full-size van and pony car categories. [Webmaster note: Ford as a company is still smaller than GM as a company.]

GM did manage to increase their market share for the first time in quite a while. They picked up just over 28% of the market for the year. And, with 31 different models, not counting Isuzu and the medium-size trucks they like to throw in, GM is the light truck leader. Now that the vanilla VUE has made its debut, you can buy at least one type of light-duty truck at any GM dealer except Saab.

Top five most popular cars were Accord, Camry, Taurus, Civic and Focus. GM's best-seller, the Chevy Cavalier, had to settle for #7 behind the Toyota Corolla. The best-selling Chrysler car was the Intrepid, which sold fewer than half the units posted by the Cavalier. [We note that the Cavalier is similar to the Sunfire, the Intrepid to the Concorde].

Chrysler maintained their leadership in the minivan market. The PT Cruiser and Jeep Liberty seem to be doing well, too. I know Chrysler's year-to-year figures are terrible, but you've got to remember Chrysler was having a heckuva year for the majority of 2000. I think the December 2001-December 2000 numbers are more indicative of what's going on in Auburn Hills.

The Aztek continued to underwhelm but GM has been revising their history to lower their expectations for the uglymobile, so it actually surpassed the most recent target the company claimed. In eighteen months, Pontiac has managed to move 38,523 Azteks. Compare that to the Rendezvous, which has racked up 31,754 sales in just 6 months. If nothing else, it proves taste is not altogether dead in America.

While 2001 turned out to be a very good sales year, what's going to be really interesting is to see what happens in 2002. GM's already announced a big rebate even though the free financing deals are over. A lot of sales that would have normally come next year were pulled into 2001 by skewed financing. This may mean that even if the economy recovers in the second half of 2002, Detroit may still have problems. Plus the fact that over a million people lost their jobs in 2001 may make a lot of people hesitant to commit to a new vehicle. One thing the folks in Detroit might want to look at is the very stong warranties being offered by the Koreans; Hyundai and Kia both had great years.

Among the other potholes ahead are: Declining rental sales, likely to remain slow until the economy picks up and travel becomes more popular; increased gas prices if OPEC has their way; probable action on the part of the government to either increase CAFE standards or bring SUVs into the same safety category as passenger cars by 2004 or 2005. That last could hasten the decline of the SUV market, which already shows signs of softening and is incredibly overcrowded. One thing a lot of people in the industry overlook is the fact that the relatively well-off and numerous baby-boomers are now getting to that time of life when climbing into a vehicle is neither as much fun nor as practical as it was when the yuppies spawned the SUV craze by falling in love with the Wagoneer back in the Reagan administration. And the youth market seems to be embracing other types of vehicles, especially ones that are more affordable than the big SUVs. Any of these could hurt the future of the American auto companies, all of whom are now dependent on light trucks not just for a majority of their sales, but the vast majority of any profits.

Chrysler, Ford and General Motors have all neglected the real-world, bread-and-butter passenger car market. While Lutz has the opportunity to go through GM's product development group like a combination of Rambo and the Terminator, both Chrysler and Ford need to get their houses in order from a new product standpoint.

While the newest numbers indicate Chrysler may be headed in a better direction, Chrysler can't keep hoping to inspire much-needed consumer interest and collateral sales with yet another niche product like the Crossfire (didn't work with the PT Cruiser, either). And its German parent isn't helping matters by continually postponing decisions on things like fielding the smart in the U.S. or worrying about protecting one brand or another at the expense of needed progress. If DCAG would bring the smart in under the Chrysler Group banner, it might at least get some folks into the showroom and buy time. If they can bring the Sprinter in as a Freightliner, they can bring in the smart as a Dodge. Besides, look at the number of new Mercedes passenger cars that have been introduced in the last five years and compare that to Chrysler.

Jürgen Schrempp got to cut Plymouth; that was his freebie. Despite what some think, cutting Chrysler and Dodge probably isn't an option unless it is accompanied by his (and Dieter Zetsche's) resignation and/or head. He has to show that his "acquisition" had some value beyond that long-gone cash. And I don't think a Mercedes-Mitsubishi amalgam is going to make it in the American market. Therefore, "cab-forward" needs some successors. Chrysler could do a lot worse than bringing out a new entry-level car that hit all the marks today's markets require. Might do better than another me-too "lifestyle" vehicle.

Ford has some solid products in the Taurus and Focus, but they need more than just a refresh. The new Mondeo is great, but it's expensive. That's why Ford is expected to bring it in as a Mercury. Of course, problem child Mercury has this new California location that hasn't produced much of anything except stale products and declining sales. Ford also needs to do something with the distinctly American Crown Victoria/Mercury Grand Marquis. The Impala is steadily eroding the CV's traditional markets. And I'm not just talking police cars. One of these days, Ford is even going to have to do something with the F-Series before the fact the GM C/K pickups are better costs the Blue Oval its most prestigious title. Bill Ford and Nick Scheele have to try to undo a lot of the damage Jac Nasser did. Look for big shakeups at Ford after the Detroit Auto Show. Ford is in a mess and most industry watchers are predicting a bloodbath. (Oddly enough, earlier bloodbaths are part of the problem now facing Ford, but they won't learn from that.)

Yup, 2002 is going to be an interesting year in the greater Detroit area. Much as I loved growing up there, I'm glad I'm a thousand miles away now.

January 10, 2002: Chrysler incentives

As all automakers ended zero-percent financing with a sigh of relief, Chrysler restarted a more conventional program of rebates and low-rate loans. GM has already started a $2,002 cash rebate on most of its vehicles. The current package, which will expire March 5, covers all but the Liberty, 2001 models, and some high-value minivans. The PT Cruiser has finally been covered by incentives in the form of low-rate loans. [We can't resist an opinion - most people don't know how wonderful the PT is inside. They really have to emphasize its handling, ride, and comfort at some point.] Other rebates run up to $2,000, with financing as low as 3.9 percent. There are many plans. A seven year, 100,000 mile warranty is slated to end March 31.

January 10, 2002: Ford cuts thousands of jobs

Ford is cutting 17,000 jobs, but has not yet definitely stated where. Three assembly plants will be closed.

January 10, 2002: Next generation four cylinders in the pipeline

From the Wall Street Journal (and Mr. Source!), we learn that Mitsubishi will not, as we had been led to believe, be replacing Chrysler four-cylinders with their own current design. Instead, an engine initially developed by Hyundai, with design changes suggested by Chrysler, Mercedes, and (not mentioned but we suspect they were there) Mitsubishi, will be used. One of Chrysler's suggestion was changing the bore spacing to allow for multiple displacements (1.8 to 2.4 liters). No formal decision has been made to use the engine, but given Mercedes' involvement and current trends, it doesn't seem likely that Mitsubishi or Chrysler will be given a choice, either.

In our opinion, this is not a bad move, since it seems that it truly is a joint effort. Chrysler may finally be able to take advantage of Mitsubishi's direct injection and perhaps other advanced technologies, such as variable valve timing, while still having an influence on the design. That's better than what we were expecting.

January 10, 2002: Joint venture transmission company to split

New Venture Gear, a joint venture between GM and Chrysler which built manual transaxles for the Neon and other vehicles, as well as 4x4 systems, will be split up. DaimlerChrysler is taking control of the subsidiary while GM is getting one factory. DC will have two factories one in New York and one in Germany.

January 11, 2002: 300K recovered!

Earlier, we reported on a stolen 300K. It was recovered, and here's the story - a lesson if the same ever happens to you:

A week after its disappearance, the 300-K turned back up. The dirtbags put about 40 miles on the odometer and picked up parking tickets in some interesting places. Cosmetics are no worse than they were, a couple of new mechanical glitches (overheating and some new electrical problems) but I don't think they're serious. Still confused as to why the dirtbags cut the wires to what is obviously a (non-functioning) factory AM radio.

While the Auto Theft Detail was insisting on looking for a white LeBaron 4drHt (assuming they were looking at all) I got a letter from Department of Parking saying the car had been impounded as an abandoned vehicle. So I call the cops and ask what's up with that... ...eight hours later I get a call back from the cops saying the car's been recovered. Sheesh!

I was assuming I would never see the car again, or if so it'd be without that sweet 413. I guess my car karma is better than I thought, and I hope I can live up to that in the future.

January 11, 2002: Ford closes plants, ends models

Ford will close five plants, discontinue four models, cut the dividend, sell more stock, and cut 35,000 jobs worldwide, including 22,000 jobs in North America. The five plants may not be closed for a few years yet. They include Edison's Ranger plant, Ontario's F-series plant (wonder how they'll keep the lead if they don't make the trucks?), the St. Louis Explorer plant, a Cleveland engine parts plant, and a parts factory in Detroit. The Woodhaven forging plant will also be sold, and the Ohio assembly plant in Avon Lake will be phased out. The Mercury Cougar - a variant of the Contour - and the Ford Escort are being cut, but that was expected, since the Focus was meant to replace the Escort and Contour. The Mercury Villager's demise was also predicted given that it is a rebadged Nissan Quest, which is being replaced by a new Nissan minivan. The one surprise is the end of the Lincoln Continental, based on the Taurus and a favorite of fleet buyers. Hopefully the demise of the Continental will favor the Chrysler Concorde (maybe not until the next generation), which is larger inside yet equally refined, and low-end Cadillacs. It may of course result in greater Avalon sales instead.

January 13, 2002: Some end of year stats

Genciu wrote: "Just looked at Chrysler inventory as of January 1st as listed in Automotive News and divided the figures by the number of dealers in the US. We've talked about vehicles at individual dealers and thought some might be interested in "national averages" of vehicles per dealer: Grand Cherokee 10; Jeep Liberty 9; Jeep Wrangler 4.7; 300M 2; Concorde 2.7; PT Cruiser 12 (!); Sebring Sedan 4; Sebring Coupe 2; Sebring Convertible 2; T & C 10; Voyager 4; Intrepid 5; Neon 6; Stratus Sedan 4; Stratus Coupe 2; Caravan 16; Dakota 10; Durango 9; Pickup 29; Ram Van 2.5; Ram Wagon 0.5

"Also final production figures for 2001 were posted. Ford was down 14.4%, GM was down 11.0% and Chrysler was down 9.9%. "

January 16, 2002: GM earns profits

GM earned $1.5 billion, or $3.23 per share, in calendar year 2001. Including special items, GM had net income of $601 million, or $1.77 per share, in 2001; this compares with $4.5 billion, or $6.68 per share, in the prior year.

January 16, 2002: GM drops profit-sharing

Though GM earned a net profit exceeding a quarter billion dollars in the fourth quarter, and can honestly say that one reason for not losing money was the contribution of its employees, the company announced that it would be scrapping profit-sharing payments for hourly workers, according to the Detroit News. We (sarcastically) congratulate GM for its usual good job of employee motivation and rewarding hourly workers' efforts.

January 16, 2002: Mitsubishi, Hyundai move to Mexico

Mitsubishi and Hyundai are to gain a presence in Mexico, apparently using Chrysler's distribution system and replacing Plymouth as the entry-level brand.

January 16, 2002: Chrysler to recall minivans?

Following public pressure, Chrysler appears to be set to recall most 1996 through 2000 Caravans, Voyagers, and Town & Countrys. An O-ring in the fuel system may cause fuel leaks. Chrysler has been working on ways to resolve the problem, delaying the recall until a solution could be found. The problem affects vehicles driven for long periods at high altitudes. There have been 25 possibly related fires.

January 16, 2002: PT to get diesel for Europe

Bill Cawthon wrote: In March, the PT Cruiser will be available with a 2.2 litre OM664 common rail diesel engine. The diesel, jointly engineered by Chrysler and Mercedes-Benz, is for Europe only, where a significant percentage of vehicles the size of the PT Cruiser are sold with diesels. [Diesels provide substantial gains in fuel economy, often at the cost of sustained acceleration. Diesel fuel can also be cheaper than standard gasoline.]

January 17, 2002: Mercedes to ignore Chrysler, build new US plant

Showing contempt for the plight of laid-off Chrysler (and GM and Ford) workers, and for that matter for the environment, Mercedes is planning to build a new "greenfield" plant in the South, even as GM, Ford, and Chrysler are shuttering plants - possibly including Chrysler's own Pillette Road plant, which just underwent a major expansion. The likely reason is to avoid using union employees.

January 17, 2002: Zetsche says Chrysler to stay #3 in NA

The AP reported that Chrysler chief Dieter Zetsche said that Toyota would never pass Chrysler for the number 3 spot in North American market. He reportedly said, "I see no scenario whatsoever where Toyota will pass us in share." In 2001, Chrysler's share feel nearly 10% to 13.2%, while Toyota climbed 7.5% to 10.1%. However, a new Toyota Sienna is in the works, and the new Camry and Corolla are likely to find additional buyers - in addition, Toyota is planning a new light truck plant in North America to grab some pickup sales.

January 18, 2002: 2002 Grand Cherokees recalled for minor fault

Jeep is conducting a voluntary recall of some 2002 Grand Cherokees to repair the on-board refueling vapor recovery system (ORVR), which is required on 2002 and later vehicles. The recall will affect about 76,000 vehicles with brush guards, built in 2001. About two thirds of these will be checked for other issues which can cause fuel to spit back or can prevent gasoline from entering the gas tank. The recall is partly the result of tests which shows that fuel could leak in a post-crash rollover after a high-speed rear impact. There have been no reports of related accidents or injuries.

January 21, 2002: NHTSA solicits comments

NHTSA is asking for public feedback (required by law - not really wanted) on their proposal to keep the "SUV loophole" alive through 2004 by freezing current fuel economy standards for minivans, pickups, and SUVs. Congress had forbidden NHTSA from even considering changes until very recently. The current set of standards was determined at a time when light trucks were used primarily in farming and industry - at the moment, more than half of all vehicles sold in the US are classified as light trucks, resulting in a net decline in overall fuel economy. NHTSA is at www.nhtsa.gov

January 24, 2002: Honda to build light trucks in the US

An new light truck based on Honda's Model X concept vehicle will be produced by Honda of America Manufacturing at its East Liberty (Ohio) Plant beginning late this year. /rant/ Seems that the protectionist aspects of our arcane fuel economy laws are starting to break down. /end rant/

January 25, 2002: Chrysler Sebring GTC to appear

Dieter Zetsche's European influence on Chrysler is continuing, with a welcome change to the popular Chrysler Sebring convertible: a manual transmission / 200 horsepower V6 combination. Available in the Sebring GTC (following the tradition of the popular Chrysler LeBaron GTC convertible), there will be no cost savings for getting a manual - the automatic and five-speed GTC are both $25,710. However, the manual transmission provides a more sporty experience, increases acceleration, and reduces fuel use.

January 28, 2002: Caravan AWD is here

The all-wheel-drive Caravan is back, with a 3.8 liter engine to boot, but commercials showing the Caravan beating a snowplow have been pulled due to safety concerns.

January 28, 2002: GM, Mercedes recalls

Mercedes is recalling 65,000 vehicles for exploding batteries, while GM pulls in 546,000 SUVs for failure of brake and hazard lights.

January 28, 2002: Lutz changes GM design process

Bob Lutz is changing GM's design process to emphasize style more and unwanted technological doodads (presumably such as computerized oil change lights and night vision) less.

January 28, 2002: Mercedes blames Chrysler for price hike

Mercedes is raising the prices on its cars by an average of 1.7%, saying it needs to do it because of losses at Chrysler. By that logic, when Chrysler contributed more than half of the profits at DCX - not to mention $12 billion worth of cash - Mercedes would have cut prices by about 25%.

January 29, 2002: Belvedere plant on borrowed time?

With Mercedes and Hyundai both building new plants in the United States, far away from existing factories and autoworkers, it seems that a major part of DCX's plan is to cut as many union plants and employees as possible. Though the company claimed to regret the "need" to lay off thousands of workers and close (and sell) plants, it has made no effort to re-use those facilities and people in new construction. (To be fair, most foreign-owned companies have few or no plants using union labor - Toyota builds most Corollas and Tacomas in union plants, Mazda makes 626s and Ford-shared trucks, Nissan makes the Ford-shared Quest, Mitsubishi the Eclipse and Galant, and Isuzu the Hombre, but that's it as far as we know.) /rant/ We do miss the days when automakers would re-use factories - VW setting up shop in Pittsburgh's old Ford plant, Toyota in GM's old California plant, etc. /rant off/

January 30, 2002: Mustang safety issues

Blue Oval News posted: "the SN95 Ford Mustang convertible's doors jamb shut after a 35 mph rear collision and … the Mustang cannot pass Ford's safety segment guideline for fuel system integrity after a 50 mph rear collision." A lawyer arguing a civil lawsuit against Ford also said that the Mustang repeatedly failed internal fuel-tank crash tests in its early-1990s redesign. The production version did pass government tests, but the Mustang still had the gas tank near the back bumper - a place avoided since the exploding Ford Pinto debacle.

January 30, 2002: New Toyota youth car

Toyota, seeing its demographics grow older and older despite increases in market share and vehicle comfort, is going to target young buyers - from 16 to 30 0 - with a new car line by 2005 or 2006. Not based on existing models, according to Toyota, the most likely form this line will take is a PT Cruiser function-alike (though probably very differently styled).

January 30, 2002: Next Neon NOT to be based on Lancer!!!

According to Automotive News, the new Lancer, which was to be adapted by Chrysler to replace the Neon, is going to be discontinued in the US, even though it was just introduced. The reason - increased safety standards. Instead, Chrysler has been given the lead on developing a new small car platform, which will form the basis of the next-generation Neon, Lancer/Mirage, and, now, the Eclipse as well (which will move from the Galant platform, which also is being led by Chrysler). Great news for Chrysler fans - not so good for Mitsubishi fans, who at least can keep the Pajero, Challenger, and Montero (since Jeep will not share with anyone except Mercedes).

January 30, 2002: Clarification

It now seems that, while Daimler-Benz will be building new factories in the US, it will also move some Mitsubishi production (the next generation Lancer series) to Belvedere to achieve economies of scale. This is better in our opinion than closing down Belvedere and creating a new plant for the Mitsubishi/Dodge vehicles.

January 30, 2002: Pacifica to have lots of competition

Though the Pacifica was originally targeted for production before now, it will not appear for about a year. In that time, the Honda Pilot will hit the market, and Ford will have finished designing a similar crossover vehicle which looks remarkably like the Pacifica (except for the nose). This is in addition to the BMW X5, Mercedes ML, and other crossovers.

January 30, 2002: New rebates

Chrysler is offering rebates of up to $2,500 on all cars except the Jeep Liberty and PT Cruiser. This may indicate sluggish demand for the brand-new Dodge Ram - possibly a bad sign, but possibly the result of delays in getting new engines for the pickup.

January 31, 2002: Ford to build new Volvo-based models

Given the decline in Taurus sales, Ford will reportedly be building two new vehicles - a sedan and related Outback-like tall wagon - at its Chicago plant. Both vehicles would be based on Volvos, not surprising given that Ford bought Volvo recently for practically nothing (roughly the cost of creating one new carline - and they received several carlines, loads of goodwill, and a few factories, in what would have been the bargain of the decade had Mercedes not picked up Chrysler and $12 billion in cash for a few empty promises).

January 31, 2002: More auto industry cutbacks

The Detroit Free Press reported that Chrysler is about to cut the salaries of 3,200 contract workers by 7 percent. Ford, GM, and Visteon have already made similar moves (using the same 7 percent cut). GM will also eliminate several hundred temporary positions sooon. The former Big Three employ over 20,000 contract workers in levels from bottom rung to professional.

February 3, 2002: Chrysler liquidation sale continues

Detroit News notes that DCX is selling yet more of Chrysler, concentrating on parts plants. Up for sale are the Huntsville electronics plant, which makes radios, instrument clusters, and other electronics; Dayton Thermal, which makes heating and cooling parts; and McGraw Glass, in Detroit, which makes, well, glass. About 6,000 employees are in these plants, currently on the auction block, but there are 25 plants in all scheduled to be sold. We applaud DCX's forward thinking - there's no better way to expand a company than by shutting down all its parts and assembly plants. The full story, with some interesting details we can't get into - especially not without plagiarizing Detroit News' fine work - is at this link.

February 3, 2002: Sales drop continues in January

Sales of the Big Three were down 12 percent, while import sales rose 6.5 percent in January, thanks partly to the incentives of December. GM sales dropped 13 percent, Ford 13 percent, and Chrysler 9 percent. In terms of passenger cars alone, Toyota was the top seller, with GM plummeting by a third - 34 percent - Ford dropping by 22 percent. (Light truck sales continued to climb for both GM and Ford). PT Cruiser sales, meanwhile, plunged as well, prompting Chrysler to actually tell people via advertising about its low price - it is still not covered by incentives, and we hope it stays that way. (We also hope they mention how quiet, pleasant, and roomy the interior is, and maybe even counter the power issue by pointing out its acceleration).

February 4, 2002: New ad spots

The branded campaign airs February 1-7. The new incentive program, announced this past Wednesday, includes up to $2,500 cash on most 2002 cars, trucks and minivans purchased through February 28. The seven-year/100,000-mile powertrain protection plan on all Chrysler Group vehicles remains in effect until March 31. The combination of incentives and powertrain warranty is called the Chrysler Advantage, Jeep Promise, and Dodge Edge. The three campaigns were developed by PentaMark Worldwide (an in-house ad agency).

The new 30-second TV spots are uniquely themed:

  • "The Chrysler's Great American Getaway" – This 30-second spot opens with a serene blue sky. Below, the full lineup of Chrysler cars and minivans whizzes along the salt flats as the voice-over announces, "It's here. Chrysler's Great American Getaway." The spot then cuts to the beauty and pageantry of Chrysler vehicles as they take a drive down a fashion runway.
  • "The Team Dodge Sales Event" – This spot opens up with a familiar phrase shoppers often hear when browsing a dealership, "Can I get you a cup of coffee?" Only in this case the shopper's answer of "Sure," sets off a fast-paced chain-reaction that looks like a pit-stop for a NASCAR driver. Here, the customer is prepped to drive off with one of the bold and powerful Dodge cars and trucks. The spot then cuts to quick stock footage of the Dodge lineup. The spot then cuts back to the dealer throwing the customer his keys. On screen is the Dodge tag, "Grab Life by the Horns."
  • "Jeep's Gear Up 'N Get Out" – This 30-second spot opens with action shots of various extreme sports, then cuts to shots of the full-line of Jeep vehicles in all kinds of weather and in all kinds of terrain, thus reminding viewers that Jeep is the "most award-winning brand of 4x4." The ad ends with the the Jeep tag, "There's Only One."

February 4, 2002: New ad spots

The branded campaign airs February 1-7. The new incentive program, announced this past Wednesday, includes up to $2,500 cash on most 2002 cars, trucks and minivans purchased through February 28. The seven-year/100,000-mile powertrain protection plan on all Chrysler Group vehicles remains in effect until March 31. The combination of incentives and powertrain warranty is called the Chrysler Advantage, Jeep Promise, and Dodge Edge. The three campaigns were developed by PentaMark Worldwide (an in-house ad agency).

The new 30-second TV spots are uniquely themed:

  • "The Chrysler's Great American Getaway" – This 30-second spot opens with a serene blue sky. Below, the full lineup of Chrysler cars and minivans whizzes along the salt flats as the voice-over announces, "It's here. Chrysler's Great American Getaway." The spot then cuts to the beauty and pageantry of Chrysler vehicles as they take a drive down a fashion runway.
  • "The Team Dodge Sales Event" – This spot opens up with a familiar phrase shoppers often hear when browsing a dealership, "Can I get you a cup of coffee?" Only in this case the shopper's answer of "Sure," sets off a fast-paced chain-reaction that looks like a pit-stop for a NASCAR driver. Here, the customer is prepped to drive off with one of the bold and powerful Dodge cars and trucks. The spot then cuts to quick stock footage of the Dodge lineup. The spot then cuts back to the dealer throwing the customer his keys. On screen is the Dodge tag, "Grab Life by the Horns."
  • "Jeep's Gear Up 'N Get Out" – This 30-second spot opens with action shots of various extreme sports, then cuts to shots of the full-line of Jeep vehicles in all kinds of weather and in all kinds of terrain, thus reminding viewers that Jeep is the "most award-winning brand of 4x4." The ad ends with the the Jeep tag, "There's Only One."

February 4, 2002: 2002 Chrysler awards, so far

  • 4x4 PLUS (Belguim), 4x4 of the year - 2002 Jeep Cherokee/Liberty
  • 4Wheel & Off-Road, 4x4 of the year – 2002 Jeep Grand Cherokee
  • American Woman Road & Travel, Best in Class SUV – 2002 Jeep Liberty
  • Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC), Best New Sport Utility Vehicle – 2002 Jeep Liberty
  • Automotive News, 2001 Exterior Design of the Year – 2002 Mercedes Crossfire
  • Autoweek, Most Significant of the Show – 2002 Chrysler Pacifica concept
  • Carguide Magazine/Globe & Mail "Best Buy," Best Minivan – 2002 Dodge Grand Caravan
  • Carguide Magazine/Globe & Mail "Best Buy," Best Wagon – 2002 Chrysler PT Cruiser
  • Car Styling, 2001 Concept of the Year – 2002 Mercedes Chrysler Crossfire
  • Evening Gazette Car Awards (UK), Best 4x4 - 2002 Jeep Cherokee/Liberty
  • Evening Gazette Car Awards (UK), Best MPV - 2002 Chrysler Voyager
  • Four Wheeler, Four Wheeler of the Year – 2002 Jeep Grand Cherokee
  • Four Wheeler, Truck of the Year – 2002 Dodge Ram 1500
  • Edmunds.com, Most Wanted Small Crew Cab Pickup – 2002 Dodge Dakota
  • Edmunds.com, Most Wanted Midsize Coupe (under $30,000) - 2002 Chrysler Sebring
  • Eyes on Design, Best Concept Vehicle – 2002 Jeep Compass concept
  • Good Housekeeping, Automotive Satisfaction Award – 2002 Chrysler Town & Country
  • Sport Truck, Truck of the Year – 2002 Dodge Ram 1500
  • Texas Auto Writers Association, Compact Pickup Truck of the year – 2002 Dodge Dakota
  • Texas Auto Writers Association, Compact SUV of the year – 2002 Jeep Liberty
  • Texas Auto Writers Association, Midsize SUV of the year – 2002 Jeep Grand Cherokee
  • L'Automobile, 2001 Design of the Year – 2002 Mercedes Chrysler Crossfire
  • Northwest Automotive Writers Association, Economy SUV of the year – 2002 Jeep Liberty
  • Polk Automotive, Loyalty Award – 2001 Chrysler Town & Country
  • Popular Mechanics, Design & Engineering Award – 2002 Jeep Liberty
  • Popular Science, Best of What's New – 2002 Jeep Liberty
  • Popular Science, Best of What's New – 2002 Dodge Ram 1500
  • WomanMotorist.com, Reader's Choice Award Small/Midsize Sedans – 2002 Chrysler Sebring
  • WomanMotorist.com, Reader's Choice Award Pickup Truck – 2002 Dodge Ram
  • WomanMotorist.com, Reader's Choice Award Crossover Vehicle – 2002 Chrysler PT Cruiser

February 4, 2002: Chrysler sales detail

The good news (increases, January 2001-January 2002):

  • Sebring Sedan (up 41%)
  • Sebring convertible (up 24%)
  • Concorde (up 34%)
  • Liberty/Cherokee (up slightly)
  • Stratus sedan (up 33%)
  • Viper (up 5%)
  • Ram pickup (up 3% - OK, this is really bad news, since an all-new model should sell better!)
  • Caravan (up 8% - but Plymouth, Chrysler versions fell)

Now the bad news. First, of course, is the total loss of Plymouth sales, which in January 2000 - after Plymouth's phaseout had already begun - 5,200 cars were sold. Thus, while the Neon ostensibly increased in sales, if you count the Plymouth Neon, sales shrank.

  • 300M - down 23% - we don't know why, it's a terrific car.
  • LHS - down 89% as it's been discontinued.
  • PT Cruiser - down 36% - need to get the word out, it's a terrific vehicle. Maybe a less outrageously styled version would help?
  • Voyager, Town and Country - down 2% and 7% respectively, not to mention the loss of Plymouth's version. Ack!
  • Wrangler - down 22%.
  • Grand Cherokee - down 17% though it's still very competitive. Make the V8 standard, guys.
  • Dodge Neon - ostensibly up 1% but if you count Plymouth, it's down.
  • Intrepid - down 11% despite an R/T version that was not really advertised.
  • Dakota - down 2%.
  • Durango - down a whopping 24%!
  • Ram Van and Wagon - continued fall by 18% and 34%, not surprising as they're allowed to fade into obscurity.

Overall, cars are down 8%, trucks 9%, minivans are steady, and SUVs are down 19%.

February 4, 2002: Ford Explorer ruled defective

The Barstow Superior Court (of Nevada) ruled 10 to 2 that the 1994 Explorer was defective due to a high center of gravity and faulty suspension. This case does not involve tire failure.

February 4, 2002: Import recalls

Hyundai, Nissan, and BMW all issued recalls recently. About 116,000 2000 and 2001 Sentras (1.8 engines) may stall due to sensor failure. Hyundai produced over 86,000 Sonatas witih airbag warning lights that may light up without cause. 43,000 Tiburons built from 1996 to 2000 have seat belts that may not work smoothly. 2000 and 2001 Accents may have high idle speeds in cold weather. 1,900 2001 XG300s have improperly made computers. Finally, BMW is replacing over a thousand 2002 5 series vehicles because tire mounting at the factory could cut the outer widewalls (standard suspension only). No accidents have been reported in any of these problems.

February 4, 2002: Bush seeks to head off gas mileage rise

Eager to prevent a Senate plan to boost gas mileage and eliminate the "heavy duty commuter car" loophole (which allows Yukons and other huge SUVs to be exempted from gas mileage standards), President Bush has proposed a plan to base standards on weight instead of gas mileage. This plan would be detailed next year. Many have suggested that the White House is simply trying to delay action, now that Congress and government agencies are ready to close loopholes in the law. Meanwhile, imports dominated domestic manufacturers in car sales this past month, while building new plants to gain more of the SUV and truck market.

February 5, 2002: Ford starts new F-series development

Perhaps realizing that its current pickups were quickly and easily outclassed by General Motors, and soon will be eclipsed by Chrysler as well, Ford has decided to redesign the series again. No word on when we can expect the vehicles since the sign-off just took place - figure at least two years, more likely four before the next F-150 is set. Just-auto quoted Forbes columnist Jerry Flint as saying that, in terms of base pickups, Chevy outsells Ford (465,000 Silverado 1500s to 346,000 F-150s), with Chrysler not too far behind (250,000 Ram 1500s) - Ford's main advantage is in heavy-duty rigs. Perhaps Chrysler will reach up there soon.

February 6, 2002: New Dodges to appear at Chicago auto show

The heavy-duty 2003 Dodge Ram 2500/3500 pickup will be unveiled at long last at the Chicago auto show, along with, possibly, a new SUV, according to Automotive News. GM is expected to grab the headlines with new concept cars including a Saturn roadster and a new Pontiac direction, while Ford will signal Mercury's comeback with the first head of styling for the brand.

February 6, 2002: Wrangler adds Apex option package

With the power of the 4-liter straight six, the Apex option package builds on the demand for Wranglers with premium content.

February 7, 2002: New Rams, Hemi, Cummins diesel

Dodge brought out the new heavy-duty Ram, complete with Hemi and Cummins turbodiesel engines, yesterday. Click here for the full story.

February 7, 2002: Jeep Liberty Renegade appears

Jeep is re-using the Renegade moniker on a new Liberty which will include an "integrated activity light bar," "bolted-on" wheel flares, removable side steps, unique wheels and a two-tone front fascia. The activity light bar houses four halogen lamps with 150,000 candlepower. Trapezoidal wheel openings frame all-terrain tires mounted on 16-inch six-spoke aluminum wheels. Wheels are color keyed with the Bright Cactus Green exterior or painted graphite with Light Khaki and Bright Silver vehicles. Protective silver tubular side steps with black step pads bolt to Liberty Renegade's uniframe rails for easy ingress and egress. Side steps are easily removable for extreme off-road driving.

The interior of the Jeep Liberty Renegade features well-tailored, supportive front seats with a unique combination of flat woven cloth and leather. These high back seats include seat back map pockets for added storage. Genuine brushed aluminum highlights on the instrument panel add a modern, machined look to the interior consistent with the exterior theme.

Renegade models will be available in both two- and four-wheel drive.

Sold under the name Jeep Cherokee Renegade, an international version of this vehicle will be available for the 2003 model year in countries around the world. Jeep Cherokee Renegade will be available with the 3.7-liter PowerTech V-6 and an automatic transmission or the 2.5-liter CRD diesel engine and a manual transmission.

Chrysler wrote: "Jeep Liberty exceeds industry-leading quality production targets and is being built at the state-of-the-art Toledo (Ohio) North manufacturing facility. As the Chrysler Group's newest assembly plant, the Toledo North Assembly Plant represents the culmination of best practices from the company's worldwide operations for lean, flexible, high-quality production."

On a side note, we found the Liberty to be the head of its class in our review. It has the ride and comfort of an on-roader, with the off-road ability of a Jeep.

February 7, 2002: Ram page update

We are currently updating our Ram page to include details on all available engines. Click here for details.

February 8, 2002: PT Cruiser gets rebates

Rather than shore up the image of the PT Cruiser through new advertising and marketing, Chrysler has chosen the easy way out and cheapened the vehicle with $1,000 rebates in the Midwest and Northeast. The company is planning a campaign emphasizing the Cruiser's low $16,000 price...though whether they will hit on comfort, handling, and utility, we don't know.

February 11, 2002: Chrysler loses another plant

Behr America, Inc., based in Troy, Michigan, will buy Chrysler's Dayton Thermal Products (DTP) component operation in Dayton, Ohio. This may be good news for the plant, which will produce a greater variety of products. The plant now makes climate control modules (including air conditioning components), engine cooling modules, vapour canisters, PCV valves and service parts for a wide variety of Chrysler models.

February 11, 2002: Ram drivetrain details

We are still building our heavy-duty Ram page, with new details on transmissions and engines. Click here to read more.

February 12, 2002: Diesel Liberty?

Chrysler has, like just about every other automaker, sold its vehicles with diesel engines in Europe. If you live in France, a truly niche market for Chrysler, you can get a diesel-engined, manual-transmission Voyager, for example. Now, Chrysler is apparently thinking about bringing diesels to the US as well, to increase the horrendous gas mileage of its SUVs. The most likely candidate is the same turbodiesel used in Europe, a 2.5 liter model. The only American company to currently sell diesels in large quantities to ordinary buyers is Volkswagen - about 10 percent of its sales are diesels. The move may endear the Liberty to fuel-conscious buyers such as the Postal Service. (Courtesy AutoWeek - thanks, TJJ)

February 14, 2002: Recalls - Ford fires, Jeep parking brakes

Once again, Ford is recalling cars - 640,000 of them - due to a fire hazard. The current recall affects 1995 Taurus/Sable and Mustangs. Eight fires have been reported.

Meanwhile, 316,148 Wranglers are being recalled for parking brakes that might release themselves, a reminder that we have to leave vehicles in gear as well as put the brake on. The effects of this are fairly serious, with a full 83 accidents and four injuries. Model years covered are 1990-1995. Finally, 268,000 2001 Rams are being recalled to fix an alternator wire which may loosen - two fires have been reported, but no accidents or injuries.

February 14, 2002: Mercedes looks for a factory

Mercedes is reportedly looking for a place to build new Sprinter vans, which appear to have received a warm reception - too warm, in fact, for the current "box 'em up and have Freightliner assemble 'em" approach, according to the Financial Times. May we suggest one of the many Chrysler and Freightliner plants which are either idled or about to be? Perhaps that brand new Dakota plant in Brazil?

February 14, 2002: Chrysler claims to have segment-buster

Though the minivan-turned SUV and wagon-turned-SUV have both been done - think Aztek and Outback - Chrysler is claiming that the new Pacifica is a "segment-buster." Stressing that it does not share a platform with the Caravan and Voyager, Chrysler reps said it would be built at the Windsor minivan plant, alongside the Voyager and Caravan. It will have a standard 3.5 liter powerplant, similar to the one used in full-size sedans (and which was supposed to be available on minivans by now). It will feature three rows of seats, unlike the Aztek, including a new Odyssey-like folding seat system which we suspect and hope will make its way onto the Caravan as well.

February 14, 2002: Liberty gets Canadian Truck of the Year award

The Automobile Journalists Association of Canada has named the Jeep Liberty its 2002 Canadian Truck of the Year.

February 15, 2002: 1993-98 Grand Cherokee recall

1993-1998 Grand Cherokees are being recalled to modify the automatic transmission so people can be sure the vehicle is in park. Five deaths have been reported as a result of Grand Cherokees slipping out of Park, and Chrysler has been criticized for dragging its feet on taking responsibility. Yet again, we urge you to the emergency brake and not trust the transmission to hold the car in place. At the least, you'll know whether the emergency brake is working - you may need it someday!

February 15, 2002: Bombardier demands $800 million from DCX

DCX seems to have been up to its usual standards of ethics when selling Adtranz (a rail car maker) to Bombardier. The Canadian transportation company is seeking $860 million in damages, saying it discovered many substantial, undisclosed costs after buying Adtranz for $725 million. Some issues are a substantially lower equity, apparent accounting tricks, and undisclosed costs of fulfilling existing contracts. Bombardier will seek damages through the International Chamber of Commerce.

February 15, 2002: Duelling CAFE plans

Ignoring President Bush's request to base fuel economy standards on vehicle weight, the Senate is debating two opposing sets of standards: a Republican plan to go to 36 mpg by 2016, and a Democratic plan to get to 35 mpg by 2013. The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers is vociferously opposing the plan, which they say would thoroughly eliminate light trucks. /rant starts/ We, on the other hand, went back to issues of Automotive News from the late 1960s and early 1970s and noted that the auto industry then said that current CAFE and pollution standards would result in unsafe, impossible-to-drive, and exceedingly slow vehicles. In reality, you may have noticed we now have much safer, easier to drive, and faster (generally) vehicles. /rant ends/

February 15, 2002: Magna buys Eurostar

As we reported some time ago, the Austrian factory which produces a variety of Chrysler and Jeep vehicles for European consumption is being purchased by parts maker Magna Steyr (owned by Canadian parts maker Magna). The agreement includes rights to produce another new DaimlerChrysler model, possibly (our guess) the Pacifica. Magna Steyr is planning to double production.

February 20, 2002: Chrysler announces loss

Following a slump in revenues from $64 billion to $56.5 billion, Chrysler announced an operating loss of $1.9 billion. (The company's operating profit in 2000 was $499 million, but the 1999 operating profit was considerably higher.) In comparison, Ford's sales dropped 4 percent, resulting in a net loss of $5.5 billion - which has not resulted in the term "ailing" being attached to Ford in every article about the company. At GM, profits have been maintained despite a 4 percent revenue fall, with a $601 million operating profit for 2001. Both Chrysler and Ford are turning to image-boosting cars, with Chrysler producing a variety of fast SRT models, and Ford building the GT40. GM has already countered with a high-end version of the Corvette and the new V-8 powered SSR sports truck. (Figures from Detroit News.)

February 20, 2002: GM planning new truck engines

With eyes on Nissan, Ford, Honda, and Chrysler, all competitors (now or in the future) in the full size truck market, GM is preparing to launch a new series of truck engines in model year 2004. These "Gen IV" engines are cleaner, more efficient, and more powerful than current versions. GM's displacement-on-demand system will also start to become available to increase gas mileage but using just four cylinders under partial throttle and idle.

February 21, 2002: SXT designation appears

Dodge has added a new designation to its current, confusing ES and SE (quick, which one is which? and what do they stand for?). The Neon SXT costs $1,000 more than the standard Neon, less than the Neon SE. The Stratus Sedan SXT costs a bit less than the Stratus SE, but the Stratus Coupe SXT costs more than the Stratus Coupe SE. Confused? Wish Chrysler would cust back on the designations from its current base, SE, ES, SXT, R/T, SRT?

February 22, 2002: Dodge wins Daytona 500!

After a rather gloomy showing in NASCAR, the Dodge Intrepid driven by Ward Burton took the flag at the Daytona 500. The high-profile victory is not too shabby given that this is Dodge's first year back at NASCAR, an outfit which has changed quite a bit since Dodge and Plymouth dominated in the 1960s and early 1970s. Burton's crew chief is Tommy Baldwin, his pit crew and car owner Bill Davis. The last Dodge to win at Daytona was driven by Richard Petty in 1974, back in the days when they still drove stock cars instead of custom-designed racing cars with shells painted to look like stock.

February 25, 2002: Mercedes risks duplication with new engines

Though Chrysler and Mercedes will not be allowed to have any unique engines, Mercedes will continue to design and produce engines solely for use in Mercedes vehicles (including the reskinned Mercedes known as the Crossfire). A completely new range of engines using superchargers, valve control, balance shafts, and (on about one fifth of the engines) direct fuel injection (borrowed from Mitsubishi?) will be used in the C-class, and, later, in the E-class.

February 26, 2002: Dukes of Hazzard game

Doug Hedrick noted that a Dukes of Hazard computer game is now for sale at http://www.clickcooldeals.com/games.htm - featuring "cars provided by Chrysler Corporation."

February 26, 2002: Hyundai to build new factory

Hyundai's new factory in the US will, not surprisingly, be built in the South, far from any Chrysler plants - Alabama and Kentucky currently appear to be bidding against each other to see which state can spend more tax dollars on the plant.

February 27, 2002: Pawley working with Chrysler dealers

Chrysler has hired (as a consultant) former manufacturing chief Dennis Pawley to help dealers reduce costs, through his Lean Learning Center training firm.

February 27, 2002: SXT notes

Now that the SXT version of (apparently) each Dodge model has been publicized, it's time to point out Rich Hutchinson's remarks on the new trim line (written 33 days ago):

"Anybody heard of the new SXT? Really, it isn't much..it kinda fits in where the old Expresso did. But...based on the PR blurb I read it seems they're using the new trim line to advertise the Neon as a (gasp!) *fun* car.

"Gee marketing, welcome to the party. Where ya been all these years? Using the R/T to push rear seat room apparently. [Yes, that is what they were doing.]

"But hey, like the SRT...better late than never. At least they're trying to get something out of the car rather than let it languish until the next car comes out."

February 27, 2002: Ford closes Dagenham, microcars finally arrive

Ford is closing most of its Dagenham plant, ending the illusion for British buyers that Ford is a domestic brand and possibly impacting on future sales in that country. The plant will now make diesel engines instead.

Meanwhile, the popular Nissan Micra is said to be making its way to the United States, heating up the low-cost car segment with the kind of vehicles popular every in the world except the US. The vehicle will do battle with the Toyota Echo and other vehicles in the $10,000-and-below range. Chrysler had originally planned a vehicle in roughly this segment (hence the joint venture with Rover for small engines, one of which is making its way into the BMW Mini).

February 28, 2002: 200,000 Club to be compiled soon

We're getting the first quarter-2002 listing of Chrysler, Dodge, Plymouth, Jeep, and AMC vehicles with over 200,000 miles ready. To get your car(s), truck(s), and van(s) in, visit the page today and register! Hopefully the list will be ready early next week.

February 28, 2002: Belvedere plant up for sale?

TV station WTVO reported on rumors that Belvedere, like so many Chrysler assets, might be up for sale. Click here for the story.

March 1, 2002: Jeep doesn't get injunction

The Chevy Yukon will soon be available with a Jeep grille and a Hummer name-badge, thanks to a Federal judge who decided that Jeep's trademark 7-slot grille can also be used by GM, which will be selling the "Hummer H2" (based on the Yukon, but selling for $50,000). A federal judge refused to grant an injunction against GM, saying that Chrysler waited far too long to bring suit, and should have done it back when the original Hummer was introduced. The judge also stated nobody would be confused by a GM which looks just like a Jeep, and that the availability of another vehicle with Jeep styling and a Jeep grille would not cause irreparable harm to Jeep. However, the case will still go to court.

March 1, 2002: VW recalls

Volkswagen is recalling Golf, Jetta, and New Beetle (as well as the Bora outside the US) models made between March and July 2001 for potential braking failure.

March 1, 2002: Chrysler does well in quality survey

Following a lead by Pete Johnstone, we checked out the latest

March 1, 2002: GM up a little, Ford down a bit

GM's sales appear to have increased a little in January (compared to the prior year), though incentives have gone up as well. The main increase was in trucks. Ford, on the other hand, saw sales decline by more than 11 percent. Chrysler has not yet checked in. More details later.

March 1, 2002: Chrysler sales down yet again

Chrysler sales plunged about 11 percent in January compared with last year - a showing similar to that of Ford, though Chrysler has had much better quality in recent times. Genciu wrote: "For everyone worrying about the new Ram pickup sales; they are up 19% from last year 27,156 to 32,253! Neon was up 20%; but when you factor in lost Plymouth Neon sales, total Neon sales are down.

"The bad news: everything else is down from last year.

"But, from last month, the PT Cruiser is up 57%, minivans are up 39%, Grand Cherokee is up 35% and Durango is up 28%. "

March 1, 2002: Toyota names youth line

Even as Chrysler has shed Plymouth, Toyota is planning a third brand in the US. It has finally named its youth-oriented brand "Scion." We'd guess Toyota either knows something Chrysler doesn't, or vice versa, or both.

March 1, 2002: Correction

We correct the following story: the Scion (a plant term like Corolla) is not a new brand, as previously expected, but a new line of cars.

March 4, 2002: PT Convertible in the works for 2004

...according to Detroit News today. It has two doors.

March 4, 2002: GM, Ford load on incentives

Ford and GM are in a battle for market supremacy, with Chrysler paying the price (since imports seem to be less price-sensitive). Ford will continue zero percent financing and rebates of up to $2,500 on most models, while GM is offering $2,002 rebates with financing of 0% to 3.9% depending on the loan period. The GM plan covers Chevrolet, Pontiac, GMC, Buick, and Oldsmobile through the end of March (Cadillac, Saturn, and Saab are not in the program). Chrysler is currently offering $2,500 rebates.

March 4, 2002: PT derivatives coming

Chrysler is considering other PT Cruiser derivatives including a wagon and small pickup, according to Detroit News, though these would most likely appear after the 2003 debut of the turbocharged GT Cruiser and the 2004 convertible version. Where's the panel van?

March 4, 2002: BMW using MS technology - beware!

Microsoft announced that the BMW 7 series' iDrive system is based on Windows CE for Automotive. Microsoft's Bob McKenzie said, according to just-auto.com, "When we heard about BMW's telematics vision, we knew the exceptional quality in Microsoft technology would fit hand-in-hand." Of course, if you use Consumer Reports to judge BMW's quality, this statement makes sense...particularly with regard to the BMW SUV... perhaps if Toyota used Windows CE, we'd be more impressed.

March 4, 2002: Microsoft again (brief editorial)

Did you ever get the idea the auto industry was filled with whiners who exaggerated the harmful effects of all auto regulations, going back to the 1970s with "all cars will get horrible mileage, have no power, and not idle properly if we have to use pollution controls!" ? To gain a little perspective, consider that Microsoft is now saying that following antitrust rulings - after being found to have violated antitrust law, and also after having been caught falsifying evidence during the trial - would cause the company to have to abandon Windows. Read more.

March 5, 2002: Maybach introduced, Ford promotes diesels

Mercedes introduced their top-end Maybach line, to be sold this fall, at the Geneva International Auto Show. The Maybach will sell for over $250,000, and will be made entirely by Mercedes. It will use a V-12 engine, just like the old Maybachs. Detroit News pointed out that Mercedes' recent track record for new vehicles has not been stellar.  

Maybach will offer two models, one simply named Maybach, the other called (appropriately, given its size) Zeppelin. The V-12 will have 550 horsepower. Production is limited to 1,000 cars per year, and all are built to order.

At the same time, the Bentley and Rolls-Royce marques are being rejuvenated - one will be owned by Volkswagen, the other by BMW. It seems that the super-luxury field has become the province of Germany.

Maybach has long been more prominent on DaimlerChrysler's press Web site than Chrysler, taking the second line of the main index. Chrysler Group comes just after Maybach, but Dodge and Jeep are not mentioned - though Maybach is a separate unit, on paper, it is made and designed by Mercedes.

Meanwhile, on a more pedestrian and probably more important note, Ford will be pushing diesels more in the United States - a good move for dramatically raising gas mileage.

March 6, 2002: B-series coffin nailed tightly

GM has completed its first major redesign of its full-size vans, the Chevy Express and GMC Savana. The 2003 models include updated powertrains and safety features, along with new usability features for targeted commercial buyers. Dodge has neglected its B-series commercial vans for an amazingly long stretch of time, and will be ceasing production shortly, leaving the Pillette Road plant where they are made empty - as far as we know. There was talk of Mercedes building Sprinters there, but Mercedes has so far resisted using any ex-Chrysler plants, preferring to have Southern states and cities bid against each other for new, non-union plants.

March 6, 2002: Car and Driver picks Ram

Chris wrote: "[they] finally stopped [complaining] about the motor and evaluated the whole truck. The Ram was tops in comfort, handling, and value. Second in fit and finish (a Dodge!), features, and off roading. Engines tied Ford. Toyota Tundra managed only a third due to its cramped interior and that not everybody likes the 'Baja-style ride' of its off-road package."

March 6, 2002: Interesting Windows XP analogy

Jim Cullinan, Microsoft Windows XP lead product manager, said that the forthcoming Windows XP update "will be similar to putting a new coat of wax on your brand-new car." Does that mean it will be bad for the Windows XP finish? Most of us know you don't wax a brand-new car...right? (We could also add that wax doesn't usually add all sorts of features and commercials to the car.)

March 6, 2002: Neon vs Corolla

Corolland has an interesting Neon - vs - Corolla comparison on their specs page. Click here to visit. (They have a similar comparison on their 2003 Camry page.)

March 7, 2002: More parts sharing at DCX

Detroit News reported that Chrysler COO Wolfgang Bernhard said DCX's various brands will share more parts in the future. For example, computer software will be common across all Chrysler and Mercedes models. Other executives, according to the Detroit News, said that Freightliner, Chrysler, Mercedes, and Mitsubishi will have many more common parts starting in 2004, in order to cut costs by an estimated 4-6%.

March 10, 2002: Ford fires (yet again)

Arizona's attorney general has asked Ford to look into recalling Crown Victoria/Police Interceptors because they seem vulnerable to fire after rear end collisions. The attorney general indicated two deaths could be linked to the design. NHTSA already has an investigation open into the three siblings - Crown Vic, Grand Marquis, and Lincoln Town Car - because "the fuel tank can rupture following a high-energy rear collision resulting in severe fires."

March 10, 2002: Styling leaders change

(Chrysler press release) Chrysler today announced that Freeman Thomas has been named Head -- Pacifica Advance Product Design Center in Carlsbad, Calif., and that Tom Tremont has been appointed Vice President - Advance Product Design Strategy, based in Auburn Hills, Mich. and reporting to Trevor Creed, Senior Vice President - Design.

Freeman Thomas' move from Auburn Hills back to his native California will streamline communications between the corporation's centralized Product Design Operations, its satellite design center in California and creative support suppliers. Thomas, 44, joined the Chrysler Group in 1999 and spent nearly three years heading up Advance Product Design.

After spending 17 years at the Pacifica Advance Product Design Center, Tom Tremont, 53, will move to Auburn Hills to oversee Chrysler Group's Advance Product Design Strategy in the position of Vice President.

Under Tremont's direction, the Pacifica Advance Product Design Center evolved into Chrysler Group's highly lauded design "skunk works". This studio created design trends such as Cab Forward and Passenger Priority.

March 10, 2002: VW strong-arms Virtual Works

Visit http://www.vwx.com/ for some sobering information on how fragile our Internet is in the face of large corporations - and apparently how easily justice can be purchased, even (or especially) by foreign companies. In this case, Volkswagen decided that vw.net infringed on its copyright, even though vw.net was Virtual Works' network and not a sales site, and in no way connected to auto sales.

March 13, 2002: Just-Auto on Consumer Reports findings

Just-Auto.com reported on the Consumer Reports reliability survey [click here for our notes], noting that Chrysler was the best among domestic brands, with 22 problems per 100 vehicles, followed closely by GM and less closely by Ford (26). The "most reliable" American vehicle was the 300M. The best makers overall were Toyota and Subaru, Toyota having 12 problems were 100 vehicles. The worst vehicles were the Audi A6 2.7 turbo and the Ford Explorer Sport Trac. (Note that we are reporting on the Just-Auto survey and therefore believe we are exempt from the easily-threatened Consumer Reports lawsuits. We sure appreciate the Consumer Reports "we like to threaten you with lawsuits" attitude.)

March 14, 2002: Neon compared to Civic

Corolland.com has added the Civic to its Corolla-vs-Neon comparison. While the Neon doesn't exactly trounce the Corolla in the comparison, so far - with Corolla acceleration figures still not in, and gas mileage quite high - the Neon does seem to have the edge over the Civic. See for yourself.

March 15, 2002: Kia minivan bombs in IIHS bumper tests

The Kia Sedona, one of the cheapest minivans available with a V-6 - but undercut quite a bit by the lowest-priced Dodge minivans - got the lowest rating every given by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety for a minivan.  The five mile per hour crash tests resulted in average damage of over $2,400, with one test costing over $4,300 when the front airbags were set off, cracking the windshield and other parts.

 The Sedona did get the government's top five-star rating in its front crash test, which measures driver injuries after a 35 mph collision. It should be relatively easy to increase the effectiveness of the bumpers.

March 15, 2002: Recalls

NHTSA announced several recalls, including 2002 Jeep Grand Cherokees (a vapor recovery valve can leak after a crash), the 1999-2002 Land Rover Discovery II (faulty ABS through 2001 and weak accelerator cables through 2002), 1996-1998 Toyota 4Runners for rear suspension parts, 1998-2000 Volkswagen Passats (fuel filler neck modifications), 1997-1999 Jettas (ditto), and 2001-2002 Beetles, Jettas, and Golfs (ABS).

March 16, 2002: Zetsche cites Chrysler quality, new models

Dieter Zetsche announced that Chrysler would bring out eleven new models by 2004. He also noted currently favorable quality statistics (due largely to redesigns and management existing before the takeover had its effects). To quote a Chrysler press release, "Zetsche cited the most recent J.D. Power Initial Quality Survey, which showed Chrysler Group passenger cars ahead of all domestic makes and better than many import manufacturers. In addition, Consumer Reports rated Chrysler Group vehicles best for reliability among U.S. manufacturers in its April edition, with fewer problems recorded on average than European-built vehicles. Five of the company's models earned a Consumer Reports 'Recommended' rating, up from three the year before."

Zetsche did not mention what the eleven models were, specifically. Some insiders have questioned what will happen after the LX series is finished, noting that Chrysler does not seem to have any new lines coming up after "works in progress" are finished, and that no new engine lines seem to be planned, either (though Chrysler will reportedly take responsibility for V6 engines used in Mitsubishis).

March 17, 2002: Iaccoca blasts Schrempp

Detroit News has three major articles on Lee Iaccoca and his reaction to the events at Chrysler. Notable are his opinion of Bob Eaton - viewed as an incompetent coward - and a note that Schrempp, on seeing Iaccoca's Chrysler and Lincoln, said he'd send Iaccoca a real car, with a Mercedes S-class soon following. (Schrempp might run Chrysler, but it's plain to see that he thinks it's essentially worthless - aside from some profits to bleed off and some plants to sell.)

Here are the articles:Iacocca wants >in; Schrempp says no

    Lutz and Eaton: The good vs. the bad

    March 18, 2002: Another survey rates Chrysler above Mercedes

    The Strategic Vision survey this year put Mercedes-Benz 31st out of 35 brands for quality, just slightly ahead of Hyundai, according to USA Today. 14% of Mercedes owners reported problems in the first three months of ownership. More details to follow.

    March 21, 2002: New special edition minivan

    Just in time for spring and summer vacation, the Chrysler brand will introduce a limited edition Town & Country eX Touring Edition minivan. Chrysler's new vacation minivan model will start to arrive in dealerships by April. "We built this minivan for the people who love to rack up frequent driver miles on family vacations," said Tom Marinelli, Vice President, Chrysler/Jeep® Global Brand Center. "Our new Chrysler Town & Country eX Touring Edition is perfect for those who want to travel to and from their vacation destinations in comfort, luxury and style." \The 2002 Chrysler Town & Country eX Touring Edition is the company's first vehicle to feature a factory-installed flip-down (from the roof) 7 x 6.4-inch liquid crystal display (LCD) screen and a DVD unit that plays both DVDs and CDs. The model also comes complete with two sets of minivan-first wireless headphones, two minivan-first removable power center consoles, a beverage cooler bag insert for the console, and unique aluminum wheels.

    Other features include a power-up and power-down liftgate, split 50/50 roller rear seats, three-zone temperature control, four-wheel disc brakes with traction control, and a 215-horsepower 3.8 liter V-6 engine.

    The sticker price is just over $28,000, including destination charge. It will be built at the "better" plant in Windsor.

    Chrysler noted that their market share has tripled from 1 to 3 percent, though it should be noted that ending the Plymouth brand and selling the Plymouth Voyager as the Chrysler Voyager probably had something to do with that.

    March 21, 2002: Neon tests well on the track

    Tommy Boy wrote this encouraging news: "Fellas, by now we're sick of the Neon being dissed by all the major rags when it comes to multi-car comparos. I'd like to point your attention to the May 2002 issue of Grassroots Motorsports, available at Borders bookstore. You can view the cover online at the mag's website, www.grmotorsports.com. Anyway, this was no highbrow, stuffy whine-fest... they [took] 7 'pocket rockets under $20,000' to the local autocross to see how they matched up. While they were there, they put each car on a chassis dyno and also measured 0-60 times. The cars included 2002 versions of the Mazda MP3, VW Golf GTI turbo, Nissan Sentra SE-R, Focus SVT, Civic Si, Hyundai Tiburon V6, and the Neon ACR. ... When all was said and done, the Neon finished mid-pack in 0-60 (7.9 seconds). But on the roadcourse the Neon spanked the others like a cruel stepmother. It finshed the course at least 1.5 seconds ahead of the Focus, and 2 or 3 seconds ahead of everything else. They loved the handling, saying if I remember, that with the car dialed in right (bear in mind it has adjustable suspension pieces from the factory) it had as close to perfect handling as it gets in this class. They found some complaint with every other car in the test, concerning handling. All this, gents, and it was easily the cheapest car in the test to boot!"

    March 22, 2002: Ram scores well in crash test

    The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gave the 2002 Dodge Ram a "good" rating for its high-speed front-offset crash test, a substantial improvement over the 2001's "poor" designation. "Good" is the highest category, though the IIHS also designates some vehicles as a "best pick" (including the Subaru Impreza and Mitsubishi Lancer).

    March 22, 2002: Are Chryslers more reliable than Mercedes?

    The famous "unbiased" consumer magazine which won't let us drop their name seems to indicate, in its annual reliability survey, that there is no Mercedes which can match up to the least reliable Chrysler. We looked at the C-class, E-class, S-class, SLK CLK, and M-class, and found that only the E-class and SLK were above average, and not by enough to be rated "above average." The less said by Mercedes about the CLK and M-class, the better. Meanwhile, Chrysler had some shining vehicles - the PT Cruiser and 300M - while others, the Sebring and Concorde, were just about average. The minivans fell a bit short - not enough to be rated "below average" - but all were pooled together (so we don't know if the Chrysler was better or worse than the Dodge), as were the Chrysler Sebrings made by Chrysler and those (reportedly less reliable) made by Mitsubishi. Generally, though, no Chrysler was rated below average, while two Mercedes were - pretty far below, in fact. The PT Cruiser neatly beat every Mercedes.

    Unfortunately, we don't actually believe this magazine's reliability ratings, but they do give us some good ammo against any snobby Volvo, Mercedes, or BMW owners we might come across.

    Meanwhile,

    March 22, 2002: Judge refuses to dismiss Kerkorian suit

    Reuters reported that a federal judge on refused to dismiss two lawsuits accusing DaimlerChrysler of lying about the nature of the takeover by Daimler-Benz AG in 1998. He did dismiss a class action suit, however. Eight of nine charges in Kerkorian's lawsuit remain intact. The primary basis for the suit is that the "merger of equals" was in fact a takeover - promises that Chrysler would have substantial board representation and independence have been invalidated in a mere four years. Kerkorian's unique ability to sue is based on his having been Chrysler's largest shareholder at the time. The other lawsuit allowed to remain was pressed by an investment bank with substantial shares.

    March 25, 2002: Headlight glare gets attention

    NHTSA's 1968 standards on where automakers can put truck and SUV headlights have come under fire as people have complained to the agency about glare from high-mounted headlights. Just-auto has a good article on this - click here.

    March 25, 2002: DCX execs cut pay, still above BMW

    DCX cut the pay of top executives by 61 percent, lowering the 13 management board members' average base pay (before bonuses) to $1.5 million. That's still far above BMW, which, unlike DCX, earned high profits and even passed Mercedes to become the second biggest luxury brand in the United States. DCX lost large amounts of cash due to mismanagement of newly acquired Freightliner and Chrysler, and was not helped by losses at (1/3 owned) Mitsubishi.

    March 27, 2002: New York Auto Show - GT Cruiser, Pacifica

    The Chrysler Pacifica and GT Cruiser have finally been officially announced.

    Chrysler Pacifica

    The Chrysler Pacifica is officially called a sport tourer, and Chrysler was careful to show that it is a true category-buster, not simply another reshaped wagon or minivan. The design team leader told us that, while it has a rear suspension design similar to the Mercedes E-Class, few if any parts are shared. In addition, unlike the concept, few parts are shared with minivans. The design team leader told us (even when pressed) that the Pacifica, as it now stands, had little in common with any other car produced by the DaimlerChrysler empire, aside from the engine.

    The Pacifica generated much excitement, though quite a bit of it seemed to come from BMW Car Club members - who may have seen quite a bit of X-5 in the lines of the Pacifica. Powered (as we wrote earlier) by a 3.5 liter V6 "from the 300M," the Pacifica is surprisingly attractive in person. The wheelbase is right between the short and long minivans, and other dimensions are very similar to the Grand Caravan. In person, though, it looks more like a tall car.

    The Pacifica's interior is completely different from any other Chrysler vehicle, and combines elegance, practicality, and room for telematics - indeed, a navigation system will be available from the outset. The version on display featured all wheel drive, though reportedly a front wheel drive version will also be available. Strips of wood - real or false, we couldn't tell - accent well defined doors and the dashboard. The navigation system does not dominate the car.

    The few minivan style touches included a movable (we think) center console, and rear controls for ventilation and audio functions. The rear hatch moves up and down under power, just like it does in the Caravan, and we would be surprised if the all wheel drive system did not also borrow from the Grand Caravan.

    The instrument panel was not visible on our vehicle - we tried putting the lights on, but the panel remained dim, presumably to prevent competitors from getting a preview. The Pacifica will not be available to the public for one full year. However, the controls and center stack all seemed sensibly designed and attractive to look at. Seat controls are on the door, where they are easier to locate. The appearance throughout the interior is surprisingly subtle and pleasant (surprising only because Audi's Freeman Thomas was let loose in the Chrysler design studios).

    Pricing was very deliberately not announced, though the figure $24,000 has been airing (probably for the base model, with two wheel drive) and the number $35,000 was heard (probably for the model we saw, with all wheel drive, DVD system with roof-mounted screen, and other goodies.

    GT Cruiser

    The announcement for the "PT Cruiser turbo" was made in a by-the-way manner, and it was not referred to as a GT Cruiser - but, on the rear hatch, were the letters "GT." That, and a small silver plate announcing "2.4 turbo" on the other side of the hatch, were the only exterior indications that this was indeed a GT Cruiser. That should give all other PTs an image boost when the GT Cruiser goes on sale - sometime around January, we believe.

    We will post photos of the GT Cruiser's 2.4 liter engine and the Pacifica by (hopefully before) Monday.

    Heavy duty Ram

    The Ram 3500 does not look bad in person. The dually rear wheels have an unusually subtle treatment, stretching out the bulge more than usual. The Hemi engine was on display, in cutaway, pushrods and all (we'll have photos by Monday). The display 3500 - there was only one - used the Cummins straight-six turbodiesel, allaying some fears that Mercedes would supports its favorite brand at the cost of Ram sales.

    Other auto show news

    It seems that every manufacturer is now making some sort of crossover vehicle, and also something that looks vaguely like an Audi TT. There's the Chrysler Crossfire, for one, which we were told by Chrysler PR's Anne Smith would be a standard production vehicle - not a limited production, but produced to the full extent that the market would bear. But TT-like vehicles seemed very common, along with the usual small car-SUVs.

    We also noted the Toyota/Pontiac Vibe, essentially a Corolla wagon with no attempt to differentiate the interiors at all (though the Pontiac version had a different front clip). Ford had two new alternative fuel vehicles, one being the new mid-sized fuel cell vehicle which will reportedly go on sale within one year - we believe using a gaseous feed (e.g. natural gas), with the tank in the trunk. Another vehicle looked remarkably like the concept cars Chrysler was producing nearly ten years ago, like the Java - right down to the matte-finish plastic body panels. This one would use electric power as a city car, and appeared ready for production. The fearsome Mitsubishi Evolution was also on display, along with a range of rather ugly GM concepts and the h3, which, indeed, is hard to mistake for a Jeep.

    More to come through Monday.

    March 28, 2002: Industry news

    Daimler-Benz Empire

    The Chrysler 7 year, 100,000 mile warranty will continue through the end of April, and Chrysler is deciding whether to make it permanent or continue to keep it as a month-by-month incentive.

    Mitsubishi will be splitting off its commercial vehicles division into a joint venture with Daimler-Benz, which owns 37 percent of Mitsubishi Motors, according to newspaper Nihon Keizai Shimbun. In related news, COO Rolf Eckrodt, recently imported from #1 shareholder DCX (specifically, of course, Mercedes), will become CEO (chief executive officer), as the Mercedes contingent continues to spread its obvious leadership superiority - the leadership which helped Freightliner and Chrysler to reach their current levels of success. Eckrodt's main claim to fame is slashing jobs and capacity at Adtranz to prepare it for sale to Bombardier, which is now suing DCX for misleading it about Adtranz's commitments and status. As leader of Mercedes Brazil, he shut down a plant and ended 1,8000 jobs. Good luck, Mitsubishi.

    General Motors

    GM is continuing to mine its offshore divisions, this time announcing that it will import the fearsome V8 Holden Monaro as the Pontiac GTO around model year 2004 (probably late next year). Meanwhile, Saturn introduced the new Ion, to replace the now rather aged S series (SL, SC) which was actually introduced before the original Neon. The Ion looks much like the S series it replaces.

    April 1, 2002: Viper vs Viper, SXT models

    As a publicity stunt, the Dodge Viper was pitted against the F-16 "Viper" aircraft in a race that ended when the jet fighter became airborne (around 150 mph), which took around 15 seconds for the Dodge. In the first race, the pre-production Viper SRT Competition Coupe convertible flew stock, and in the second, its PVO team enhancements were countered by the F-16's afterburners. The results will be aired on Ripley's Believe It or Not TV show on July 10. The Viper Competition Coupe's acceleration estimates are 0-60 mph in 3.8 sec.; 0-100 mph in 9.2 sec.; 60-0 in 90 ft.; 100-0 mph in 260 ft. and top speed of 193 mph.

    Meanwhile, Dodge finally announced the SXT versions of the Dodge Neon, Stratus Sedan and Coupe, and Dodge Intrepid, which join the Durango and Dakota. The SXT is essentially an option package, adding to the current and confusing SE, ES, and SRT options (SRT replacing or supplementing R/T depending on the model - SRT meaning "street, road, and track" while R/T is "road and track," since we all know streets and roads are totally different.)

    April 2, 2002: Hyundai to open new plant in Alabama

    Hyundai, which is partly owned by DCX, has chosen Alabama as a site for a new auto plant, though DCX has shed crocodile tears for the laid off Chrysler workers and Chrysler plant closings. No Chrysler workers have been invited to apply for jobs in Alabama. Alabama is providing $118 million in incentives to Hyundai to open the 2,000-worker plant near Montgomery, in a now-standard gesture of corporate welfare. /rant/ Kind of makes one miss the days when companies like Volkswagen and Toyota took over former Ford and GM plants, and gave jobs to all those laid-off factory workers while re-invigorating local economies which relied on the shuttered plants. And there's certainly no shortage of shuttered (or about to be shuttered) auto plants - including our local GM plant in Linden. One would think it would be faster and cheaper to re-use an existing plant with roadways and transit systems already built, but then you might not be able to get states in bidding wars to throw taxpayer dollars at foreign companies. /rant off/

    April 2, 2002: Ford Focus flaws found

    NHTSA is investigating a number of design and construction flaws in the Ford Focus, the world's best selling car. There have been faulty rear wheel bearings and engine fires in 2000 models, and 16 customers reported being burned by gas from airbags (with two car fires reported). Airbag deployments are relatively rare, and that number of burns is high despite the Focus' sales (it sells well, but not that well, in the US). Coupled with this issue is inappropriate airbag deployment. See Detroit News' autosinsider.com for details.

    April 3, 2002: First quarter 2002 sales figures

    While the American car market dived by nine percent compared with 2001, both European and Asian automakers managed impressive gains. The strongest gainers (keeping in mind they have low overall market share, so it is easier to gain or lose share) were Kia (over 25 percent), Mitsubishi, and Hyundai, which will soon build its first American plant in the South with the help of over a hundred million US taxpayer dollars (yes, we are paying to help a foreign automaker to compete with American automakers).

    Of the domestic brands, Ford's sales declined the most, 12 percent for the quarter. Chrysler was next, with a drop of 9 percent, followed by GM, falling 5 percent. For March, Ford sales fell 12 percent, Chrysler 4 percent, and GM 1 percent. (Figures provided just-auto.com).

    April 4, 2002: March sales

    Genciu wrote: "Compared to last March: Ford sales are down 12% and GM is down 1.7%. Though Chrysler was down 5%, there is much good news. Ram truck sales are up 8% to 35,457! Wait until the 2500/3500 are updated in the fall with the Hemi!

    Sebring sedan is up 31%, convertible +40%; 300M + 14%; PT Cruiser + 11%; Neon + 11%; Intrepid + 34%! (14,372 vs. 11,083); Caravan +2%; and Liberty sold 12,594 (not sure, but maybe best month yet without rebates).

    Stratus coupe is down 41% and Sebring coupe is down 38%. Looking at weekly production figures on those two vehicles, wonder how they can afford to keep building them. 11,020 Stratus sedans to 1,358 Stratus coupes sold last month. [Webmaster: note that these coupes are designed and made by Mitsubishi, based on the Eclipse.]

    The change in the product mix, with more expensive vehicles (particularly the Ram) posting gains, may explain why DCX North American revenues are actually up for the quarter.

    April 4, 2002: Auto show news page

    Auto show news, with more detail and photos of the vehicles and engines, is now posted here.

    April 8, 2002: Moparfest!

    Canada’s Largest All Mopar Event is looking for first time vehicles to attend as well as the participants that return every year. At the price of the Canadian dollar right now this would be a great way to enjoy the weekend as well as meet fellow Mopar lovers.

    Moparfest is sponsored by the Old Chrysler Corporation Auto Club - (O.C.C. Inc.). Moparfest 2002 includes a pre-register door prize - 1971 Dodge Demon, as well as a crate engine and a transmission, and other smaller prizes.

    Moparfest will be held August 17 and 18 2002 at the New Hamburg Fair Grounds, New Hamburg, Ontario, Canada.

    April 8, 2002: Canada reclassifies SUVs as cars

    Showing some understanding of rather old automotive trends, Canada is reclassifying SUVs as cars, which will make them subject to more stringent pollution standards. Overall, Canada is lowering maximum limits for nitrogen oxides from 0.3 grams per mile to 0.07 grams per mile (note that this is not done in a pointless proportion or percentage, so that cars with higher fuel efficiency are rewarded instead of punished compared with trucks). Currently, SUVs only have to comply with truck standards of 1.53 grams per mile. The move will probably slow or stop the growth of SUV sales in Canada, while boosting car sales. The new regulation will come into effect in September 2003 for 2004 and later models.

    April 9, 2002: DCX may take over Mitsubishi

    While DCX currently controls Mitsubishi, with a 37% stake and its own executives running the show, Juergen Schrempp said the conglomerate may take over Mitsubishi Motors entirely next year. This was an option when DCX purchased its third of the troubled corporation. DCX's influence has already been felt as Mitsubishi has cut carlines and factory capacity, been told to phase out its V6 engines in favor of Chrysler's, but also been given control of the next-generation small Dodge and had its mid-sized Galant shared with Dodge as the next-generation Stratus. Interestingly, DCX has slashed Chrysler's product development and is selling Chrysler factories under the rationale that DCX does not have enough money - apparently it does, because it takes money to buy nearly two thirds of a large auto corporation.

    April 9, 2002: Dodge Road Scholar program

    The Dodge Road Scholar College Tour is an annual event where students at college campuses across the country can test drive Dodge vehicles in various contests and events, with the shot at winning prizes and entering drawings.

    Students can test drive Dodge vehicles in on- and off-road courses, pitting themselves against their friends in numerous games and contests. Prizes range from a free 2-year lease from Dodge to NHL and NASCAR merchandise. Events in include rock climbing, test driving, video games, and golf cages. Included in these events are local campus awareness issues and discussions.

    For the complete article and schedule of visits to the college near you, visit the Dodge website at http://www.dodge.com/universal/collegeTour/tour.html.

    April 10, 2002: Chrysler may have operating profit

    Chrysler will post a slight profit just in time for the annual shareholders' meeting, according to DCX. A nauseating article in Detroit News, loaded with references to "struggling Chrysler Group" and hinting at Daimler-Benz as being poor incompetent Chrysler's savior, quoted DCX officials as saying that Chrysler would indeed post a profit before taxes, interest, and other items.

    We would remind visitors that it is impossible to see what is really going on behind the scenes, and that we have suspected funky bookkeeping practices and Mercedes-led redesigns are more responsible for Chrysler's "losses" than flaws in Chrysler itself - though we'd hardly applaud the former company's leadership, marketing, advertising, or product strategy under the later days of Robert Eaton, Mercedes or no Mercedes. If this is true, then all DCX would have to do to create a profit would be to hold off on extracting "consulting fees," royalties, etc. from Chrysler to Mercedes; indeed, any number of accounting tricks would work.

    In any case, Schrempp seems to have realized that a Chrysler losing money will not endear anyone to his leadership, and that Mercedes can hardly be the white knight saving Chrysler if Chrysler is not at least marginally profitable.

    Some of Chrysler's losses last year were also due to one-time charges from plant closures. This year, there will be one-time gains due to the sales of a wide variety of Chrysler plants and facilities, including the Austrian plant where minivans and Jeeps are made for European buyers.

    April 10, 2002: Three Dodges grab top ten spots in Texas NASCAR

    Sterling Marlin, Jimmy Spencer and Bill Elliott scored a Dodge top 10 trifecta in Monday's rain-delayed Samsung/RadioShack 500 NASCAR Winston Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway.

    Elliott won the pole in Dodge Dealers Intrepid R/T and finished ninth. He jumped three spots in the NASCAR Winston Cup Standings and ranks 10th after seven races.

    Spencer and Marlin qualified with the same speed and finished eighth and seventh, respectively. Marlin retained the No. 1 spot in the Winston Cup Standings and now leads race winner Matt Kenseth by 70 points.

    Marlin's Dodge Intrepid R/T had won its first two races this season - Las Vegas and Darlington. Spencer scored his second straight top 10 finish and third of the season.

    Despite rules that some have criticized as favoring Ford, Dodge is close to Ford in points, with 45 to Ford's 49. Chevrolet and Pontiac are tied with 30 points each.

    April 12, 2002: CarConnection: same platform to be Neon/Stratus

    This article suggests that DCX CEO Juergen Schrempp said that a new platform was being jointly designed by Mitsubishi and Chrysler to replace the current Galant, Stratus, Neon, and Lancer - which kind of makes sense, since though the Neon and Stratus (and Galant and Lancer) are in different price classes, they are about the same size. It does harken back to the K-car days,though, when the same basic platform was used for economy, sport, and near-luxury (as in Reliant, Daytona, and Imperial). It also conflicts with prior statements that Chrysler was leading the redesign of the Galant and that the Lancer would spawn the replacement for the Neon (a plan notable for the fact that it puts each company in charge of the product line they sell the lesser of, and also for the fact that Mitsubishi platforms would prevail in both cases).

    The article also noted that Chrysler still contributes over a third of DCX's revenue, though it, like most articles, used the "troubled Chrysler being turned around by powerful Daimler" tone that makes us shudder.

    April 15, 2002: Chrysler engines in BMWs?

    The redesigned BMW 1-series may soon be making its way to the United States, complete with a 105 horsepower base engine (which may stay in Europe) which, as far as we know, is the model used in the Mini and jointly designed by Rover and Chrysler. Rover was temporarily swallowed up by BMW, and spit back out again when the luxury/perormance automaker realized it had no idea how to run a mass-market car company (Mercedes, are you listening?). Chrysler had intended to use the 1.4 and 1.6 liter engines, produced in South America, for a new line of subcompacts and for European versions of the Neon, but this seems increasingly unlikely as Chrysler's car business is moved into a new phase of platform-sharing.

    April 15, 2002: DCX to build another new US plant for Sprinter?

    According to Detroit News, DCX is planning another new assembly plant in the US, this one for the popular Sprinter commercial van. American cities and states are bidding hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to get the nonunion jobs in their area, even as DCX closes existing Chrysler plants, throwing thousands of people out of work and leaving large tracts of land with factories, railroad sidings, and roads empty.

    April 16, 2002: 4.0 Jeeps to get preventive recall

    2000-2002 Jeep® Wranglers, 2000-2001 Jeep Cherokees and 1999-2002 Jeep Grand Cherokees with 4.0 liter engines to reduce the possibility of debris accumulation in the engine compartment that could potentially cause a fire. There have been no accidents or injuries related to this issue. The Chrysler Group determined a design change made to the engine manifolds modified the underhood airflow, which in rare cases could lead to debris accumulation in the engine compartment. While this situation is uncommon, the Chrysler Group will attach a shield in the manifold area to prevent this from occurring.

    April 16, 2002: New York Lotto sings about K-cars

    The New York lotto commercials, featuring people singing "if I had a million dollars, I'd be rich" has added the following lyric: "(if I had a million dollars,) I'd buy you a K-car / a nice reliable automobile."

    April 16, 2002: Exide fails

    When Bob Lutz first left Chrysler, he went to run Exide, which just filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, blaming a heavy debt load from its acquisitions and price competition. The Financial Times reported that Exide also had been accused of bribery. We do not know, but suspect, that these issues predated Lutz.

    April 16, 2002: NHRA in Houston - eliminations

    In the Mopar Parts NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series, teams completed eliminations for this weekend’s O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Spring Nationals at Houston Raceway Park. Darrell Alderman drove his Mopar Parts Dodge Neon R/T to the second round while Dean Skuza ended his day in round one.

    Darrell Alderman and the Mopar Parts Dodge Neon R/T lost to Warren Johnson in the second round of competition. Even though Alderman had his third-straight starting line advantage over Johnson, a 6.897-second elapsed time at 201.31 was not enough to outrun a 6.872/201.04 combination.

    Alderman advanced to the second round with a decisive first-round victory over George Marnell. The three-time POWERade Drag Racing Series Pro Stock World Champion clicked off a 6.879-second pass at 202.03 mph, which was second fast for the session.

    Dean Skuza, driver of the Mopar Parts Dodge Stratus R/T, lost in the first round to Tommy Johnson, Jr. The Brecksville, Ohio resident run a 5.168-second pass at 276.06 mph, but Johnson drove to a quicker 4.967/305.36 combination. "I had to pedal it a little on that run," Skuza said. "We’re getting closer to know what this new car needs to be competitive. We’re real happy with what we learned and we’ll see what we can do in Bristol."

    Catch it now (April 16), 2:30-4:30 p.m.; ESPN2

    April 17, 2002: GM, Ford profit/loss, Hyundai factory, Lotto song

    Consistent with new Mercedes plants, the new Hyundai factory in the US will be built in the South, using nonunion labor and not reusing any Chrysler facilities or people. The ground-breaking ceremony took place yesterday. Hyundai is 10% owned by DCX.

    While GM announced a substantial, if lower than usual, profit for the first quarter, Ford announced an $800 million loss (including a $117 million profit from European operations). Excluding unusual items, the loss was "only" $108 million. Chrysler is expected to post an operational profit and overall loss for the first quarter, but our opinion on the validity of those figures has already been posted.

    Several people have pointed out the details on the New York Lotto's "If I Had A Million Dollars" song. For example, Michael A. Cole wrote "The song that is being used in the New York Lotto ads was originally written and performed by The Bare Naked Ladies and was released in 1992 on their debut album, 'Gordon.' " David MacPhail pointed out that the Canadian band actually sings "I would buy you a K-car/a nice Reliant automobile" (not "reliable" as we reported).

    April 17, 2002: Five-Star program boosted

    Chrysler has cut 213 dealers from the Five Star program, originally intended to provide a dramatic change in customer satisfaction. Indeed, the program can do that when dealers care about customers, since it gives them the tools to make major improvements. However, many dealers, according to Chrysler, cared more about the satisfaction scores than actual satisfaction. Another 570 dealers risk being kicked out from the Five Star system if they do not change their ways. This is a major advance for the program, which has the potential to greatly increase Chrysler's sales and satisfaction.

    April 17, 2002: Liberty lowered

    Responding to tests in which a Liberty was flipped, Chrysler is lowering the suspension of the SUV by 22 mm in front and 19 mm in rear. These changes increase handling ability, though to the minor detriment of off-road capability. No recall has been made, and some testers are puzzled that a Liberty was made to flip during tests since it normally seems stable.

    April 18, 2002: CR rates Liberty lowest - big surprise

    In a stunning move to anyone who has actually driven the small SUVs, Consumer Reports ranked the Liberty below even the Suzuki XL-7 in April 2002. Their summary did not even mention off-road capabilities, and does not, aside from a reference to poor gas mileage, seem to have been written by people who actually drive the vehicle.

    April 19, 2002: Liberty does well in crash tests

    The Jeep Liberty got the government's highest side impact rating, while the two wheel drive Chevy Blazer got the lowest rollover rating (one star).   The government, which uses a mathematical model for rollover ratings, gave two stars ratings to Ford's 2002 Explorer, for both two-wheel and four-wheel-drive models, the four-wheel-drive Blazer, and the Mazda B- Series four-wheel-drive pickups. So far, only cars - including the Stratus/Sebring sedans - have gotten the best five-star ratings.

    April 22, 2002: Sterling Marlin gets fifth place at Talladega

    Marlin's fourth top-five finish of the season, and his seventh top 10 in nine starts, allowed the 44-year-old Tennessee native to increase his points lead to 109 points over Matt Kenseth. Marlin has led the standings since his runner-up finish at Rockingham in February, and the 109-point advantage is his largest of the season.

    Kyle Petty finished 10th in his No. 45 Sprint Dodge Intrepid R/T. It was Petty's best finish of the season and his first top 10 since he finished ninth at Talladega Superspeedway in April 2000.

    April 22, 2002: Child seats usually installed incorrectly

    Nine out of 10 of the child safety seats inspected at Chilton Hospital in Pompton Plains this past weekend were incorrectly installed, according to safety seat inspectors. Nationwide, 80 percent of children in safety seats are not buckled in properly. Most parents are not even aware of this epidemic, which in our (Allpar's) editorial opinion is largely due to poor infant/child seat design as well as a lax attitude by car seat designers towards safety.

    The findings of child seat inspectors are particulary important because a Chrysler Group survey showed that 97 percent of parents incorrectly believe that they always properly use and install their child safety seats.

    Fit for a Kid is a free child safety seat inspection service open to everyone, regardless of what make or model car they drive. Families can find a Fit for a Kid dealer by calling toll free 1-877-FIT-4-A-KID or clicking on the Web site www.fitforakid.org.

    Since Fit for a Kid was launched in 1999, there have been 19 known cases in which children across the country have been protected from harm because their parents took the time to have a child safety seat inspection at a participating Fit for a Kid Chrysler/Jeep/Dodge dealer. [This paragraph, taken from a Chrysler press release - as was most of this article - is unusual because it didn't have the words "DaimlerChrysler" or "Group" in it. Normally, we filter those out, but Chrysler PR never mentions Chrysler except as DaimlerChrysler - as in DaimlerChrysler's NASCAR efforts, or the DaimlerChrysler Dodge Intrepid - or as Chrysler Group.]

    April 23, 2002: Another Outlook virus floods our mailboxes

    We are currently being bombarded with yet another annoying virus sent automatically by infected copies of Microsoft Outlook. At this time, we urge you to switch from Outlook, once called a highly effective virus distribution system with built-in e-mail capabilities, to pretty much any other e-mail client - Eudora comes to mind, along with Pegasus, Mailsmith, and hundreds of others. Thank you.

    April 26, 2002: Delayed updates - one reason

    Wouldn't you like it if we had more time to make updates? Here is one reason why I don't - trying to get AT&T to admit that we do not owe the $29.95. Yes, I have spent countless hours on the phone, being put on hold, being transferred, being cut off - by the long-distance phone company!

    We have very little recourse to this sort of thing, ordinarily, but in this case I can abuse my editorial position and ask you to avoid AT&T on our behalf. When they call you, day, evening, and night, to harass you into buying their long-distance services, Internet services, etc., simply tell them to lay off David Zatz! (They can ask Risk Management Alternatives, their collection agency, who I am).

    For background, here is the letter which will apparently now appear in my credit report along with a note that I am a deadbeat:

    The AT&T Long Distance claim of $29.95 against me is invalid. An AT&T operator told me the claim was based on service charges for a closed account - an account which had been closed for some months when the charges were made -but was unable to provide a credit. After spending many hours trying to find someone at AT&T who could do this, I gave up.

    This is an invalid claim. I cannot be responsible for AT&T charges on a closed account. I have made a reasonable effort to get AT&T to void their claim but they repeatedly put me onto indefinite hold or hung up on me while transferring me.

    I would appreciate your resolving this or at least including this note in my credit report.

    Now, I offer my apologies to you for abusing my editorial position, and assure you we will return to normal programming.

    April 26, 2002: ChryslerTakeover noticed by Detroit News

    Thanks to untiring efforts and a publicity stunt, chryslertakeover.com was finally noticed by Detroit News, though the story which mentioned the site ignored much of the content and took a "nut cases rooting for Iaccoca" viewpoint. It's still notable that a group fighting to get Chrysler back as an independent entity which actually designs and produces cars has made it to an influential news publication.

    April 26, 2002: Pillette Road to close?

    DCX has written off the Pillette Road plant, despite a brand new paint facility added in 1999 but never used. The plant was rumored to be the home of several new vehicles, including the Ramcharger full-size SUV (which will not be produced), and currently makes full size vans which are due to be discontinued. Writing off the plant indicates that it will be closed, which would be logical since there are no new vehicles waiting to be built except Mercedes Sprinters, and no Mercedes will be built above the Mason-Dixon line. DCX may however use the write-off as a bargaining chip with the Canadian Auto Workers union.

    To review, the list of future Chrysler vehicles is currently:

    • Neon replacement - based on Mitsubishi Lancer, possibly to be built at their Diamond-Star plant (leading to closure of Belvedere)
    • Stratus/Sebring replacement - based on Mitsu. Galant
    • LX (Intrepid, 300M, Concorde replacement) - uses Mercedes transmission, electronics, axle, and suspension components
    • Jeep Grand Cherokee - shared platform with Mercedes ML
    • Jeep Liberty - new
    • PT Cruiser - new but unlikely to remain on its own platform past 2006
    • Crossfire - restyled Mercedes
    • Ram
    • Dakota/Durango - rumored to be on the block in favor of a Mitsubishi small pickup
    • Pacifica - mostly done before Mercedes took control

    Thus, closing the Pillette Road plant is entirely "in character" for DCX - especially considering that two plants have already been sold, with more on the block.

    April 26, 2002: Pillette Rd almost certain to be replaced

    As the Dodge B-series van, which once dominated the industry (much as the Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager once dominated minivans, but seemed doomed to becoming minor players) winds to a close, the Pillette Road plant increasingly looks doomed to demolition. Chrysler's parent company has announced that the Mercedes Sprinter vans, sold here as Freightliners, will be built in a greenfield factory (that is, one created on fresh land which could be used for farming or houses as opposed to re-using one of many existing facilities). The Sprinter plant will assemble up to 120,000 vans per year, presumably using nonunion, Southern labor, but the components are likely to be shipped in from Germany. The B-series van has not seen much investment over the past two decades, and has only been "freshened" once in the 1990s. UPS has already started using the Sprinter, which is relatively efficient.

    April 29, 2002: Morale an issue at Chrysler?

    According to a variety of sources, morale continues to be an issue at Chrysler, with the company reporting that employee survey results have remained essentially unchanged since massive layoffs and plant closures were first announced. A number of employees have privately disclosed their feelings that morale is low, and that company practices are worsening rather than improving as time goes on. Chryslertakeover.com has been covering the "non-spun" side of DCX-related news, while the more mainstream news media have simply passed along press releases from DCX PR and CEO Juergen Schrempp. The Wall Street Journal has also had more unbiased coverage, noting the down-side of DCX financials.

    April 29, 2002: Good Mopar drag runs in Atlanta

    The Atlanta Dragway has been a place of firsts for Mopar Parts Dodge R/T Nitro Funny Car driver Dean Skuza. The Brecksville, Ohio resident grabbed his first No. 1 qualifier during the 2000 season and made his first  final-round appearance in his rookie season of 1994, losing to John Force. Skuza will be an in-studio guest of RPM2Night on Wednesday, May 1.

    Gene Wilson qualified for his first national event at last weekend’s Mac Tools Thunder Valley Nationals at the Bristol (Tenn.) Dragway, falling  to eventual race winner and defending NHRA Pro Stock World Champion Warren Johnson in round one.

    Darrell Alderman is one of only six Pro Stock drivers to qualify for every NHRA national event this season. Alderman collected the No. 1 qualifier for the 1991 race in Atlanta.

    TV times:

    QUALIFYING:    Sat., May 4; 9-11 p.m.; ESPN2 FINAL ROUND:    Sun., May 5; 5:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.; ESPN2 REPEAT:        Tues., May 5; 11:30 p.m.-1:30 a.m.; ESPN2

    Courtesy David Harris

    April 30, 2002: GM buys Daewoo

    General Motors has purchased much of a company it helped to start, Daewoo Motors. For $251 million, GM gained control of two of Daewoo's three assembly plants in South Korea, one in Vietnam, and nine Daewoo sales units (not the US unit). The plants and sales units will be set up as part of a joint venture, of which GM will own 42 percent, Daewoo creditors will own one third, and other automakers will own one quarter. Ford had originally bid $7 billion for the company. The new joint venture will assume $573 million in operating liabilities and $1.2 billion in debt, but not require GM to take on Daewoo's full $18 billion of debt.

    April 30, 2002: Hybrid-electric Chrysler Sebring debuts

    Chrysler's third publicly-shown hybrid-electric vehicle debuted today, featuring "Through-the-Road" (TTR) technology (see our section on the Dodge Contractor for details). This powertrain beats the performance of comparable gasoline engines, while improving gas mileage by 20-30 percent and reducing emissions. The Sebring has a 2.4 liter gas engine coupled with an electric motor and battery pack, and accelerates to sixty in 9.1 seconds (vs 11.7 seconds with the 2.4 engine alone) despite considerably better gas mileage. The vehicle has four-wheel drive capability, since different wheels are driven by gas and electric power, as well as regenerative braking.

    The system is called TTR (Through-the-Road) because there is no physical connection between the front and rear axles or the engine and motor. The two are controlled and coordinated by computer, responding to changes in the vehicle's traction coupled through the road.

    April 30, 2002: Dodge: new models must sell 100,000 units

    DCX has set up an new rule that any new "mainsteam" Dodge must sell 100,000 units per year to be produced, effectively killing off the M80 (based on a shortened Dakota platform) and the Razor. Both were big hits among car show attendees.

    The new rule is intended to reinforce Dodge's role as, well, Plymouth - the mass sales division. Aside from the Viper and PVO team modified versions of mass-market cars, Dodge must project sales of 100,000 vehicles per year to produce a new vehicle. (By this standard, the PT Cruiser would never have been produced - nor would the original Charger or Challenger.)

    This rule is said by Automotive News, which broke the story, to be the result of cost cuts, including the slashing of Chrysler's vehicle development budget from $42 billion to $30 billion (even as costs increase to reengineer existing vehicles so they can use Mercedes parts and architectures, and as Chrysler takes on development of telematics systems for Mercedes and internal use).

    In the case of the M80, the platform would have been too expensive, according to Dodge. The top price for the M80, fully loaded, would be $20,000 to achieve strong volume. The M80, as designed, was projected to sell about 40,000 units per year, though it was never even tested in customer clinics. To achieve the desired price point of $15,000 base would require using a "clean sheet" design rather than a heavy, modified Dakota.

    The article is here. It also answers our question of the Razor's platform - it was apparently unique, not a Dodge, Mitsubishi, or Mercedes. It is also no longer being considered for production.

    May 2, 2002: Belvidere most likely to remain open

    According to recent reports, DCX has indicated that the Belvidere plant, currently home of the Neon, will remain open after the Neon switches to its new (according to Chrysler, Mitsubishi-based) platform around 2005-2007.

    May 2, 2002: Chrysler, GM sales rise while Ford falls

    GM posted a substantial sales hike, gaining 13 percent over last April (GM's retail sales were up 15 percent over year ago levels and GM retail sales through April were up 7 percent.). While Ford fell 7 percent, Chrysler sales gained 3 percent from last April, partly on the strength of increased Ram truck sales (presumably due to the recent redesign), and partly on 4 percent higher car sales.

    The Ram, which is Chrysler's best seller (, increased by 21 percent over last year. The Sebring/Stratus sedans, Concorde, Prowler, Grand Cherokee, and Viper all posted impressive gains. The PT Cruiser also gained 8 percent, presumably due to increased production rather than demand, while the Caravan rose a slender 2 percent in sales (while the Voyager and Town & Country both declined for a 2 percent overall loss of minivan sales).

    Not surprisingly, the Durango - now facing stiff competition from the TrailBlazer - fell, along with the Dakota and soon-to-be-discontinued Ram wagon/van. The Wrangler also lost ground, along with the Mitsubishi Stratus/Sebring coupes. On the lighter side, the Liberty beat last year's Cherokee sales by a good margin.

    Though a gain was posted for the Neon, it's worth noting that if Plymouth Neon sales are included for last year, sales declined by about a thousand units since April 2001.

    Chrysler PR is very upbeat on the situation, though we note that Chrysler is losing ground in the important minivan market - with Honda adding a five-speed automatic and 240 horsepower engine, and Chrysler still not adding the 3.5 V6 or any new features. However, the increase in Chrysler Concorde sales is very good news.

    May 2, 2002: Sales clarification

    Chrysler reported U.S. sales of 200,421 units in April 2002, compared to 187,119 in April 2001, an increase of three percent. Cars rose by 4 percent. Dodge sold 33,900 Ram trucks last month, led by the new 1500 series with 26,043 units. Chrysler finished the month with 472,561 units in inventory, a 59-day supply, compared to 450,641 units in inventory, a 58-day supply, in April 2001.

    May 2, 2002: Racing update

    Winston Cup

    Sterling Marlin continues to pull away from the pack in the race for the 2002 NASCAR Winston Cup crown. Marlin has a 143-point advantage over second-place Kurt Busch in the NASCAR Winston Cup Standings after the first 10 races.

    NASCAR Truck

    Dodge drivers Robert Pressley and Ted Musgrave will renew their on-track Dodge Ram rivalry in the Missouri-Illinois Dodge Dealers Ram Tough 200 at Gateway on Sunday. Pressley and Musgrave have each won a race and finished second in three starts this season. Pressley leads Musgrave by 20 points entering Sunday's event.

    Dodge holds a 22-21 manufacturers advantage over Chevy in the truck standings, and Dodge driver Brendan Gaughan leads the Raybestos Rookie of the Year competition.

    Musgrave won the pole and scored a 10.428-second victory in last season's race at Gateway. He led 140 of 200 laps in that race and leads the way this season with 178 laps led in the first three events.

    NHRA

    Dean Skuza grabbed his first No. 1 qualifier during the 2000 season and made his first final-round appearance in his rookie season of 1994, losing to John Force.

    Gene Wilson qualified for his first national event at last weekend's Mac Tools Thunder Valley Nationals at the Bristol (Tenn.) Dragway, falling to eventual race winner and defending NHRA Pro Stock World Champion Warren Johnson in round one.

    Darrell Alderman is one of only six Pro Stock drivers to qualify for every NHRA national event this season. Alderman, a three-time POWERade Pro Stock World Champion, is currently tied with Ron Krisher for the most rounds won in a row this season at seven.

    Pennzoil World of Outlaws

    Steve Kinser, Danny Lasoski and Mark Kinser, driver of the Mopar-powered Maxim, will renew their season-long Outlaw battle Friday night. In 15 starts this season, the competition between the Kinser-Lasoski-Kinser trifecta has been amazing. Steve has three wins and 2,338 points. Lasoski has four wins and 2,326 points, while Mark has three wins and 2,318 points.

    May 3, 2002: Four, six cylinder engines up for discussion

    The Financial Times reports (according to just-auto.com) that DCX will discuss the future of their joint venture engine program with Hyundai, which made the initial designs for the four-cylinder engine family. Dieter Zetsche, head of Chrysler, will meet with Hyundai's leadership in Korea to discuss production of the new engines. Mitsubishi and Chrysler are both involved in the design of the engine, and will both be using it. All three companies are part of the DCX empire, to some degree: DCX owns 37 percent of Mitsubishi and just over 10 percent of Hyundai.

    The new four cylinder would be used first by Hyundai, but would make its way across to Dodge, Chrysler, and Mitsubishi, eventually reaching a volume of 1.5 million engines per year. It may be produced in the US as well as Asia.

    The Korea Times introduced a new option, which is that 2.5-3 liter V6 engines may also be produced in the joint venture. Prior announcements had led us to believe that Chrysler would be making all V6 engines for Mitsubishi, but this may not be the case.

    May 3, 2002: Military, hybrid-electric Ram demonstrated

    Last week, Dodge demonstrated a military version of the Ram HEV (Hybrid Electric Vehicle), developed jointly with the U.S. Army Tank Automotive & Armaments Command (TACOM) - National Automotive Center (NAC). The vehicle was developed in conjunction with the Army's Commercially Based Tactical Truck (COMBATT) program.

    The COMBATT HEV achieves about 15 percent improvement in fuel efficiency and reduced tailpipe emissions. When the vehicle is parked, the hybrid powertrain converts to an electric generator to provide 12.5 kW continuous electric power or up to 30 kW peak electric power, eliminating the need for portable generators at remote sites. The vehicle can be operated in either diesel-electric hybrid or electric-only ("stealth") modes.

    The COMBATT Ram HEV is equipped with a 5.9 L Cummins 24-valve diesel engine and 47 RE 4-speed automatic transmission. The vehicle is also equipped with run-flat tires, a central tire inflation system that enables operators to run more efficiently in different terrains and surfaces, and a unique hydro-pneumatic suspension system that enhances operation in severe off-road conditions.

    The vehicle developed for the Army will capitalize on several of the Ram HEV's capabilities:
    * On-board battery capacity enabling a 'Stealth' operating mode and 'Silent Watch' capability
    * 110, 220 VAC and 208 VA 3-phase power availability
    * Elimination of the need for off-board generators that currently must be towed to sites to power mobile command centers and surveillance posts
    * Decreased vehicle weight, noise, heat and exhaust emissions
    * Increased space available for equipment and personnel
    * Reduced installation complexity and maintenance
    * Always-available power wherever the vehicle is located

    Chrysler Group has also developed a non-hybrid version of the COMBATT truck, also based on the diesel Dodge Ram 2500.

    Chrysler is also developing a Dodge Ram HEV for commercial applications, such as the construction and utility industries. The vehicle, based on the Ram pickup, will be available in 1500 and 2500 models with either two-wheel or four-wheel drive and equipped with various gasoline engines. The electric motor provides power assist of 35 kW, or about 47 horsepower. The motor is located between the engine and transmission to create the electric-generating capacity.

    The exhaust emissions from the generator on the Ram HEV will be much cleaner than conventional portable generators, because it will be powered by the vehicle's clean hybrid powertrain. The additional components in the hybrid powertrain add 250-300 pounds to the vehicle's weight, compared with 2,500 pounds or more for a portable generator with similar capacity.

    May 4, 2002: New 4 cylinder engines to be built by DCX

    DaimlerChrysler will build the new four-cylinder engines designed mostly by Hyundai (with late input from Chrysler and Mitsubishi) in its Alabama plant, and will sell the completed engines to Mitsubishi, presumably for use in the US-based Diamond Star factory. The engines will also be used in Mitsubishi-engineered cars sold by Dodge and Chrysler, including the Neon and Stratus replacements. (This news is from an auto.com story; thanks, Keitho). Prior reports suggested that a similar deal for small six-cylinder engines may also be in the works, presumably replacing the current Chrysler 2.7 and 3.2 engines.

    /rant on/ While we applaud the arrival of any superior technology - assuming this will indeed be superior - we wonder about the future of Chrysler when we know they will be using mostly Hyundai engines, Mercedes and Mitsubishi engines, suspensions, electronics, and platforms, and apparently not producing any car platforms or major components on their own. At this point, the only Chrysler designs which seem to project into the "next generation" are large V6 engines, minivans, SUVs, and trucks. Even then, Mitsubishi and Mercedes overlap on many fronts with Chrysler - and from what we've seen, when there's overlap, Chrysler's design tends to be replaced. /rant off/

    May 4, 2002: NHRA qualifying

    Mopar Parts NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series teams completed the first day of qualifying for this weekend’s Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals at the Atlanta Dragway. Darrell Alderman debuted his brand new Jerry Bickel-built Mopar Parts Dodge Neon R/T.

    Dean Skuza tossed aside a lot of the monkeys that have plagued the team this season. The new Dodge Stratus R/T grabbed the fifth slot with a 4.960-second lap at 310.84 mph. “We found a problem that’s been plaguing us on and off for the last two years,” Skuza said. “We addressed it in our testing session at Bristol (Tenn.), even though we didn’t go down the track. When we smoked the tires all three times, it showed us something. We looked at run after run over the last two years and we kept seeing the same problem in the clutch. We changed it and made a great run. the problem was such an intermentant deal that it was hard to track. On that run, we left it soft, it we made a beautiful run.”

    Prior to one of many rain showers, Gene Wilson tried to qualify his Hemi-powered Mopar Parts Dodge Neon R/T in his hometown. Mechanical bugs hurt Wilson in his first qualifying effort. “The two-step broke in the clutch,” Wilson said. “The car would never rev up off the line and it just shut off about 100 feet out. It looks good for tomorrow, so we should be in good shape.”

    Despite making a solid run, Larry Morgan, who pilots the blue Mopar Parts Dodge Neon R/T was unhappy with his 6.976-second lap at 198.29 mph. The Newark, Ohio resident collected the 16th- qualifying position

    Darrell Alderman and the Mopar Parts Dodge Neon R/T lit up the Atlanta night and grabbed the provisional fourth qualifying position. The three-time POWERade Pro Stock World Champion ran a 6.904-second elapse time at 200.02 mph. It was Alderman’s first pass in his new Jerry Bickel-built car. “We made a nice first pass,” Alderman said. “We have this new Jerry Bickel car and it felt real good. My crew chief Rickie Smith likes to work with the new car. The good news is that we still have quite a bit more in this Hemi engine left.”

    May 6, 2002: Hyundai-Dodges sold in Mexico, South America

    We've now had two reports of Hyundais sold as Dodges, one in Mexico (the Dodge Atos, which we've noted earlier, is a Hyundai Accent - thanks, Chris Krisocki) and one in Venezuela. The latter is in some ways more interesting, since it involves every non-Mercedes component of DCX. Roberto Iregui wrote:

    [The Dodge Brisa] is a Hyundai Accent, assembled by Mitsubishi in Venezuela, and sold under a Dodge badge for about 8-9000 US dollars. Brisa means Breeze in Spanish.
    The Dodge-Venezuela Web site lists only two vehicles, the Brisa and the Dodge Ram - the smallest and biggest Dodges!

    May 6, 2002: NHRA news

    Mopar Parts teams completed eliminations for this weekend’s NHRA Nationals at the Atlanta Dragway.

    Darrell Alderman and the Mopar Parts Dodge Neon R/T drove to the semifinals before losing to Allen Johnson. Alderman, a 28-time NHRA Pro Stock national event winner, ran a slower 6.913-second lap at 200.78 mph.

    Alderman outran Ron Krisher in the first round and Warren Johnson in the second round. The Morehead, Ky., resident won his third race of the season on a holeshot (4.49-.469) over Johnson. Alderman’s 6.888-second lap held off Johnson’s 6.878.

    Dean Skuza ended his day with a bang. The Mopar Parts Dodge Stratus R/T driver exploded a blower as Frank Pedregon cruised to victory with a 4.916-second lap at 310.41 mph. “We were a little too aggressive on that run,” Skuza said. “I didn’t think we were going in, but it was a little too much after we looked at the computer. After it started to spin, I pedaled it, and fuel dumped in, it made a hydraulic motion, and I knew I shouldn’t have pedaled the last time, but he was right there. I just had to give it one more, and that was the one that did it. Bam. It exploded and that was all she wrote.”

    Gene Wilson guided his Mopar Parts Dodge Neon R/T to his first NHRA round victory of his career. Wilson, who lost on a holeshot to Jim Yates in the second round, beat out V. Gaines with a 6.884-second elapsed time at 200.50 mph. Yates posted a slower 6.901-second lap at 199.82 mph, but it was enough to hold off Wilson’s time at 200.50 mph.

    May 6, 2002: Dodge racing results

    Winston Cup

    Jeremy Mayfield posted his second top-five finish in 11 starts this season in the No. 19 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge Intrepid R/T at Richmond International Raceway this weekend. Mayfield's fifth-place finish was the best for Dodge at the D-shaped track. He jumped four spots in the series standings and ranks 19th, 200 points out of 10th.

    Series points leader Sterling Marlin finished 11th and continues to lead the NASCAR Winston Cup Standings. Marlin entered Sunday's race with a 143-point advantage over second-place Kurt Busch. Busch finished 27th Sunday and dropped to third in the standings. Marlin now leads Matt Kenseth by 132 points.

    Steve Grissom, in only his third start behind the wheel of the No. 44 Dodge Intrepid R/T out of the Petty Enterprises stables, finished eighth Sunday, and Jimmy Spencer drove his No. 41 Target Dodge Intrepid R/T to a 10th-place finish.

    Ward Burton led the most laps, 125 of 400, but his transmission broke on lap 226 and Burton ended up with a 30th-place finish. Other Dodge finishers were:
    * Bill Elliott (No. 9 Dodge Dealers Dodge Intrepid R/T) 14th
    * Hut Stricklin (No. 23 Hills Bros Coffee Dodge Intrepid R/T) 16th
    * John Andretti (No. 43 Cheerios Dodge Intrepid R/T) 20th
    * Casey Atwood (No. 7 Sirius Satellite Radio Dodge Intrepid R/T) 22nd
    * Kyle Petty (No. 45 Sprint Dodge Intrepid R/T) 23rd
    * Randy Renfrow (No. 59 Price Motorsports Dodge Intrepid R/T) 43rd.

    NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series

    Robert Pressley didn't complete his first lap of the race before mechanical "gremlins" caught his No. 18 Bobby Hamilton Racing Dodge Ram. Going into the first turn Pressley broke a drive train and immediately dropped back from his seventh-place starting position. His Dodge was forced behind the wall for repairs and wouldn't return to the race until lap 19. The NASCAR veteran finished 31st in the 160-lap race.

    Musgrave was a major force throughout the first three-quarters of the race. Unlike last race, the No. 1 Mopar Performance Parts Dodge Ram was able to avoid incidental contact on the track as Musgrave dodged the spinning truck of Travis Kvapil prior to the race's second caution. Musgrave would re-start in second place and grab the lead by lap 36. He was running in the top five after about 120 laps, but began experiencing engine problems that kept him from running at full power for the remainder of the race. Despite mechanical woes, Musgrave held onto a 12th-place finish.

    Jason Leffler was in the lead as his Ultra Motorsports teammate began to fight engine problems. Leffler started the race fifth and never seemed to fall lower than that as he turned in a solid day's work in his No. 2 Dodge Ram. He led twice and finished second for his best finish of the season.

    Brian Rose earned an eighth-place finish, giving him three top-10s on the year - most by any Dodge driver. Brendan Gaughan finished as the top rookie of the race (11th).

    Dodge remains first in the manufacturer's points standings with 28 points. Chevy has 25, and Ford has 23.

    May 7, 2002: Overlooked Dodge NHRA win

    Joe Finn pointed out: "Your NHRA report of 5-6 was somewhat disappointing in that, in the process chronicaling Alerman's and Wilson's losses, you did not point out the the Pro Stock event was won by the 'other' Dodge of Allen Johnson. I like the factory team, but it's nice to see Johnson's team coming around as well."

    May 7, 2002: Neon replacement in 2005 - or 2006?

    /speculation/ According to Detroit News, "DaimlerChrysler" will start using the Hyundai four-cylinder engines, which range up to 165 horsepower, in 2005, a year after Hyundai adopts them. Given that Chrysler has historically been loathe to switch engines in a car before its production run ends, this could indicate that the "new" Neon will appear in calendar year 2005 as a 2006 model. It is also possible that the Sebring/Stratus sedan or minivans will use the new engines first - the minivan is coming up for redesign at about the same time - since Mitsubishi will not use the new engines until 2006, and the next Neon will be a reskinned (or possibly "more different") Mitsubishi, that might be the more likely scenario.

    Of course, one question in this discussion is what will happen to the Mini engines, which Chrysler developed with Mini creator Rover. Currently, those engines, newly developed, are only being used in BMW Minis and, according to some reports, export Neons.

    May 7, 2002: GM announces Dakota-fighting Colorado

    GM has officially announced that its new mid-size pickup, presumably sharing the TrailBlazer platform and drivetrain, will be called Colorado. This truck is similar in size and capacity to the Dakota, but has a more modern, efficient powertrain than the current-generation Dodge truck.

    May 7, 2002: Chrysler donates $1 million

    Chrysler Chief Executive Officer Dieter Zetsche presented the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services (ACCESS) with a $1 million contribution to its Heritage Campaign Fund on Saturday, April 20, at the organization's 31st anniversary celebration. /rant/ Some would wonder why a company which is losing money would be donating $1 million to a heritage campaign fund, while eliminating jobs, selling plants, and losing market share. /rant off/

    May 9, 2002: Deutsche Bank to sell its share of DCX?

    Deutsche Bank, one of Juergen Schrempp's greatest supporters, is reportedly preparing to sell its stake in DCX - 12 percent of the corporation, according to MarketWatch.

    May 10, 2002: Chrysler electronics division now on the block

    Dow Jones reports that DCX is continuing its rapid dismemberment of the former Chrysler Corporation, now selling the Huntsville, Alabama electronics plant to Delphi. This plant produced computers and other components for all Chrysler cars. DCX claims it needs the cash for additional investments in Chrysler, though we note DCX is more likely to spend it on buying a larger stake in Mitsubishi and working on more heavy truck ventures.

    DCX earlier sold Chrysler's thermal control plant in Dayton and its Eurostar plant in Austria.

    May 14, 2002: NHRA coming to Englishtown, NJ

    (Written by David Harris.) It’s been a long time since Mopar’s Darrell Alderman has heard  the words ‘title chase’ attached to his name. Alderman, who drives the Hemi-powered Mopar Parts Dodge Neon R/T, currently rests third behind Warren Johnson and Jim Yates for this year’s NHRA Pro Stock honors. With the exception of Jeg Coughlin, Jr., in 2000, these three drivers are the only ones to etch their names in the championship trophy over the past 11 NHRA seasons.

     2002 NHRA Pro Stock Points
    --------------------------------------
    1. Warren Johnson       519
    2. Jim Yates                  472
    3. Darrell Alderman    423
    4. Ron Krisher               414
    5. George Marnell         392

    Alderman collected championship hardware in 1990, 1991 and 1994, with 28 NHRA national event victories. “It may be too early to talk about another championship run, but it’s always at the back of your mind,” said the 52-year-old Alderman. “I want to give my crew chief Rickie Smith a lot of the credit here. He has been a difference maker. He knows what the car wants and excels in the heat of the day. That consistency is what wins championships.

    “We also have the tools,” Alderman continued. “The folks over at Mopar, and you can’t forget about the engineers, along with this whole Nickens Brother Racing team, have done a tremendous job. ... When you combine all of that with the power we’re producing with a three-year-old Hemi engine and the great aerodynamics of the Dodge Neon R/T, we have a strong combination."

    Meanwhile, despite ending his day with a blower explosion in the first round, Mopar Parts Nitro Funny Car driver Dean Skuza was very upbeat about his team’s most recent weekend. The new Dodge Stratus R/T recorded its fastest speed and two consistent qualifying passes. Dean said, “We found a problem that’s been plaguing us on and off for the last two years...We looked at run after run over the last two years and we kept seeing the same problem in the clutch. We changed it and made a great run. The problem was such an intermintent deal that it was hard to track.”

    Old Bridge Township Raceway Park has been a successful track for Larry Morgan, driver of the blue Mopar Parts Dodge Neon R/T. The Newark, Ohio resident made his only run to the semifinal during last year’s event. Morgan beat out current Mopar teammate Alderman in 1994.

    May 15, 2002: New Jersey city sues Ford over dangerous squads

    The city of New Brunswick is suing Ford for not disclosing a hazardous design flaw - placing fuel tanks in the "crush zone" behind the rear axle, making them prone to catch fire in high-speed rear-end crashes. The city is suing under New Jersey's Consumer Fraud Act, saying that Ford concealed the defect, found in crash tests over 50 mph, and that Ford used deceptive marketing to police departments. Ford replied by saying that the Crown Victoria must be safe because it is used by 90% of police departments (not mentioning that might be the result of being the only rear-drive squad sedan), and that the Crown Vic achieved a five star safety rating - good points, but totally irrelevant to the charges.

    May 15, 2002: Howell Automotive sets record with Neon

    The Howell Automotive Neon is currently the world SOHC record holder, with a quarter-mile of 12.03 at 117mph.  It will be in an article in the upcoming Mopar Now Magazine. Details are at Howell Automotive.

    May 16, 2002: GM, Chrysler vie to save lives

    Despite annual warnings to parents and caregivers that leaving kids unattended in hot cars can have tragic consequences, at least 30 more children died last year of hyperthermia, a potentially deadly heat-related illness. On the heels of these deaths, a new poll by the National SAFE KIDS Campaign(r) and General Motors finds that one in five young parents believes it is acceptable to leave kids alone. GM and SAFE KIDS announced Thursday they will intensify their "Never Leave Your Child Alone" education outreach program. GM and SAFE KIDS will continue distributing English and Spanish-language brochures to more than 300 SAFE KIDS coalitions nationwide this year, and are working with broadcast members of the American Meteorological Society (AMS) to spread the word at the grassroots level.

    Meanwhile, Chrysler is continuing local safety inspections of infant car seats - which are installed incorrectly by most parents, even though most parents think they are in the right way. Chrysler has documented a number of saved lives through these inspections.

    May 17, 2002: Dodge hybrid cancelled

    The Durango hybrid has been canned, despite the promise of V8 power with better-than-V6 gas mileage, due to Chrysler's expectations that customers won't go for the higher cost, lower towing capacity, and reduction in storage space (albeit with faster acceleration). No word yet on the implications for the proposed Ram hybrids. Ford and GM are both planning to introduce hybrid-electric trucks, and it appears they will beat Chrysler to market by at least one year, possibly more.

    May 17, 2002: New Neon SRT-4 release

    Chrysler just released the following info about the SRT-4's creation and production.

    Twenty-six-year-old Marques McCammon came to work at Chrysler for one reason and one reason only. And this December, it begins rolling off an Illinois assembly line as the quickest production car available in the United States for less than $20,000. "The Dodge SRT-4 - plain and simple. That's why I chose to work here," says Marques McCammon, Program Manager-Small Vehicle Product Team. "My dream was to make a car like that a reality."

    McCammon got his driver's license at about the same time the sport compact car craze was just beginning to hit his hometown on the East Coast. "I took a turn at the starting line at many a stoplight myself throughout high school and college, mostly in import cars I tuned in my garage," admits McCammon. "But I always dreamed of doing a performance version of a production car for a major automaker."

    In 1998, with a Mechanical Engineering degree from North Carolina A&T University in hand, McCammon got his chance. A recruitment call from DaimlerChrysler brought him to the company's Technology Center in Auburn Hills, Michigan. There, as one of his first assignments, he was asked to help develop a version of the Neon with a list of performance features based on the sport compact cars that Tom Gale, (then Executive Vice President-Product Development and Design) had seen at the 1998 Specialty Equipment Manufacturers Association (SEMA) Show in Las Vegas.

    Within weeks, a pack of young tuners began to form around Gale's request. Along with McCammon, the initial team included 35-year-old powertrain engineer Marc Musial and 36-year-old mechanic Dave Chyz, one of the youngest technicians to work on the original Dodge Viper. In addition to youth, the team members also shared first-hand experience in one form or another with the existing Dodge Neon.

    "Mark brought his experience with turbos and superchargers," recalls McCammon. "And Dave threw in his engine expertise, and before you knew it, we had built a car from scratch in just four months."

    Often, that meant putting in long hours after they officially punched out from their "day jobs." Between the three of them, the group logged more than 1,000 test track miles after hours in less than two weeks. By November 1999, Gale had his car, and it had a spot on that year's SEMA show floor. Based on the positive response there, Gale decided to put the black vehicle, (then badged the Neon SRT), center stage on the concept car turntable at the Los Angeles Auto Show the following January.

    "When we heard Gale say, 'We need to make a production version in a brighter color,' we thought we were home-free," recounts McCammon.

    But taking a concept car to the level of a production vehicle proved a test of the young team's mettle. Finding an approved engine, financing tooling, and keeping the price low enough to appeal to tuners like themselves presented new challenges to the neophyte group. At the same time, they also were secretly piecing together a second car using production-oriented parts and a design more adaptable to the existing Neon platform, all in the hopes of winning production approval for their dream car.

    "Once we had the second car built, we snuck it into Tom Gale's parking spot in the executive garage one night, just to get it noticed," says McCammon. "We figured he couldn't possibly ignore his own ride home."

    Despite the effort, the Executive Committee rejected the production car proposal when the team appeared before it in the fall of 2000. So, for the second time, McCammon got another list - this one full of reasons why the car wouldn't fly. But even that didn't deter the team.

    "We literally went to every lead engineer, item by item, and asked them to explain why the item couldn't be done or offer a solution to fix it," says McCammon. "We just kept going until there was nothing left on the list."

    Three revisions of the car later, responsibility for the still unapproved project was transferred to the company's Specialty Vehicle Engineering (SVE) team, or as it would come to be known, Performance Vehicle Operations (PVO). In the spring of 2001, the plan once again was placed before the Executive Committee, and this time, it got the green light.

    As an approved project, responsibility for the newly christened Dodge SRT-4 production car fell in the race-steady hands of John Fernandez, Director of Performance Vehicle Operations. With many years spent in Neon ACR grassroots racing himself, Fernandez turned to the next generation of motorheads to create his SRT-4 crew. "We pulled together everyone we knew who had first-hand experience with vehicles like the SRT-4, either through grassroots racing or hitting the streets every weekend in their own performance-tuned cars."

    The result was a second group of young tuners ready to continue the initial team's work. Some of them, like 30-year old Stephan Zweidler and 39-year old Brad Dotson, had worked indirectly on the Neon SRT concept car and were more than happy to ante up to the project full-time on the PVO team. Time spent racing with Team Shelby and the Neon ACR in SCCA , including a stint as crew chief, more than earned Dotson his spot on the SRT-4 team as Program Manager. Zweidler, who raced Solo II SCCA autocross throughout college and remains active in the Neon Enthusiast Club, shares testing and development responsibility with another young SRT-4 crew member 32-year old Vehicle Synthesis Engineer Jeff Reece who worked on the championship-winning Dodge Viper GTS-R. Twenty-eight-year old Engine Engineer Tom Wierzchon (also on the Viper GTS-R team) and 32-year-old Electrical Systems Engineer Judy Willoughby round out the core of the current PVO SRT-4 team.

    "As a small group working under a compressed timeline, we've had to focus on the bare essentials, timing-wise," adds Dotson. "That wouldn't have been possible without the cooperation of other departments throughout the company. It's amazing to see other racing enthusiasts come out of the woodwork to lend their support for this program," he says.

    All the hard work pays off and the teams' dreams becomes reality this December as the first Dodge SRT-4 cars begin racing off the line at the company's Belvidere (Ill.) Assembly Plant. As expected, some of the first customers will likely be the young tuners who helped make it all happen.

    "I can't imagine what it will be like the first time I pull up to a stoplight in my new Dodge SRT-4," adds McCammon. "I only know that it'll be every man for himself, and this man will be behind the wheel of his dream."

    The 2003 Dodge SRT-4 combines performance with features inspired by the street racing scene. With a sticker price of just $19,995, the Dodge SRT-4 will be the quickest production car available in the United States for less than $20,000 when it arrives in dealerships in early 2003.

    The car's 2.4-liter, turbocharged in-line four-cylinder engine produces 215 horsepower and 245 lb.-ft. of torque. Paired with that powerplant are a heavy-duty, five-speed manual NVG T850 transaxle and a dual-outlet exhaust system with big, 2.5-inch polished stainless tips. New equal-length halfshafts, high-capacity clutch and drive plate assemblies and unique engine and transaxle mounts round out the Dodge SRT-4 powertrain.

    May 19, 2002: NHRA drag racing at Englishtown NJ

    (by David Harris)

    Cool weather conditions contributed to making this weekend’s Pro Stock field the quickest in NHRA history with a 6.815-second elapsed time bump spot. Larry Morgan had the previous anchor of 6.831 seconds, set at Maple Grove Raceway last season just outside Reading, Pa.

    Dean Skuza ran his three best qualifying passes of the season and landed the fourth-qualifying slot for today's event. Skuza logged a 4.849-second elapsed time at 310.91 mph, which is the quickest pass for the new Dodge Stratus R/T.

    Gene Wilson made his first sub 6.80-second elapsed time in NHRA Pro Stock competition. The Mopar Parts Dodge Neon R/T driver clicked off a career-best 6.799-second elapsed time at a career-best 202.91 mph. The run was good enough for the 11th qualifying position for the quickest field in NHRA Pro Stock history.

    “This car is just flying right now,” Wilson said. “The track was a little loose, but the car felt great and I knew I was on a pass. I can’t say enough for this whole Mopar team and the Hemi Dodge Neon R/T. We’ll see what we have for them tomorrow.”

    Larry Morgan also drove to career bests. Morgan, who pilots the blue Mopar Parts Dodge Neon R/T, logged a career-best 6.800-second lap at a top speed of 202.76 mph. Morgan earned the 12th-starting slot and will face off against fellow Dodge Neon R/T competitor and Atlanta Dragway national event winner Allen Johnson.

    Darrell Alderman missed the show for the first time this season. The three-time POWERade Pro Stock World Champion and pilot of the other Mopar Parts Dodge Neon R/T failed to make the field with a 6.860-second lap at 202.48 mph. “I can’t describe how disappointed I am,” said Alderman, who sat third in the Pro Stock points chase prior to this weekend. “We had some clutch troubles this weekend and it bit us. The car just wasn’t good off the starting line.”

    May 20, 2002: Dodge Ram hybrid still on track for 2004 sales

    According to Chrysler's Max Gates, the Dodge Ram hybrid (currently known to fans as the Contractor, after the show truck) is on track to be sold in 2004. According to past Dodge releases, the Ram hybrid has two unique features: a simpler Through-The-Ground system for synchronizing gas and electric motors, and on-board generator capability which eliminates the need for contractors to haul around a heavy generator. It also reduces emissions by using its more efficient and less polluting engine rather than the generator's less-regulated engine. The Ram hybrid will, according to past releases, be faster than its gasoline-engined equivalent while substantially increasing gas mileage.

    May 21, 2002: IRS gives benefit for hybrid car buyers

    The United States Internal Revenue Service has decided that people who buy gas-electric hybrid vehicles can take a $2,000 tax deduction, good news not just for Toyota and Honda (whose Prius, Insight, and Civic hybrids are the first on American shores), but also for the Big Three's upcoming hybrid trucks. Toyota sold 15,556 Prius family cars last year (the Prius was the first standard-production hybrid in the world), while Honda is adding a hybrid powertrain to its Civic. While Ford has garnered press awareness with its Escape SUV hybrid, due in 2004, both Chevrolet and Dodge will also have hybrid trucks in 2004 if current plans hold.

    Customers have to move sort of quickly to claim the full credit, which is due to decline from $2,000 to $1,500 in 2004, then to be phased to nothing (falling $500 per year) in 2007.

    May 21, 2002: Strange commercials

    A current rebate ad notes that "all DaimlerChrysler (emphasizing the "Daimler" part) lessees are eligible..." later noting that Mercedes owners are not eligible. /query/ Since the only auto companies owned outright by DaimlerChrysler are Mercedes and Chrysler, some may wonder why the ad did not simply say "all Chrysler Group lessees." /query off/

    May 21, 2002: Chrysler moves forward with technology

    Chrysler announced today a sweeping re-design of its volume production planning process. The new web-based system, called "Integrated Volume Planning" or IVP, will use information from field offices much earlier in production planning. Wolfgang Bernhard, COO, said, "More accurate production plans should lead to lower costs and reduced inventory not only for the Chrysler Group, but throughout the supply base, as well."

    In the current planning system, plant production capacity, fleet production orders and sales forecast estimates are sequentially analyzed to determine plant production. Under the new IVP system, Chrysler Group will unite all planning steps into a network, creating a production schedule that better reflects expected market demand.

    "More favorable production schedules can now be developed by matching supplier material release forecasts with actual dealer orders, and then determining capacity within the supply chain," said David Hodgson, Vice President of Worldwide Supply, Chrysler Group. "The improved accuracy and timing with this new web-based infrastructure will significantly reduce order-to-delivery times, inventory banks and buffers, and tooling costs in the supply chain."

    IBM is the system integrator for the project. Chrysler launched the first pilot for IVP this month and expects to have full implementation by mid-2003.

    May 21, 2002: DCX to merge transmission, engine, IT departments

    According to the Financial Times, Juergen Schrempp plans to combine the transmission and engine design departments of all DCX subsidiaries to save money, saying " Why not combine parts departments, workshops and things like that where you can get fantastic scale effects without affecting the brand?'' He is setting up a ten year plan which would merge common functions, such as salary payments, across Mercedes and Chrysler. We do not yet have details on whether the transmission and engine consolidations would be across Mercedes and Chrysler and/or the truck divisions, but Chrysler, Mitsubishi, Hyundai, and Kia are already set to share engines and transmissions.

    May 21, 2002: Integration plan

    The ten-year integration plan noted in the previous story (appearing just below this one) is being coordinated by the DCX executive automotive committee, created last year but headed (and presumably controlled) by Schrempp. Executives have been asked to propose ways to integrate parts distribution, dealer services, logistics, and salary payments among Mercedes, Chrysler, and Mitsubishi. Parts distribution was one proposed benefit of the takeover, before it actually occured, with analysts being told that using Mercedes' dealer services and parts distribution network would help Chrysler to extend its overseas sales (instead, Chrysler's overseas sales have slumped, without access to the Mercedes network). Again, the sharing of engines, transmissions, and other large components across the group has already begun, including even Hyundai and Kia, of which DCX only owns a small share.

    Announcing the plan at this juncture may be intended to stave off stock sales - Deutsche Bank has already announced it would sell its DCX stock (it owns over ten percent of the conglomerate), and DCX may be trying to delay that sale along with stock dumping by other large shareholders. In addition, consolidation of services may be a way to either justify keeping Chrysler assets in case of a sale, or to justify keeping Chrysler itself as many stockholders, in both Germany and the US, pressure the company to split Chrysler off again.

    May 24, 2002: Honda recall

    Honda is voluntarily recalling 1.3 million 1997-2000 Honda and Acura models, including the Civic, Accord, and Odyssey, to replace a faulty ignition switch which would cause the engine to stall.

    May 24, 2002: Dodge Ram 1500 tops in satisfaction

    The 2002 Dodge Ram 1500 Quad Cab was ranked first in owner satisfaction among all four-door pickup trucks in AutoPacific Inc.'s 2002 Vehicle Satisfaction Score (VSS) study. The survey is conducted each year, and involves 34,000 new vehicle owners.

    May 26, 2002: Luxury cars do badly in low-speed impact tests

    The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety recently tested nine-mid-sized cars, from the Hyundai XG350 to the Jaguar X-type. Of the bunch, the Jaguar had the highest expenses, $6,770, earning a "poor" rating from a five mile per hour collision. The "poor" rating was also given to the Hyundai XG350, Volvo S60, Lexus IS 300, and Saab 9-5 (soon to be replaced by a brand new model), while the Acura TL and Nissan Altima were rated "marginal." The only car to achieve an acceptable rating was the Toyota Camry and related Lexus ES300.

    May 26, 2002: GM doing better in quality, not tests

    An internal report released by Bloomberg News shows that GM's new vehicle owner complaints have dropped by ten percent over the past year, but that a quarter of potential customers find quality to be an issue. GM was the lowest-place domestic automaker in Consumer Reports ratings (/rant/ and you know what we think of those! /rant off/). GM has been gaining market share over Ford and Chrysler, but has been gaining less quickly than Asian, Korean, and German automakers.

    May 28, 2002: NHRA results

    Mopar Motorsports NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series teams completed eliminations for the O'Reilly Summer Nationals at Heartland Park Topeka in Topeka, Kan.

    Dean Skuza made it to the second round of competition before falling to Tim Wilkerson. The Mopar Parts Dodge Stratus R/T driver clocked a 5.040-second elapsed time at 296.57 mph, but Wilkerson ran a 4.946-second lap at 309.56 mph.

    Skuza defeated Ron Capps in the first round of eliminations, after running a 4.974-second lap at 306.46 mph.

    Mark Whisnant knocked out Gene Wilson, driver of the Mopar Parts Dodge Neon R/T, in the first round of eliminations. Whisnant clicked off a 6.916-second lap at 199.29 mph, which was quicker than Wilson's 6.928/199.37, combination. "We had identical reaction times," Wilson said. "We slipped a little in that right lane had he got me at the top end. The team has been doing a great job, and we'll get them at the next one."

    The red light flashed and Darrell Alderman's day ended in round one. The three-time POWERade Pro Stock World Champion fell to J.R. Carr. "When I went wide open, my foot slipped off the clutch," said a disappointed Alderman, driver of the Mopar Parts Dodge Neon R/T. "There really isn't much more to say."

    May 28, 2002: Ram 2500 / 3500 specifications given

    Dodge has released preliminary specs for the redesigned Dodge Ram 2500 and 3500. Click here to see them. No major surprises.

    May 28, 2002: NHRA schedule of events

    MOPAR PARTS NHRA CALENDAR
     ROUTE 66 --- JOLIET, ILLINOIS
     CHICAGOLAND DODGE DEALERS NHRA NATIONALS
     
     WEDNESDAY, MAY 29,
     7:15 AM    WJOL Call In                (Skuza)
     10:30 AM    Skuza car in place at Presser        (Skuza Motorports)
     11:30 AM    NHRA Press Conference        (Skuza, Funny Car)
     NOON        Chicago Tribune Interview (PC)    (Skuza)
     12:15 PM    WLS-ABC                (Skuza & Funny Car)
     12:30 PM    WGN-TV                (Skuza & Funny Car)
     2:30 PM    Dodge NHRA Seminar at Track    (Skuza, Alderman, Morgan)
         
     THURSDAY, MAY 30, 2002
     2:00 PM    Trinity Charity Homes        (Skuza, Alderman, Wilson, Morgan)
     7:30 PM    WJOL Live Broadcast            (Skuza, Alderman, Wilson, Morgan)
             
     FRIDAY, MAY 31, 2002
     4:15 PM    Pro Stock Qualifying Session        (Alderman, Wilson, Morgan)
     5:00 PM    Nitro Qualifying Session        (Skuza)
     6:15 PM    Hospitality Autograph Session    (Skuza, Alderman, Wilson, 
     Morgan)
     7:15 PM    Pro Stock Qualifying Session        (Alderman, Wilson, Morgan)
     8:00 PM    Nitro Qualifying Session        (Skuza)
     
     SATURDAY, JUNE 1, 2002
     8:00 AM     At-Track Radio Call-In        (Skuza, Alderman, Wilson, Morgan)
     10:00 AM  Chicago Star Newspaper        (Alderman)
     11:30 AM  Pro Stock Qualifying Session        (Alderman, Wilson, Morgan)
     12:15 PM  Nitro Qualifying Session        (Skuza)
     1:30 PM    Hospitality Autograph Session    (Skuza, Alderman, Wilson, 
     Morgan)
     2:30 PM    Pro Stock Qualifying Session        (Alderman, Wilson, Morgan)
     3:15 PM    Nitro Qualifying Session        (Skuza)
     
     SUNDAY, JUNE 2, 2002
     9:00 AM    Mopar Performance Parts Caravan    (Skuza, Alderman, Wilson, 
     Morgan)
     10:30 AM    NHRA Driver Introductions        (All Qualified Drivers)
     11:00 AM    Final Eliminations (TF/FC/PS)    (All Qualified Drivers)
     
     *Schedule Subject to Change
     
     
     WEEKEND TELEVISION: (ALL TIMES EASTERN)
     QUALIFYING:    Sat., May 18; 5-7 p.m.; ESPN
     REPEAT:        Sat., May 18; 10 p.m.-12 a.m.; ESPN2
     FINAL ROUND:    Sun., May 19; 7– 10 p.m.; ESPN2
     REPEAT:        Tues., May 20; 2-4 p.m.; ESPN2

    May 30, 2002: GM, Chrysler rise in JD Power - Toyota stays #1

    According to the Wall Street Journal (thanks, Carter), a soon to be released 90-day initial quality study shows that Toyota is the automaker with the fewest reported problems in the first three months of ownership. They netted the best score ever recorded in the survey, with 107 problems per 100 vehicles. Honda took second place, followed by General Motors. Honda's score beat Toyota's prior-year score, and, more significantly, GM's score beat Honda's prior-year score - in short, had Honda stayed in place, they would have been beaten by American corporation General Motors. DaimlerChrysler AG ranked fourth, beating Ford's fifth place. Volkswagen is in sixth.

    Overall, initial reported problems per vehicle fell to 133 problems per 100 vehicles, down from 147 last year. On a brand level, Lexus is in first, followed by Acura, Infiniti, and Volvo. No word on where Mercedes is, or the rather more meaningful results of the long-term survey. (editorial note: we've always felt 90 days to be a moderately meaningless definition of quality, since it is more a reflection of how well a vehicle is inspected than how well it is built.)

    May 31, 2002: JD Power 90 day results

    /analysis/ We don't place much credence in J.D. Power's 90 day "quality" results as an indication of total vehicle quality, since we think it confuses the issue of "good dealer and manufacturer inspection" with "how long will this car last, and how much trouble will I have while it does." /end analysis/

    Given that, we'll make hay of one result (courtesy of John D. Harmon): the problems per vehicle for minivans.

    Honda Odyssey 134
    Dodge Caravan/Grand Caravan 127
    Chrysler Voyager 128
    Chrysler Town & Country 128

    In short, if you consider 90 days adequate time to measure quality, Chrysler is beating Honda in minivans. Indeed, there were a number of above-average Chrysler models.

    The rest of the news was not as good for Chrysler, which came in as the fourth best manufacturer overall (including Mercedes). No Chrysler topped any categories - but Toyota cleaned up across the board, in both Toyota and Lexus trim. GM did well too, with four top places, as well as all four of the top American assembly plants. The only category where Chrysler even got an "honorable mention" was second and third place in minivans, after Toyota.

    Last year, Chrysler did much better - but we note that it was Plymouth which tended to end up as top dog.

    June 3, 2002: Lemon list published - Ford has many places

    (Courtesy Rick) - the Center for Auto Safety published a list of the vehicles with the largest ratio of NHTSA (government) complaints to sales. While this information is routinely collected, it is not released to the general public. The complaint index ratio is a standardized number which adjusts complaints to sales.

    Mazda MPV 11,090
    Kia Sportage 7,204
    Ford Excursion 6,682
    Ford Windstar 4,550
    Mercury Cougar 4,342
    Honda Passport 3,691
    Honda S2000 3,510
    Mitsubishi Eclipse 3,421
    Isuzu Rodeo 3,393
    Ford Explorer 3,039
    Land Rover Range Rover 3,034
    Audi A6 2,982
    Hyundai Tiburon 2,954
    Honda Odyssey 2,825
    Lincoln LS 2,753
    Jeep Grand Cherokee 2,744
    Volkswagen Passat 2,676
    Buick LeSabre 2,555
    Suzuki Grand Vitara 2,552
    Chevrolet Blazer 2,541
    Chevrolet Impala 2,463
    Jeep Wrangler 2,456
    Toyota Tundra 2,454
    Dodge Dakota 2,380

    There are three Chrysler vehicles on the list, all trucks - the Dakota, Grand Cherokee, and Wrangler. All are at the low end of the list. Ford (including Mercury) has three of the top five. Honda's rebadged-Isuzu truck and their roadster are near the top of the list, while the Honda Odyssey minivan appears aov any Chrysler vehicle. (Note that Chrysler minivans are conspicuously absent. Though Chrysler has more models than Honda, they have fewer that made the list - a good thing for Chrysler. Volkswagen-Audi group is over-represented along with Ford and Honda. It is worth noting that the single Toyota is near the bottom of the list, and is a truck.

    June 3, 2002: Chrysler sales up

    (Courtesy Genciu) - Chrysler sales are up 4 percent compared to same month last year for Chrysler. Ford and GM are down for the month. High spots include Chrysler brand minivans (though Plymouth was present last year, which distorts the numbers), Dodge Caravans, and the PT Cruiser, which last year had supply constraints. The Sebring sedan and Concorde are starting to rise, as well. Neon sales are down - slightly if you look only at Dodge, quite a bit if you include Plymouth. We'll have more details tomorrow, we suspect, including the models which fell - presumably that includes the 300M, the coupes, and the convertible.

    June 4, 2002: Chrysler closes yet another plant

    Despite claims of rosy financials from Auburn Hills, yet another Chrysler plant is going down - this time, an Ajax, Ontario, plant that makes seat-back covers. The CAW has arranged for nearly three quarters of the plant's 600 employees to retire with additional benefits, and the rest of the union members will get buyout packages. There are also 46 nonunion employees. The plant supplied covers for Canadian-production LH sedans and minivans. Additional plants are rumored to be on the block, as well.

    June 4, 2002: Chrysler extends incentives yet again

    Chrysler is pushing its 7/100 warranty and minivan cash-back/low-interest programs to July 8, partly to counter GM and Ford incentives.

    June 4, 2002: New Castle to be sold?

    This is still at the rumor/speculation level, but the next plant to be sold may be New Castle - with the buyer being Metaldyne. An insider noted a number of interesting signs pointing towards sales of the plant (see chryslertakeover.com's forum).

    June 4, 2002: Original 1984 Voyager now a Chrysler?

    lio45 pointed out that the Chrysler Design site now lists the Voyager as a Chrysler. While the Voyager was indeed sold as a Chrysler overseas, it started out as a Plymouth. Likewise, the Prowler - which also shows up as the "Chrysler Prowler" - was a Plymouth until that marque disappeared. The Pronto concept was never a Chrysler...until now. To be fair, there are no Dodge vehicles on this site either, which appears under the Chrysler brand, and to reach the few Chrysler vehicles from before 1990, visitors must scroll all the way to the right.

    June 5, 2002: MMC replacing Jeep in China?

    Following articles describing the lack of recent investment in China by Chrysler (Beijing Jeep) comes news that Mitsubishi will soon be selling cars under its own name in China. Mitsubishi's product line is largely similar to Chrysler's, right down to capable off-road vehicles.

    June 5, 2002: Bob Lutz to run world's largest company?

    GM's current chairman, Jack Smith, will be stepping down in April 2003, roughly one year from now. In his eight-year stint, Smith oversaw the careful dissolution of Oldsmobile, the rejuvenation of Saturn, a reversal in market share losses, increased quality, and the failure of transplanted Proctor & Gamble branding people - as well as the universally acclaimed hiring of Bob Lutz. There has been no word on who will follow Smith, but if CEO Rick Wagoner is promoted up to chairman, Bob Lutz could end up as CEO of the world's largest corporation.

    June 6, 2002: Plymouth Fury to be featured on TV

    Bob Hinds wrote: "The Car and Driver Television show segment on the [Plymouth] Furys of the 1950s will be aired on Saturday, June 15 and Sunday, June 16 on TNN. Hopefully this show will be aired again later this year." The Plymouth Fury was an astounding car when first introduced, and the name survived in one form or another through the 1980s.

    June 7, 2002: Selected Dodge dealers to sell Sprinter

    According to Automotive News, 90 Dodge dealers will be chosen to sell Mercedes vans (possibly under the Freightliner name). These vans may be the Mercedes Vito as opposed to the Sprinter currently sold by Freightliner. They would prominently feature the legend "Powered by Mercedes" and use a Mercedes diesel engine.

    Automotive News pointed out that Dodge's current van market share is about 16 percent, higher than any foreign competitor but lower than GM or Ford.

    Note that this is not new news but may still be news to many readers.

    June 7, 2002: Upcoming Dodges

    Back in February, Automotive News noted Dodge's plans to introduce a sport-utility smaller than the Dodge Durango, within the next two years (which would seem to indicate something based on the Mitsubishi lineup or the Jeep Liberty).

    June 7, 2002: Turbo PT to be built in July - manual in October

    Mr. Source tells us that the turbocharged PT Cruiser will be built starting July 7, 2002, with automatic transmissions only. The manual-transmission version, which will most likely have faster acceleration and better gas mileage, will be produced starting October 10, 2002. /rant mode on/ This decision will no doubt hurt the publicity for the turbo PT, since acceleration times will be hindered by the slushbox. Producing the manual first would make for more favorable coverage by the automotive press, even though most buyers will probably opt for the automatic. Most people do not consider the transmission when comparing 0-60 times...but we're glad it's going into production soon. /rant mode off/

    June 7, 2002: DCX creates new unit to individualize brands

    A reliable insider informs us that DCX has created a group to assure that all cars and trucks, including Freightliner, Mitsubishi, Mercedes, Chrysler, Dodge, and Jeep, keep their own "flavor." A small number of specialists, responsible to the corporate supervisory board in Germany, will cover not just suspensions or exteriors, but the entire vehicle and all of its components.

    June 7, 2002: McGraw glass plant to be closed?

    Workers at Chrysler's McGraw glass plant note that windshields they once made are being outsourced, and that money is not being invested in the plant. The plant currently employes 1,200, and is likely to be closed if these reports are true.

    June 7, 2002: Chrysler shuffles execs

    Chrysler Group today announced several executive appointments within its worldwide Manufacturing organization.

    Craig Corrington, 51, was appointed Vice President -- Truck and Activity Vehicle Assembly Operations, Stamping and Components. He reports to Thomas W. LaSorda, Executive Vice President -- Manufacturing. Corrington succeeds Roger D. Ruggerio, who will retire later this year.

    Reporting to Corrington will be Carolyn M. Carlson, 48, General Manager -- Components. She will oversee the Huntsville Electronics, McGraw Glass, Ajax Trim, Etobicoke Casting and New Castle Machining and Forge plants, and will provide liaison support for the Dayton Thermal joint venture with Behr [in other words, the sale of Dayton Thermal to Behr. Note that McGraw, Huntsville, and Ajax are being closed or sold, and that rumors are currently circulating around New Castle. Hence, you should probably be worried if Carolyn takes over your plant!]

    Bruce D. Coventry, 49, was appointed to the new position of Vice President -- NAFTA World Engine. He will report to the World Engine Global Steering Team and to Richard Chow-Wah, Vice President -- Power Train Manufacturing and Core Team Leader. Coventry will be appointed to the Global Engine Alliance LLC, an engineering joint venture with Hyundai Motor Company and Mitsubishi Motors. He will work with his counterparts at Hyundai and Mitsubishi on the design, development and manufacturing processing of a new family of gasoline engines. Coventry will also lead a joint team to study manufacturing these engines in the NAFTA region.

    Coventry joined the Chrysler Group in 1995 as a Manager -- Manufacturing Engineering. He was most recently Vice President -- Engine/Foundry/Axle. He holds an undergraduate degree in Industrial Engineering/Management from GMI, and a Master's degree in Business Management from Michigan State University.

    Byron M. Green, 38, was appointed Vice President -- Engine/Foundry, replacing Coventry. He will report to Chow-Wah. Green joined the Chrysler Group in February 1998. Since then, he has held several positions throughout the company, most recently as Plant Manager of Jefferson North Assembly Plant. A replacement for Green at the Jefferson North plant will be named later. Green holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering from GMI, and a Master's degree in Engineering Management from the University of Detroit.

    June 7, 2002: Dodge Ram - minor recalls

    Chrysler is recalling some 2002 Dodge Ram 1500 pickups to reinforce an axle bracket, and also 1997-1998 Dodge Ram 2500 and 3500 diesels to replace a fitting in the engine compartment. The Ram 1500 recall only affects four wheel drive models built before November 2001, and is a long-term durability issue regarding a weld on a rear axle bracket. The Ram 2500/3500 recall concerns a fitting that could corrode from road salt in the Midwest. As far as we know there have been no accidents from these issues.

    June 11, 2002: Pillette Road to see new life?

    We've received an "insider tip" that a full size Dodge sport-utility is planned for Pillette Road again, with a lower price than the Expedition (thanks to fewer luxury options) along with a similar Jeep to sell at a higher price range, and finally provide Jeep with a vehicle larger than the Grand Cherokee. The Grand Cherokee, huge when it appeared, has now been dwarfed by the Silverado and F-Series based SUVs, and the SUV craze shows no sign of slowing. This is still a rumor, but it makes sense - it would build upon pre-existing and capable vehicles (the new Rams), require no new drivetrains, and could presumably be built with relatively few modifications to the existing vehicle.

    June 11, 2002: NHRA update

    MOPAR PARTS NHRA CALENDAR - NATIONAL TRAIL RACEWAY
    KIRKERSVILLE, OHIO

    MONDAY, JUNE 10, 2002
    9:30 AM    WCLT-AM Interview            (Morgan)
    5:00 PM    FOX Sports (Indians Pre-Game)    (Skuza)    

    WEDNESDAY, JUNE 13, 2002
    6:45 PM    Columbus Clippers Autographs    (Morgan)
    7:00 PM    Ohio News Network Interview    (Morgan)
    7:30 PM    Clippers PA Booth            (Morgan)
           

    FRIDAY, June 14, 2002
    10:00 AM    ESPN2 Interview            (Skuza)
    4:30 PM    Pro Stock Qualifying Session        (Alderman, Wilson, Morgan)
    5:00 PM    Nitro Qualifying Session        (Skuza)
    6:15 PM    Mopar Souvenir Trailer        (Alderman, Wilson)
    7:30 PM    Pro Stock Qualifying Session        (Alderman, Wilson, Morgan)
    8:00 PM    Nitro Qualifying Session        (Skuza)

    SATURDAY, JUNE 15, 2002
    11:30 AM    Pro Stock Qualifying Session        (Alderman, Wilson, Morgan)
    12:00 PM    Nitro Qualifying Session        (Skuza)
    1:30 PM    Mopar Souvenir Trailer        (Alderman, Wilson)
    2:30 PM    Pro Stock Qualifying Session        (Alderman, Wilson, Morgan)
    3:00 PM    Nitro Qualifying Session        (Skuza)

    SUNDAY, JUNE 16, 2002
    9:00 AM    Mopar Performance Parts Caravan    (Skuza, Alderman, Wilson, Morgan)
    10:30 AM    NHRA Driver Introductions        (All Qualified Drivers)
    11:00 AM    Final Eliminations (TF/FC/PS)    (All Qualified Drivers)

    *Schedule Subject to Change

    WEEKEND TELEVISION: (ALL TIMES EASTERN STANDARD)
    QUALIFYING:    Sat., June 15; 8-10 p.m.; ESPN2
    REPEAT:        Sun., June 16; 4:30-5:00 a.m.; ESPN2
    FINAL ROUND:    Sun., June 16; 8:30–11:00 p.m.; ESPN2
    REPEAT:        Wed., June 19; 2:30-4:30 p.m.; ESPN2

    June 13, 2002: Freedom of speech? Not if you attack Ford!

    It seems only yesterday Ford tried to shut down blueovalnews.com for reporting on true issues (including the mis-labelling of Mustang horsepower). Now, the Sierra Club has found that it cannot run radio ads which attack Ford, a company that postures itself as environmentalist but has fought attempts to raise gas mileage and produces a huge line of oversized SUVs with poor gas mileage. The ads asked automakers to "break the grip" of foreign oil by making existing fuel-saving equipment more available. The ads include former Senator Bob Kerrey, a Vietnam War veteran, and retired U.S. Navy Vice-Admiral Jack Shanahan, making the point that our nation's security may rest on not being dependent on unstable, terrorist-supporting foreign governments.

    June 14, 2002: Concept 4.7 engine: 14 percent better efficiency

    With a series of engineering changes to Chrysler's standard gasoline-powered, 4.7-liter V-8 engine, researchers have produced an engine with 14 percent better fuel efficiency. The cost of those changes: less than $200 per engine. The project has been nicknamed the MAGIC engine, which stands for Multiple Approaches to Great Internal Combustion. The improvement in fuel efficiency was achieved with no sacrifice in emissions, power, cost, weight, engine life or other engine characteristics such as noise, vibration or harshness.

    Eight different design and engineering changes were made to the standard engine. "Most of these changes are not new, and individually, they produce miniscule gains in fuel efficiency," Chrysler's Thomas Moore said. "The idea of the MAGIC engine is to package them all together so the overall gain is significant."

    Chrysler engineers packaged the MAGIC engine into a Dodge Durango SUV with several additional design changes to enhance fuel efficiency. That vehicle, project Apollo, achieves an overall improvement in fuel efficiency of 25 percent. Total additional costs for project Apollo are only about $700 per vehicle.

    Areas of improvement are:

    • Increased compression ratio (4 percent) -- resulting in greater efficiency and lower emissions -- through:
      + Intake port air-gap thermal barrier.
      Chrysler has applied for a patent for this innovative feature.
      + On-demand piston oil-squirters
      + Precision cooling system
  • Charge motion control (5 percent). Use of swirl control valves to enhance flame propagation during warm-up and partial load

    This also enables increased EGR (Exhaust Gas Recirculation)
    • Friction loss reduction (4 percent). Design changes to lower friction at no extra cost:
      + Crankshaft offset
      + Reduced oil-ring tension
      + Shortened coolant jacket
    • Parasitic loss reduction (1 percent). New design oil pump with reduced internal leakage and reduced friction
    Chrysler engineers used the same incremental approach to fuel efficiency improvements in the Dodge Durango SUV fuel efficiency demonstration vehicle. The Apollo project includes the following enhancements:
    • A 12V alternator/restarter to allow transparent shutdown and restarting of a warm engine in stop/start traffic conditions (4 percent)
    • Improved cooling technologies, including electronic thermostat, electric water pump, transmission temperature management and multi-mode temperature strategy (5 percent)
    • Improved undercarriage aerodynamics (belly pans and air dams) and grille shutters resulting in reduced drag (1.2 percent)
    • Electro-hydraulic power steering (1 percent)

    "Engineers have been improving the internal combustion engine for 130 years, so big improvements are hard to come by," Moore said. "We made the big improvement one small step at a time."

    June 19, 2002: Mercedes to use Mitsubishi trucks?

    Even Mercedes' truck division is feeling the heat of the DCX mergers, as DCX is reportedly thinking about replacing the Vario small trucks sold outside the US with a new Mitsubishi design. According to Just-Auto, Mitsubishi may well take the lead on the engineering of small trucks sold by both MMC and Mercedes. The Mitsubishi Canter truck may also be sold in the United States as a Freightliner. /rant mode on/ Note that Freightliner is being used as a nameplate attached to Mercedes and Mitsubishi trucks - sound familiar? /rant mode off/

    Mitsubishi and DCX are, according to Just-Auto, considering spinning off their small truck divisions into a joint venture. DCX currently owns 37 percent of Mitsubishi but has the option to buy more next year - something which might be hard if the company was as strapped for cash as they claim when shutting down and selling Chrysler plants, but which we suspect will be suspiciously easy when the time comes.

    June 21, 2002: Chrysler to slash development costs

    According to Chrysler Group's president, the group will be slashing new car development costs by 20-25 percent by using more efficient methods. Our take: (rant mode on) it's not hard to slash development costs when all your new models are based on another company's existing platforms. Use Hyundai engines, Mitsubishi and Mercedes transmissions, Mercedes electronics, and Mitsubishi platforms, and suddenly lots of development costs go away. Of course, the cost of the vehicle goes up, and sales go down as your formerly loyal customers turn to General Motors - which is cutting developments costs and times the way Chrysler did in the 1990s, which is by making the best use of its existing people and resources - but that's not important, because DCX controls Mitsubishi and is investing in Hyundai/Kia as well, and with any luck, by the time Chrysler is totally gone, Mitsubishi and Hyundai will have taken its place, and Juergen Schrempp will have retired. By the way, do you remember when there were American-designed TVs and stereos - and why there are almost none now? (rant mode off)

    June 21, 2002: Chrysler rearranges marketing

    In an effort to actually have readily definable brand identities - something Chrysler has lacked for decades - DCX is rearranging its marketing team, with a vice president in charge of each brand - Dodge, Chrysler, and Jeep.

    June 21, 2002: More on product emphasis at Chrysler

    The aforementioned reorganization combines product planning with advertising and marketing, and corresponds with the creation of a "look and feel" group charged with ensuring that, as Mitsubishi and Chrysler (and probably Hyundai, later on) are merged into one engineering and design unit, a Chrysler is still distinct from a Mitsubishi, and that both are palpably different from a Dodge. The overall perspective we see is that all DCX units are being brought together - even Mercedes, though to a lesser degree - so that cars and trucks will be jointly engineered (though Mercedes, Mitsubishi, and Hyundai seem to be doing all the cars), but adapted through changes to the sheet metal, interiors, and suspensions so they feel very different. Chrysler has done its share of this internally - the B-bodies are one example, the extended K line (including the Daytona sports car, Reliant economy car, and minivans) is another. On the lighter side, this can strengthen the neglected branding of Chrysler and Dodge. On the darker side, this will also disguise their consolidation with Mitsubishi, Mercedes, and Hyundai, which is likely to lead to shuttered factories, the loss of domestic engineering capabilities and staff, and the full-scale demise of Chrysler Corporation as even a semi-unique entity.

    June 25, 2002: Exploding Crown Vics

    After being prodded by Arizona's governor, NHTSA is sending an investigator to study a series of explosive fires involving Ford Crown Victoria police cars. At issue is the placement of the gas tank. NTHSA has been investigating incidents like these for eight months. Ford says their internal tests do not indicate a safety problem.

    June 25, 2002: Schrempp: Profit in 2002 for Chrysler Group

    DC CEO Schrempp told the Wall Street Journal:"We will have a very, very good second quarter at Chrysler and, of course, that means at the group as well," "Chrysler will be positive this year." Chrysler Group posted an "adjusted operating profit" of 127 million euros in the first quarter of this year, which includes one time events such as plant selloffs. One unarguable high point has been overall sales, which rose 4.4 percent in May, and three percent in April (both compared with the same month a year ago).

    June 25, 2002: Pontiac Solstice considered for production?

    As the Dodge Razor goes by the boards, word from Automotive News has General Motors trying to build a case for production of the small rear wheel drive car that was a hit at the Detroit auto show.

    June 26, 2002: 2003 Sebring coupe tweaking

    Some more info about the '03 Sebring coupe. The Car Connection reports a slight update to the front and rear fascias: revised taillamps, new clear headlamps, and a grille reminiscent of the convertible. http://www.thecarconnection.com/index.asp?article=5021

    June 26, 2002: Suzuki Samurai reappears

    Even though the Samurai is long gone, the lawsuit Suzuki filed against a nationally known consumer magazine isn't. And now it has new life as a Federal appeals court ruled yesterday the suit may go forward. Suzuki is claiming the 1988 test that found the Samurai prone to roll over was biased and flawed.

    June 30, 2002: Chrysler reports higher quality

    Chrysler reported that quality efforts largely begun before Stuttgart took over Chrysler have resulted in substantial and profitable increases in quality. In particular, new and redesigned vehicles (Rams and the Liberty) have had much smaller warranty costs than older vehicles - much as the PT Cruiser has been more reliable than the redesigned Neon, and the redesigned Neon has been more reliable than the original. /rant mode on/ It is worth noting that the press release and newspaper articles based on it refer to "DaimlerChrysler quality efforts," as opposed to Chrysler quality efforts, or to "DaimlerChrysler quality improvement." We haven't noticed any increases in Mercedes quality in the actual press releases, just Chrysler - and none of the efforts mentioned can be attributed to Dieter Zetsche or other Daimler-side additions. /rant mode off/

    June 30, 2002: Thanks to Rich Hutchinson

    Once again, we'd like to thank Rich Hutchinson for covering for us during our week-long vacation. He was responsible for the past week's unbiased and well-written reports - and the way he refrained from ranting (as we just did in the last report!) was admirable. We wish we had the cash to pay him to be a permanent fill-in....!

    July 1, 2002: Toyota to produce fuel-cell SUV

    Toyota, the first company to produce a standard-production hybrid automobile (the Prius, which is still state of the art), will test-market a fuel cell SUV before the end of the year - in both the US and Japan. While Toyota was the first to bring a mass-produced hybrid vehicle to market, many writers incorrectly referred to Honda's diminutive Civic offshoot (the Insight) as the first hybrid because it was introduced in the United States before the Prius - we suspect Toyota is bringing the fuel cell SUV to the US to avoid such confusion in the future.

    July 1, 2002: Chrysler wind tunnel opens

    Chrysler, which led aerodynamic design at some points in its history (with the Airflow models and later the Charger Daytona), has opened a new $37.5 million wind tunnel for aerodynamic and acoustic testing. The facility can handle vehicles up to 10,000 pounds, and can be used for tuning racing cars as well as standard passenger vehicles.

    The wind tunnel is the quietest in the industry, allowing for better reduction of sources of wind noise. It also has an 18-foot turntable for precise positioning, and fans that can generate winds over 150 mph.

    Though Chrysler announced the creation of the wind tunnel as "DaimlerChrysler's new facility" (etc.), it did have one symbolic link to the past: using a Chrysler Airflow to demonstrate the wind tunnel. The tunnel has been in production for about three years, dating back to before the integration of Chrysler as a division of DCX (and therefore technically a Chrysler operation).

    July 1, 2002: Ford and GM recall vehicles

    Ford is recalling a quarter of a million Windstar minivans built between 1994 and 1996 for possible brake fluid leaks, and some 1999 Volvo S80s with inadequate fans. Meanwhile, GM is recalling 2002 Malibus to check headlights, and Trailblazer/Envoy/Bravada SUVs built in late 2001 to check fuel filter fittings.

    July 1, 2002: DCX-sponsored racing summary

    NASCAR

    Jason Leffler finished second Saturday to lead the way for the Dodge Ram drivers in the GNC Live Well 200 NASCAR Craftsman Series Truck Series race at the Milwaukee Mile. Ted Musgrave finished fifth in his Ram, grabbing the lead in the season-long NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Standings after nine events. Musgrave has a four-point advantage over David Starr. Leffler ranks fourth in the series standings, 85 points behind Musgrave.

    Terry Cook won Saturday's race, a scheduled 200-lap event that was lengthened three laps by a late-race caution to allow for a green-flag finish.

    Rookie points leader Brendan Gaughan finished fourth in his No. 62 NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Ram to remain 10th in the standings. Robert Pressley finished seventh in the No. 18 Bobby Hamilton Racing Dodge Ram and ranks eighth in the standings.

    Other Dodge finishers were:
    * Ryan Hemphill (No. 26 OOIDA Dodge Ram) 16th
    * Bill Lester (No. 8 Dodge Motorsports Dodge Ram) 18th
    * Brian Rose (No. 4 The Perry Connection Dodge Ram) 19th
    * Jerry Hill (No. 179 RDS Racing Engines Dodge Ram) 21st
    * Carlos Contreras (No. 43 Hot Wheels Dodge Ram) 22nd
    * Tom Powers (No. 55 University of Northwestern Ohio Dodge Ram) 23rd
    * Rodney Sawyers (No. 68 Dodge Ram) 27th
    * Lance Hooper (No. 5 Diamond Cut Jeans/Blair 5.com Dodge Ram) 30th
    * Michael Dokken (No. 51 OOIDA Dodge Ram) 34th
    * Jason Thom (No. 81 Ware Racing Enterprises Dodge Ram) 36th

    Pennzoil World of Outlaws

    Mark Kinser, driver of the Mopar-powered Maxim, finished ninth in the 40-lap Pennzoil World of Outlaws A feature Saturday night at Knoxville Raceway in Knoxville, Iowa. Danny Lasoski won the race, his 10th of the season, and is now tied with Steve Kinser for the series lead after 33 starts. Mark Kinser finished 13th on Friday night in the preliminary feature. Joey Saldana won that 25-lap event.

    Kinser will head into Tuesday night's Outlaw action at Huset's Speedway in Sioux Falls, S.D., ranked third in the standings, just five points ahead of Craig Dollansky.

    NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series

    Darrell Alderman, driver of the Mopar Parts Dodge Neon R/T, made a bid for his third-straight holeshot victory over George Marnell in the Sears Craftsmanj Nationals at Gateway International Raceway in Madison, Ill. Alderman, a three-time POWERade Pro Stock World Champion, again took a decisive starting-line advantage (.463-.480) on Marnell in round two, but his 6.975-second elapsed time at 198.73 mph wasn't enough to hold off Marnell's 6.949-second run at 198.96 mph.

    Alderman advanced to the second round with a victory over Arturo Delgado in round one. The 28-time NHRA national event winner clicked off a 6.985-second lap at 198.70 mph.

    A promising weekend turned sour for Dean Skuza and the Mopar Parts Dodge Stratus R/T. After posting the 15th-quickest elapsed time in the third round of qualifying, Skuza's 5.233-second elapsed time at 284.15 wasn't enough to crack the top 16.

    Gene Wilson drastically improved his elapsed time in the third session of qualifying , but the heat and high track temperatures were too much to overcome for the rookie Pro Stock competitor. Wilson's Mopar Parts Dodge Neon R/T lapped the suburban St. Louis quarter mile in 6.943 seconds at 199.37 mph.

    Larry Morgan was unable to crack the top 16 after today's two sessions. The Newark, Ohio, resident, who pilots the blue Mopar Parts Dodge Neon R/T, clicked off a 6.928-second lap at 198.82 mph.

    July 2, 2002: GM debuts new trucks

    Those who supported DCX's decision to stay away from full-size trucks may find new support for their arguments, as GM once again added to their highly successful line of oversized SUVs. The Cadillac Escalade ESV takes the two Escalade models one step further, adding 22 inches in size to the already massive (and expensive) SUV. The pickup line will be facelifted and given new technology (as described at acarplace's GM section), while a 345 horse Silverado SS will be added. In the 2004 model year, two new SUVs will debut, the GMC Envoy XUV and the Buick Rainier mid-size (presumably similar to the Bravada/Envoy/TrailBlazer), complete with a V8.

    Chrysler has just revamped its once-revolutionary line of Ram pickups, and Ford is due to release redesigned F-150s in the 2004 model year. Both GM and Ford have had marked success in selling high-priced, full-sized pickups and SUVs, and are currently neck-and-neck in pickup sales.

    Background opinion: one stated reason why fuel economy standards favor these vehicles (many of which are actually exempt from any economy standards at all, because they are so large and get such poor mileage - go figure) is because Detroit relies on them for profitability. However, we note that Toyota has already shown its ability to compete in this market, at least in other continents - Toyota does make competent but expensive full-size SUVs. We hope Detroit does not become too complacent and cede the family and entry-level car market to Asia, because what happened to these vehicles can and probably will happen to trucks and SUVs as well.

    July 2, 2002: Ford demands millions back from local governments

    Claiming it was overcharged on property taxes, Ford is demanding the return of $1.6 million in local taxes, much of which would come from schools. The discrepancy seems to be the result of a recent internal Ford inventory, which found much less equipment in the plants than Ford had originally thought there (over $70 million in one case). Read the full article here (Detroit News).

    July 2, 2002: Chrysler quality improves

    In an article titled "Quality control pays off at DaimlerChrysler," Detroit News noted that 2001 warranty costs per vehicle fell 20 percent, and observed that Consumer Reports ranked Chrysler tops among Detroit automakers (as, indeed, it did last year, as we recall). They noted that the revised Liberty and Ram had much higher JD Power scores than the models they replaced (originally designed at least a decade ago).

    The inevitable rant. We applaud the attention to Chrysler's improved quality, an ongoing effort that began a decade ago and - despite some glitches, notably around the original Neon's introduction - has produced some impressive results. The PT Cruiser, a vehicle designed wholly under Chrysler management, was just below the Toyota Echo in Consumer Reports' ratings - nearly tops in its class. Indeed, the Daimler influence in quality is probably undetectable at this point, given that their influence hasn't had time to be reported yet, unless you count 90-day J.D. Power scores - where Chrysler has actually declined since last year, relative to the industry (last year, Plymouth led or was second best in several categories). The Five Star program, to get repairs done right the first time, is hardly new, either.

    We are reasonable. We do agree with any effort to raise quality. Hiring an ex-Toyota executive makes sense. Upgrading transmissions makes sense. Replacing Chrysler automatics with anything else makes sense. But, still, what we are seeing is the result of a Chrysler effort. And we congratulate the DCX PR machine on being able to insert the Daimler name in every Chrysler victory - especially since we haven't noticed any increase in Mercedes quality.

    July 2, 2002: Turbocharged PT Cruiser pricing set

    Chrysler has set the price for the PT Turbo at a relatively reasonable level of $22,290 (list). Arriving this fall, the PT is based on the Touring Edition, with a 215 horsepower (245 lb-ft) engine that has at least 220 lb-ft of torque available from 2,300 to 5,000 rpm. The base PT is currently $16,600, with the most fully loaded model selling for $26,000.

    From its launch as a production vehicle in February, 2000 through May, 2002, more than 395,000 Chrysler PT Cruiser vehicles have been sold worldwide.

    The turbo model, which Chrysler has for some reason resisted calling the GT Cruiser (it's the "Chrysler PT Turbo"), features a Getrag heavy-duty five-speed manual (AutoStick automatic available), a tuned suspension with four-wheel disc ABS brakes and traction control, 17" silver painted 5-spoke cast aluminum wheels, and P205/50HR17 all-season performance tires. Cosmetic features include:
    * Body-color monotone front fascia with larger, lower openings
    * Body-color monotone rear fascia with larger exhaust opening
    * Large diameter chrome exhaust tip
    * Body-color bodyside moldings
    * "GT" badge on left liftgate, "2.4L TURBO" badge on right liftgate
    * Performance front seats with unique cloth interior
    * Driver seat manual lumbar adjuster
    * Unique silver-faced cluster gauges with 140 mph speedometer
    * Tachometer with "2.4L Turbo" badging
    * Unique instrument panel accents
    * "GT" embroidered front floor mats
    * Silver painted shift ball
    * Silver shifter bezel (automatic transaxle vehicles with AutoStick)

    July 2, 2002: GM sales up again, Chrysler down again

    GM sales increased by 4 percent this year over last year - again - reflecting new technologies and designs. Chrysler sales fell, partly because of the loss of Plymouth, by 4 percent from June of last year.

    Good news

    PT Cruiser sales rose 30 percent due to higher production, and the new Ram Pickup rose 17 percent. The Sebring convertible rose 11 percent (this may be due to both summer and the new five speed/V6 GTC).

    Possible misleading trends

    The Dodge Neon sales rose 6 percent, but when Plymouth sales are factored in (3,570 were sold through June 2001), we overall Neon sales fell. Prowler sales rose as the model reached its end.

    Chrysler Concorde sales supposedly rose, but if you add in the loss of LHS sales (since the LHS was merged into the Concorde line), there was an overall loss, June-to-June.

    While the Sebring sedan rose slightly in sales (2 percent), the nearly identical Stratus sedan fell by over 20 percent. This June, 6449 Stratus and 4466 Sebring sedans were sold, so you can see that a slight rise in Chrysler is much less significant than a major fall in Dodge.

    Bad news

    Sebring Coupe sales plummeted by a full third, maybe indicating that reshaping Mitsubishis may not be the best strategy. The Wrangler dropped by 12 points to almost universally negative reviews which ignore the unique character of the vehicle - or perhaps the economy doesn't support that kind of purchase as much now. Intrepid and Dakota sales fell by 12 and 13 percent, respectively, while the soon to be discontinued Ram van and wagon fell by about 22 percent.

    Overall, the scorecard for June-to-June is - Plymouth dead, 3,640 units down [by last June, only a few straggling Neons and Prowlers were Plymouths, and even the Voyager was gone]; Chrysler brand up, six percent, to 47,412 units; Jeep down, 11 percent (to 36,082 units); Dodge car down 9 percent, to a remarkably low 33,451 units; with Chrysler totals at 202,822 units, down four percent June-to-June or 3 percent year-to-date. Not good by any stretch of the imagination, since a number of new vehicles should have ignited some spark, and GM rose by 4 percent (which encompasses many more vehicles than Chrysler's fall).

    July 2, 2002: Mileage is relative

    We've noticed Bill Ford bragging about how truck owners tell him they've put 120,000 miles on their Ford trucks. We invite him, and anyone else, to visit the Allpar 200,000 Mile Club ... 120,000 miles is just broken in!

    July 3, 2002: Auto news

    DaimlerChrysler's Mercedes brand is bringing its DaimlerChrysler Mercedes A-Class to the United States, according to The Car Connection's interview with a DCX board member.

    Nueces County, Texas, is suing Ford to immediately make the Crown Victoria safer. Ford has, with recent legal skirmishes and publicity, been considering ways to stop the Crown Victoria from being in unnecessary accidents - and from catching fire too easily when hit. As the only American maker of rear wheel drive V8 police sedans, Ford has the lion's share of the squad car market, with General Motors' Chevrolet Impala rapidly gaining a foothold in many markets and the Dodge Intrepid squeezing into the remaining space.

    Car and light truck sales fell 1.5 percent in the American market overall, June-to-June (Chrysler dropped 4 percent in that time). Both Chrysler and the overall market were down 3 percent year-to-date. More light trucks were sold than cars in this period (light trucks include minivans and the PT Cruiser).

    We announced PT Cruiser pricing earlier, but if you missed it, catch it again here.

    Congratulations, Bill Cawthon (former and we hope future Allpar contributor) on your new position with Just-Auto!

    July 4, 2002: Small SUVs crash tested - lousy results

    The Insurance Institute has once again tested a batch of vehicles - the Honda CR-V, Land Rover Freelander, Saturn Vue, and Subaru Forester. In 5 mph collisions, the Honda and Land Rover had the worst damage (over $6,000 each), and were rated poor - as was the Saturn Vue, whose damage cost half as much but was still substantial. The Subaru Forester managed a "good" with less than half as much damage as the Vue. While Honda and Land Rover both said the results were because the cars were designed for occupant safety, it's worth noting that Subaru's good results were the result of a better design which absorbed more crash energy - and therefore the car with the best rating is also more likely to protect its occupants in a crash. (Land Rover is currently owned by Ford, while Saturn is a brand of General Motors).

    July 5, 2002: GM pushes market with 0% financing - Ford follows

    GM has announced 0% financing, in addition to generous rebates - Ford has matched the offer. Still no word from DCX but we expect Chrysler will get there in a week or two at most.

    July 8, 2002: Chrysler restarts 7/70 warranty

    The seven year, 70,000 mile Chrysler/Dodge/Jeep powertrain warranty, which was abandoned in 1994 in favor of a three year-36,000 mile comprehensive warranty, is back again - this time, being included in addition to that three year coverage. This decision came partly because over a fifth of buyers reportedly won't even consider a Chrysler due to reliability concerns (those numbers are similar at GM). The warranty, transferable to subsequent owners at no extra cost (Chrysler used to charge $100 for this), will be on all new Chrysler, Dodge, and Jeep vehicles purchased or leased on or after July 9, 2002. We will have details later.

    July 9, 2002: MMC, Chrysler standardize names across the world

    [by Dan Minick] Mitsubishi, as reported in Just-auto and Veh-Net, announced that they will cooperate closer with DCX and that model names would be commonized across the world. Whether this means the Montero will change its name to the Japanese Pajero, etc. or vice-versa [is unknown.] What is interesting is that this annoucement comes on the heels of DCX's announcements about Chrysler doing similar moves, and possibly taking the Dodge brand to europe. Seems to me, that some sort of meeting/discussion/stragtegy occured, whereby each brand would strenghten its name recognition by standing for the same image world-wide.

    [Allpar note: in the past, Chrysler has had some intriguing name games - see this article for some historical oddities.]

    July 9, 2002: Rumors

    DakRT and 2.0 R/T (handles) posted that the Viper would have 525 lb-ft of torque (rather than 500), that the 5.7 Hemi gained 10 lb-ft to produce 375 lb-ft of torque, and that this would be Dodge's 2003 lineup:

    Neon SE PLDL41
    Neon SXT PLDP41
    Neon R/T PLDX41
    Neon SRT PLDZ41

    Stratus SE STDH22 (cpe)SXT= 21Y or 22Y
    Stratus R/T STDS22 (cpe)
    Stratus SE JRDM41
    Stratus SXT JRDH41
    Stratus ES JRDP41
    Stratus R/T JRDX41

    Intrepid SE LHDH41
    Intrepid ES LHDP41 SXT = 26G Pkg

    July 10, 2002: Honda doubles Odyssey/Pilot production

    Honda has expanded the plant where the Odyssey minivan and closely related Pilot "SUV" are made, in what may be the beginning of the end for Chrysler's minivan dominance. A redesigned Accord is also due for the 2003 model year, reportedly bringing the hot-selling sedan up to the standards it is usually assumed to have met.

    July 10, 2002: Americans with German expertise

    Chrysler's ad campaign has started, billing Chrysler as an American company with German expertise - a plan which is almost certain to backfire, according to some analysts, since it (a) reinforces the fact that Chrysler is no longer American, and (b) makes it sounds like Chrysler has to justify its existence. Meanwhile, Patrick Clement pointed out that Chrysler is advertising both its new 7/70 warranty and the "old" 7/100 plan - he suggested this is an interesting example of blending American and German expertise.

    July 10, 2002: Chrysler to shut down glass plant?

    /rumor/ DodgeGuy wrote: "The writing is on the wall! DaimlerChrysler [probably] plans on selling or closing the McGraw Glass Plant. They have outsourced 3 highly profitable windshields to non-union suppliers. The lines that ran these windshilds have been idled and a wooden wall erected around them. 300 union jobs lost because of this. All where given an indefinite layoff. No future product has been brought in. Is the writing on the wall or what? Thank you to all the employees of McGraw Glass for all you hard work."

    July 10, 2002: Three new Mitsubishi-based Neon replacements?

    /rumor/ We've heard that Belvedere will be prototyping three different new vehicles, designed to replace the Neon. We believe, based on past information, that these will be Lancer-based and include a two-door model, a four-door model, and a crossover of some sort. We fully expect the Neon replacement to include an all wheel drive variant that would steal some Impreza/WRX thunder. The prototype schedule would indicate that the Neon will be replaced more quickly than we had originally anticipated - we had thought it would last through 2006.

    July 10, 2002: New vehicle crash test results

    (Thanks, Ponchonutty, for pointing to this story). Chrysler is still not doing well in Insurance Institute for Highway Safety crash tests, even though the new Ram was the second best truck, getting a Good rating overall (Ford and Chevy managed a poor and marginal, respectively, with the F-150 being the lowest rated pickup). The is "marginal," above the "poor" Elantra nd Sephia/Spectra but below most other small cars (the Impreza, Civic, and Lancer topped the list). The Durango is rated "Acceptable," and the Liberty and Grand Cherokee are rated "marginal," beating a few other models but getting beaten in turn by many more.

    July 11, 2002: New DCX warranty ads

    July 11, 2002: JD Power releases service report

    J.D. Power has released its annual report on customer service at auto dealerships' repair shops. Saturn and Infiniti displaced Lexus to be the top and second highest rated, while Cadillac moved up to the #4 position. General Motors actually did quite well, with Saturn taking the honors, and Cadillac, Buick, Olds, Chevrolet, Saab, and GMC all above average - indeed, only Pontiac was below average. Chrysler was wedged between Honda and Toyota in dealer service, slightly above average and, incidentally, above Land Rover. Ford and Mazda were below average, though most of Ford's other brands - Volvo, Jaguar, Land Rover, Mercury, and Lincoln - were above average.

    Generally, as one would expect, luxury brands did better than non-luxury brands, despite Saturn's lead.

    Within DCX, it is worth noting that only Chrysler was above average in customer ratings of dealer service. Neither Mercedes, Dodge, Jeep, Mitsubishi, Hyundai, or Kia made the above-average list.

    July 12, 2002: Zetsche: Germans only source of quality?

    /note: parts of this may be considered a rant/ Chrysler head Dieter Zetsche said Chrysler was able to install a 7/70 powertrain warranty because of "American innovation and design with German quality and technology." However, as we previously noted, this warranty was originally used in the 1980s - and Chrysler pioneered a 5/50 warranty over thirty years ago. Currently, Hyundai offers a full 7 year, 100,000 powertrain warranty.

    The press release announcing the warranty was carefully worded to imply that Chrysler's new powertrains were the result of a very recent investment. In fact, Chrysler has been redesigning its entire line of engines for over a decade, starting with the Neon's groundbreaking 132 horsepower 2.0 liter engine, which set new standards for economical cars.

    Chrysler's new ads, which emphasize how Americans relabel German engineering to ad their own style to it, notes that German engineers were used in rockets, and that the Autobahn was the model for our interstate highway system (never mind that Germany itself would fit into a single state, or that the Autobahn was pushed into being by Adolph Hitler). As the chryslertakeover guy noted, "shooting war rockets at London isn't in the same league as putting a man on the moon...They might also mention that Einstein fled his home country to the US, to help us build an Atomic bomb BEFORE the Nazis did (thank God)." (As long as we're talking about rockets...). Global Autonet also noted that many people, including some Jewish organizations, are offended at the use of peace-loving Albert Einstein and "German rocket science." Autonet quoted Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Weisenthal Center as saying that the ads "whitewash the history and criminality of the Nazi regime." (The ads also show Thomas Edison, whose father was a Canadian of French descent, Albert Einstein, a Jew who would have been killed - probably slowly - had he not fled Germany, and Wernher von Braun, a scientist who reportedly experimented with live humans to perfect Nazi rockets and joined the US space program to escape prosecution and likely execution as a war criminal).

    All told, and throwing in yet another "you people who bought Chryslers were buying garbage because it didn't have German technology and skill" implied taunt, and you have a perhaps not especially desirable ad campaign. At least it's not offering rebates. /rant warning off/

    July 15, 2002: DCX electric cars to become available

    Marketing firm ZAP will be renting neighborhood electric vehicles (which look like oversized golf carts) throughout California. These vehicles, made by DCX owned Global Electric Motorcars (GEM), can reach 25 mph. The first location opened this week on Balboa Island, with more tourist locations to be added soon. Ex-Chrysler CEO Lee Iaccoca is also involved in the production of "neighborhood" vehicles.

    July 15, 2002: 2003 Stratus restyled and revamped

    According to Mr. Source, the 2003 Dodge Stratus will undergo an extensive cosmetic makeover. Some of the new features:

    • The new front look of the car looks like a mix between an Altima or Acura, with new headlamps, a more angled front fascia, a higher grille, and it is more aerodynamic because of the design.
    • The front fascia with the new hood and headlamps gives the car a more aggressive look. The lower part of the front fascia is almost identical to the new Neon R/T fascia for 2003, it has almost same fog lamps, and is very similar to the new Neon R/T.
    • The rear has new tail lamps, almost identical to the Eclipse lamps (round), round reverse lamps are located in the fascia.
    • R/T models will have a rear spoiler, we have a single exhaust and chrome pipe, about a 3 inch wide. So we don´t have the Intrepid look, I might say it looks now very similar to the Eclipse.
    • New wheels, 5 spoke, a new design, new side skirts that match the front and rear fascia.
    • Interior upgrades, such as volume controls on the back of the steering wheel.
  • New, sportier and more friendly instrument panel
  • Trunk lock now has been moved to the center of the deck, Stratus letters will be at the center of the deck, and R/T emblems on the doors, below the side door moldings.

    July 16, 2002: AutoWeek joins "German superiority" ad criticism

    By now, chances are you've heard the new Chrysler ads, telling us how quality is shooting up because superior Germans have taken over the stylish Americans at Chrysler. We note that our coverage of these ads has mistaken some details. For example, when DCX says "A German named Einstein showed us the universe in a whole new light," we did note that Einstein would almost certainly have died at the hands of the German government. We did not remember that Einstein was not even German, but Swiss - he left Germany, where he had a teaching position, in 1932. Though he renounced German citizenship quickly, he retained his Swiss citizenship after becoming an American citizen.

    The AutoWeek criticism also points out that giving credit to the German rocket program, which resulted in tens of thousands of civilian deaths, for the American space program is, to say the least, stretching the truth.

    DCX claims to have received no complaints and will continue the campaign, which is being paid for by Chrysler even though it seems to be more a justification of the merger than a way to sell cars to Americans.

    July 16, 2002: Stratus changes

    Yesterday, we posted an extensive list of 2003 Dodge Stratus changes. We must note that these apply only to the coupe version - that is, the one based on the Mitsubishi Eclipse, the twin of the Sebring Coupe (which shares almost no parts with the sedan and convertible).

    July 16, 2002: Chrysler's role in the space program

    Though DaimlerChrysler's new ads would indicate that the American space program rested on superior German engineering, Patrick C. was kind enough to provide us with some information from NASA on the company's history in the space effort. It turns out Chrysler made many major contributions, many of which are detailed in this article. That's not to downplay the contributions of Nazi war criminals, who surely advanced the program as well.

    July 17, 2002: Ford GT40 inherits Viper designers

    Ford, seemingly annoyed at not having anything to compare to the Viper or Corvette for nearly a decade, is developing a vehicle which should be comparable to the Viper or the highest-level Corvette - the GT40. Its design team has at least two people in common with the original Viper team: Carroll Shelby, who designed some of the most notable Ford rear-drive and Chrysler turbo-four cars (as well has having a hand in the Viper), and Chris Theodore, who as Ford's vice president of North America product development hand-picked the team. Theodore joined Ford in 1999, just after the takeover by Mercedes.

    As at Chrysler during its heyday, much of the development work will be done by suppliers: Lear, for interior systems experts; Mayflower Vehicle Systems, for aluminum chassis and body systems; Roush Industries, for the powertrain, and Saleen, to guide low-volume niche manufacturing system.

    Chrysler's use of suppliers to stimulate internal innovation, manage risk, and reduce costs was described in the Harvard Business Review article Chrysler: An American Kieretsu. This approach is one reason why Chrysler's supplier costs seemed higher than Mercedes' - the company had given suppliers a share in the savings they generated, so that in roughly two years, Chrysler saved $2 billion from supplier suggestions.

    July 17, 2002: 2003 Sebring Coupe, Sebring/Stratus sedans

    Mr. Source provided us with information about the 2003 Stratus coupe yesterday, and followed up today with details on remodelled 2003 Sebring coupe. Not surprisingly, the changes are similar to those on the Stratus, with projector like headlamps, new taillights, and a new grille with chrome bars. Now fog lamps will be outside the grille, and the outside mirrors are now painted body color.

    The 2003 sedans will have minor changes, and all Dodge and all Chrysler will have the family look [as seen in Neon spy shots], the sedans will have a much more similar look to the coupes for 2003.

    July 17, 2002: DCX selling yet another Chrysler plant?

    The selloff of Chrysler continues in bits and pieces as rumors surround the New Castle plant, which reportedly is going to be spun off as a joint venture with Metaldyne until the union contract expires. After that, Metaldyne will take over the plant, according to sources.

    July 18, 2002: DCX announces Chrysler Group operating profit

    DaimlerChrysler has announced that Chrysler Group has earned an operating profit, though we believe that their actual net result is a loss fo rthe quarter - by DaimlerChrysler accounting methods, at least. Actual understanding of whether Chrysler has been profitable or not since the takeover is impossible to outsiders, due to opaque German accounting standards.

    July 18, 2002: DaimlerChrysler announces profit in second quarter

    (Analysis courtesy chryslertakeover.com)

    The announced profit figure is $793 million. Subtract $344 million for the "charges" and you're left with $449 million.

    DCTV (intercompany closed-circuit TV) claims a Year-To-Date profit of $216 million. (This number takes into account last quarter's loss.) A modest number, but a profit none the less. [However,] revenues are DOWN from last year, while marketing costs (incentives) are UP. Vehicle sales are DOWN too. That means that this profit is 100% the result of cost cuts.

    /opinion starts/ Our financial controller, Jim Donlon, is already talking about losing money in Q3, as Schrempp did six months ago (Just in time to wipe out any chance of profit sharing) It's a no-brainer to move a loss from one quarter to the next, it'll also put them in a position to ask for sympathy from the UAW at contract time. /end opinion/

    July 18, 2002: Dakota, PT win Strategic Vision honors

    Strategic Vision's Total Quality Index has usually been kind to Chrysler, a trend which continues this year - though to a lesser degree than in the past. (In 2001, Chrysler was the most improved brand, winning compact car, larger car, minivan, and compact pickup). Both of Chrysler's 2002 winners also came in tops in their categories in 2001.

    This year's survey asked 46,900 buyers of 2002 model-year vehicles about the overall quality of their ownership experience, including factors such as vehicle performance and handling. In its eighth year, the 75-question survey was given to buyers 90 days after they purchased their new cars or trucks.

    According to the study, the Chrysler PT Cruiser "blows away the competition not only in styling, but also on room and innovation. This truly capable and very individual vehicle strongly delivers on esteem and harmony issues."

    The survey found that Dodge Dakota "excels in styling, handling, roadability and room. These attributes and other provide superior levels of freedom and esteem to its buyers."

    In the 2001 survey, both Toyota and Chrysler led the pack, each garnering four "best in class" ratings.

    July 18, 2002: Dodge Viper pricing

    Pricing for the 2003 Dodge Viper SRT-10 convertible has been announced, and it's far higher than the original Viper - $79,995 plus $800 destination. It's worth noting that "R/T" has now been consigned to history, along with DeSoto, Plymouth, and the Chrysler Corporation itself.

    The current Viper has 525 lb-ft of torque available from its 500 horsepower, 505 cubic inch V10. It has been sold out since January, with no options and only three colors (red, silver or black). Prices for 2002 models ranged from $71,725 for the RT-10 Roadster to $82,225 for the GTS ACR Coupe (not including $775 destination).

    In developing the new Viper, Dodge engineers sought feedback from key constituencies -- particularly owners -- on what the 2003 version should be. The replies included more horsepower, bigger brakes, lighter weight, true convertible top operation, a dead pedal and greater interior comfort. The new Viper SRT-10 delivers all, and a lot more, preserving its true American sports car heritage along the way.

    The 2003 SRT-10 retains Viper's front-engine, rear-wheel drive, two-seat layout. A true convertible model replaces roadster and coupe offerings. Its wheelbase has been lengthened 2.6 inches to accommodate convertible top stowage. Inside, from a race-derived, two-seat cockpit, the driver looks over a highly functional instrument panel with a center-mounted tachometer and a 220-mph speedometer. A traditional pushbutton starter refires old-time sports car memories.

    The Viper V-10 engine retains the basic architecture of its predecessor, but has a new (Chrysler says "all-new" but we don't have details) bored and stroked engine block. 90 percent of torque is delivered between 1500 and 5600 rpm. Viper's four-wheel independent aluminum suspension has been revised, and the four-wheel anti-lock disc brake system is enhanced for world-class stopping performance. The new Viper rides on P275/35ZR18 front and P345/30ZR19 rear black sidewall Michelin zero pressure (ZP) tires, with low-pressure sensors in the valve stems.

    Overall, the SRT-10 weighs approximately 100 pounds less than previous models. Numerous weight-saving measures were taken, including use of a one-piece magnesium front of dash, a cast magnesium instrument panel substructure, and aluminum bodied shock absorbers.

    Performance targets for the 2003 Dodge Viper SRT-10 include a 0-60 mph time of less than four seconds, an estimated top speed of 190 mph, 60-0 mph braking in less than 100 feet, 0-100-0 mph in about 13 seconds, and 1.15g lateral acceleration.

    July 18, 2002: Jeep most improved brand

    (Courtesy Mike's Free Jeep News): The J.D. Power and Associates 2002 Customer Service Index (CSI) Study shows that the Jeep® brand demonstrated the greatest year-over-year improvement of any surveyed nameplates, improving 31 points overall. Jeep improved dramatically in the "Service Quality" area (nearly 40 points), specifically in the area of "quality of work performed" (more than 50 points) and "thoroughness of fulfilling requests" (a 50-point improvement). The CSI study focuses on experiences with the dealer service department, service quality and overall satisfaction with the vehicle during the first three years of ownership. The study is based on responses from nearly 50,000 new vehicle owners and lessees.

    Dees noted that the high quality levels seen in the launch of the all-new 2002 Jeep Liberty and the improvements made to the Grand Cherokee contributed greatly to the high brand marks in CSI. The Liberty specifically posted a double-digit gain in quality in the recent J.D. Power Initial Quality Study results, scoring a 15 percent reduction in problems-per-100 vehicles. (The Liberty was designed within the "old" Chrysler).

    July 19, 2002: New Castle deal announced

    A few days ago, we announced a rumor that the New Castle plant would end up as a joint venture with Metaldyne, rather than being a fully owned Chrysler facility as it is now. The two companies just signed a letter of intent to consider the option, with ownership of the plant most likely reverting to Metaldyne. The Indiana factory employes 1,350 workers to build suspension, engine, and transmission components.

    Metaldyne was created by mergers and acquisitions last year. It "is investigating the possibility" of using New Castle's employees, represented by the UAW and othe runions. Metaldyne now has 8,500 workers and 50 plants that make drivetrain components. Chrysler will also close an Ajax, Ontario, plant that makes seat-back covers next year, is discussing the sale of a Huntsville, Alabama, electronic components factory - one which recently won a J.D. Power award for high quality. It sold an air conditioning component plant last year.

    July 19, 2002: Detroit News uses DCX spin

    After announcing a profit this quarter, Detroit News obliged a major advertiser by noting that "Cost cuts rescue Chrysler." /rant/ We noticed nothing was said about the long-term effects of cost cutting, decontenting, and "hollowing out" of the former Chrysler Corporation, not to mention employee morale. However, one of the interesting things about the major news media is their new role - not delivering news to their audience, but delivering their audience to advertisers. Given this role, repeating happy PR is hardly surprising. /rant off/

    July 19, 2002: Mitsubishi designs new SUV

    Even as Chrysler stops engineering its own cars, relying instead on Mitsubishi and (to a lesser extent) Mercedes, Mitsubishi is moving forward with two new SUVs, one the first vehicle Mitsubishi has ever designed and built in the United States. The Endeavor, presumably named to fit with the Ford line of Ex-vehicles, is a mid-sized Galant-based SUV similar to the Toyota Camry-based Highlander. It will be front wheel drive with an all wheel drive, and will include a V6 engine - we do not yet know whether it is (as we suspect) the Mitsubishi 2.5/3.0, or a Chrysler motor.

    Endeavor's styling was done in California, engineering was done in Ann Arbor, and assembly will be done in Normal, IL, along with the Galant and Eclipse.

    Mitsubishi is also soon going to introduce the Outlander entry-level SUV, and three other American-designed, styled, and produced vehicles over the next three years.

    By comparison, Chrysler will be introducing two new unspecified vehicles and the Pacifica (car-based SUV) over the next three years, while replacing the LH series with the LX, replacing the Neon with a version of the Mitsubishi Lancer, and replacing the Sebring/Stratus sedans and convertible with versions of the Mitsubishi Galant.

    July 22, 2002: Kia's minivan is its biggest export

    Though the Chrysler minivans have yet to post remarkable numbers in Europe, they have been among the former company's most popular vehicles in the 1990s and 2000s, equipped with special drivetrains (manual shifts and optional diesel engines). However, Kia's minivans seem to be closing rapidly as the Kia Carnival has overtaken the Rio as the Korean automaker's largest export, selling 6,096 units in June and 44,956 units for the year - respectable numbers for Europe. (source: just-auto.com)

    July 22, 2002: Lincoln head replaced

    Ford has replaced the head of Lincoln, Brian Kelley, with Darryl Hazel. Kelley, brought in by former CEO Jacques Nasser, will be president and CEO of SIRVA, a global relocation company. Under Nasser, the core Ford brand suffered setbacks but the luxury group (including Volvo, Astin Martin, Jaguar, and Lincoln) performed very well. Ford was held up as an example of how to run different companies with respect for each one while achieving economies of scale - for example, the annual report dedicated the same amount of space to each brand, from Ford to high-end Jaguar to relatively tiny Astin Martin. Meanwhile, Jaguar's quality was boosted to Korean-car levels and above, while new Ford-based Jaguars greatly increased sales (the long-term effects are unknown but the company's reputation does not seem to have suffered so far). Indeed, some analysts have compared the Mercedes-Chrysler relationship to the Ford-Volvo/Jaguar/etc. relationship - usually to Ford's credit.

    July 22, 2002: Chrysler workers unhappy with plant sale

    The New Castle newspaper Courier-Times reported in this article that Chrysler employees are very unhappy with the conversion of their plant to a joint venture with Metaldyne - a joint venture which would end up by September 2003 with full ownership by Metaldyne. Jeff Coatie, a six-year employee, was quoted as saying "It's going to have a big economic impact on this community." Metaldyne reportedly pays about $10 less per hour than Chrysler does for skilled trades, which could result in defaults on mortgages and other loans by current employees. Seniority could also be reset, affecting layed off workers who have been recalled.

    DCX apparently has not even asked the union for concessions. Coatie suggested that the union would be willing to give up a substantial amount in wages, and recently voted to give up their paid lunch in order to gain a new facility.

    While DCX insists only a letter of intent was signed, Coatie believes that it's "a done deal." Employees were told that if the joint venture was successful, Metaldyne intended to gain full ownership at the end of the current contract.

    DCX's Tom LaSorda said the goal was to increase the plant's competitiveness and "give the plant access to global markets."

    July 22, 2002: Racing wrap-up

    Winston Cup

    Ward Burton began the 2002 NASCAR Winston Cup season with a bang by winning the Daytona 500. This Sunday at New Hampshire International Speedway, Burton put his No. 22 Dodge Intrepid R/T out front with 10 laps to go in the caution-filled event and rolled to a 3.23-second victory over runner-up Jeff Green in the New England 300. Burton's second win of the season for car owner Bill Davis gave Dodge its fourth victory in 2002 and broke a 13-race Dodge winless streak.

    For the season, Ford continues to lead the standings with 127 points, followed by Chevrolet with 110, Dodge with 95 and Pontiac trails with 86.

    Sterling Marlin finished 14th in his No. 40 Dodge Intrepid R/T but still managed to gain ground in the Winston Cup Standings. Marlin now leads Mark Martin by 55 points and rookie Jimmie Johnson by 92. Other Dodge finishers Sunday were:
    Jimmy Spencer (No. 41 Target Dodge Intrepid R/T) 11th
    Jeremy Mayfield (No. 19 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge Intrepid R/T) 19th
    John Andretti (No. 43 Cheerios Dodge Intrepid R/T) 25th
    Steve Grissom (No. 44 Georgia Pacific Dodge Intrepid R/T) 28th
    Hut Stricklin (No. 23 Hills Bros Coffee Dodge Intrepid R/T) 31st
    Bill Elliott (No. 9 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge Intrepid R/T) 34th
    Casey Atwood (No. 7 Sirius Satellite Radio Dodge Intrepid R/T) 36th
    Kyle Petty (No. 45 Sprint Dodge Intrepid R/T) 37th

    NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series

    Ted Musgrave led the way for Dodge on Saturday at NHIS with a fourth-place finish in the New England 200. Musgrave finished fourth in his No. 1 Mopar Performance Dodge Ram and continues to lead the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series standings by 35 points over Mike Bliss.

    Rookie Brendan Gaughan finished fifth in his No. 62 NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Ram to maintain his lead in the Raybestos Rookie of the Year Standings, and Robert Pressley finished ninth in his No. 18 Bobby Hamilton Racing Dodge Ram. The manufacturers standings remain tight. Chevrolet has 81 points, followed by Dodge with 78 and Ford at 69.

    Other Dodge Ram finishers on Saturday at NHIS were:
    Carlos Contreras (No. 43 Hot Wheels Dodge Ram) 15th
    Jerry Hill (No. 79 RDS Racing Engines Dodge Ram) 20th
    Jonathan Price (No. 81 Ware Racing Enterprises Dodge Ram) 23rd
    Brian Rose (No. 4 The Perry Connection Dodge Ram) 25th
    Jason Leffler (No. 2 Team ASE/Carquest Racing Dodge Ram) 27th
    Lance Hooper (No. 5 AmIHealthy.com Dodge Ram) 29th
    Morgan Shepherd (No. 51 Quality Metric Dodge Ram) 30th

    NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series

    DBP Motorsports Dodge Neon R/T pilot Greg Stanfield made a semifinal round appearance in his first NHRA Pro Stock start of his career in the 23rd annual Mopar Parts Mile-High Nationals at Bandimere Speedway in Morrison, Colo. A standout in the Pro Stock Truck category last season, Stanfield outran George Marnell in the first round (7.288 to 7.323) and Darrell Alderman in round two. Hemi-powered Dodge Neon R/T driver Allen Johnson beat Stanfield in a close semifinal.

    It was a nice day for the Mopar Parts Dodge Stratus R/T of Dean Skuza. The two-time NHRA national event winner drove to the semifinals before being nipped by Tony Pedregon.

    Alderman, despite taking a holeshot advantage on the starting line (.438-.474), fell in the second round of competition to fellow Dodge Neon driver Stanfield. The three-time POWERade Pro Stock World Champion and driver of the Mopar Parts factory entry made a 7.361-second pass at 187.96 mph. Stanfield clocked a quicker 7.321/188.52 combination.

    Alderman advanced to the second round when No. 1 qualifier Ron Krisher red lit in the first round of competition. The 28-time NHRA national event champ had a solid .438 of a second reaction time and an elapsed time if 7.342 seconds at 188.31 mph.

    Pennzoil World of Outlaws

    Mark Kinser, driver of the Mopar-powered Maxim, finished 13th on Friday night in the 30-lap A feature at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio. Daryn Pittman won the Eldora Clash.

    Kinser finished 19th on Saturday night in the 40-lap 19th annual Kings Royal at Eldora. Joey Saldana won that event.

    Defending series champion Danny Lasoski continues to lead the Outlaw standings with 6,401 points to Steve Kinser's 6,390 after 42 races. Mark Kinser is fifth with 6.084 points.

    July 24, 2002: Jeep announces pricing for new Wrangler model

    $24,995. That will get you "Tru-Lok" locking front and rear differentials, front and rear Dana 44 axles, and a "Rock-Trac" 4:1 low range transfer case. Jeep is calling this beefy Wrangler model the Rubicon; the name taken from the course that Jeeps must tradtionally be able to navigate. Only 8000 will be built, so get in line if interested.

    July 24, 2002: Neon, Ram, and LX rumors

    Courtesy Mr. Source: Next "Neon" could also have a Hatchback design, besides a coupe and a sedan, designs are ready to have an OK. Also we might have a Chrysler Ram, yes a pickup with a different front end, rear end, interiors, and equipment, also waiting for an OK. The new LX model will be sold as a 2004.5 ,so there wil still be a 2003 M special and a 2004 M special.Then the LX cars go on sale late Jan 2004.

    July 26, 2002: Honda fuel cell vehicle certified

    Though Toyota may still be the first company to release a fuel cell vehicle, Honda is the first to have one certified for sale in the US. Before the merger, both Chrysler and Mercedes were working on fuel cell vehicles; Chrysler's approach actually used gasoline as the source for hydrogen and oxygen, and derived its value from cleaner emissions and greater efficiency (this research path has according to company releases probably been discontinued). GM and other automakers are also working on fuel cell vehicles, but Toyota and Honda seem to be in the lead in terms of actually producing one. The Japanese firms are also the only automakers to mass-produce highway-ready hybrid-electric vehicles.

    In other high-mileage news, although DaimlerChrysler has a wide array of available diesel engines, Ford may be the first of the former Big Three to introduce a diesel-powered small car to compete with Volkswagen in the US. A diesel Focus is reportedly planned for the moderately near future. Nearly half of European cars are sold with diesel engines, according to just-auto.com, and all major automakers sell them.

    July 26, 2002: Thanks to Rich again

    Thank you to Rich Hutchinson for covering breaking news in my absence on July 24!

    July 26, 2002: Kenosha plant expanded

    (Adapted from PR Newswire)

    Today, Chrysler dedicated a new 500,000 square-foot expansion of its Kenosha Engine Plant with the launch of the 3.5-liter V6 engine that will power the all-new Chrysler Pacifica, which begins production in early 2003. The proven 3.5-liter SOHC 24-valve V6 engine will offer brisk performance and improved fuel economy [over the current 3.5 V6, see details below].

    The 3.5-liter production launch marks the completion of the plant's $624 million modernization and expansion program that began in 1999.

    Chrysler plants traditionally use outside vendors for installation of new machinery. At Kenosha Engine, a unique pilot team was created to eliminate problems up-front and increase efficiencies. Around 30 people from Kenosha's hourly workforce collaborated with engineers, advanced manufacturing teams and suppliers to provide recommendations on the equipment and implementation procedures. 100 skilled employees were involved in the equipment floor installation, testing of machinery and training initiatives associated with the new engine.

    "Plant employees from all levels were encouraged to critique current and future processes for continuous improvement," said UAW Local 72 President, John Drew. "The joint initiative between union and management is vital to the success of the Kenosha Engine Plant in today's competitive environment."

    The plant will produce a revised version of the 3.5-liter engine used in the Chrysler 300M, Chrysler Concorde and Dodge Intrepid, apparently thaks to a new dual-intake manifold.

    The Kenosha plant currently produces the ancient 4.0-liter I-6 and the new 2.7-liter V6. Production of the 2004 Chrysler Pacifica will begin in early 2003 at Chrysler Group's Windsor Assembly Plant.

    At full production, Kenosha Engine will employ more than 1,700 team members and has the capacity to produce 780,000 engines annually on a two- shift operation. The 1.8 million square-foot facility currently employs 1,675 workers, who produce more than 2,000 units per day. Since 1997, Chrysler Group has invested $1.2 billion in the Kenosha facility, including today's announcement.

    The dedication ceremony coincided with the city of Kenosha's automotive centennial celebration. The current Kenosha Engine production site opened in 1917, housing Nash Motors which became Nash-Kelvinator, which was merged into American Motors, which was bought by Chrysler Corporation, which was bought by Daimler-Benz - seems whoever owns this plant gets into trouble. The facility has produced everything from Nash Ramblers and (much later) Dodge Diplomats to AMC engines used in Jeeps for more than two decades.

    For more details on these engines, click here.

    July 29, 2002: Zetsche says Chrysler will pursue product

    Dieter Zetsche, head of Chrysler, said the former company would try to regain market share by adding more vehicles - 11 within three years, then 20 more in long-range development. That does not include ten redesigns coming up soon (which could include the LH series, the Viper, the heavy duty Ram, minivan facelifts, etc.) The eleven almost certainly includes the Neon's replacement, a retuned and reshaped Mitsubishi Lancer in both sedan and sport-wagon form (two and all wheel drive versions) with substantial Chrysler input into the two-door versions (so we hear); that would account for about three different models in itself. There's also the Pacifica and Crossfire, though we'd hardly count the latter as a Chrysler. Some have said that Zetsche plans a K-car-style diversification, building new models off existing platforms, something absent from Chrysler's plans since the turnaround of the mid 1990s. This type of new model development has been very successful for Chrysler in the past, with the wide range of A and B bodied cars in the 1960s and 1970s, then with the EEKs of the 1980s and early 1990s. It has also worked well for Volkswagen, whose Golf platform spawned the Beetle, Jetta, and Audi TT, and for that matter for GM and Ford over the decades, when not stretched beyond incredulity.

    July 29, 2002: Chrysler's full product plan

    AutoWeek has reported on Chrysler's full product plan. This was e-mailed to us but we do not have a URL over at AutoWeek. We have however updated our new models page with the information. There are no real surprises and only a little more in the way of details - except for one tidbit: the upcoming entry-level Jeep will reportedly be based on the Liberty. They also say the Dakota's going to be lightened and downsized somewhat for its redesign.

    In other news, some have speculated that the 3.5 may find its way into the minivans at long last, with engine production expanded. Perhaps that is just to ensure a good supply for the Pacifica and other Chrysler vehicles, but with the LX series moving to V8s, it might mean more power to the minis.

    July 29, 2002: Racing roundup

    Bill Elliott rolled to a 1.72-second victory over Kurt Busch on Sunday in the Pennsylvania 500 NASCAR Winston Cup race at Pocono Raceway, completing a weekend grand slam for Dodge Motorsports. >[?Dodge teams also won this weekend in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series with Robert Pressley in the No. 18 Square D Dodge Ram at Michigan International Speedway, Casey Atwood in the No. 19 Dodge Intrepid R/T in the Pepsi ARCA 200 at Pocono Raceway, and Hank Parker Jr. in the No. 36 GNC Live Well Dodge Intrepid R/T in the NetZero 250 Busch Grand National race at Pikes Peak.

    Elliott's No. 9 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge Intrepid R/T took the lead from Dodge driver Sterling Marlin with 19 laps remaining and held on to score his fifth career victory at Pocono's 2.5-mile triangular track. Elliott started on the pole and led twice for 35 laps.

    Marlin led the most laps in the rain-shortened event. The No. 40 Coors Light Dodge Intrepid R/T driver led four times for 106 of 175 laps and held on for a third-place finish. He gained 51 points on Mark Martin and now leads Martin in the series standings by 106 points after 20 events.

    Elliott's victory was his first of the season and the fifth Cup win for Dodge in 2002. Ford continues to lead the manufacturers standings with seven wins and 133 points, followed by Chevrolet with five wins and 114 points. Dodge has five wins and 104 points, followed by Pontiac with three wins and 89 points.

    Moving up to ninth in the series standings, Elliott now trails Marlin by 308 points with 16 races remaining. He's only 69 points out of fifth place. Elliott recorded his 42nd career victory in start No. 679. He last won at Pocono in 1989, and it was the first victory for Dodge at Pocono since Richard Petty won the Purolator 500 in 1976.

    NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series

    Robert Pressley's No. 18 Square D Dodge Ram led 74 of 100 laps en route to a truck-length victory over Jason Leffler's No. 2 Team ASE/Carquest Dodge Ram on Saturday in the Michigan 200 at Michigan International Speedway.

    Pressley's victory deadlocked the manufacturers standings for Dodge. Dodge and Chevrolet each have 87 points and five victories after 13 of 23 NASCAR Craftsman Trucks Series races in 2002. Ford is third with 73 points and three wins.

    Pressley, who also won the season opener at Daytona, gained one spot in the driver standings. He moved to seventh and trails leader Mike Bliss by 105 points.

    Ted Musgrave entered Saturday's race with a 35-point advantage over second-place in the standings. Musgrave started on the pole after qualifying was postponed but a blown engine in his No. 1 Mopar Performance Parts Dodge Ram resulted in a 32nd-place finish for Musgrave. He dropped to third in the standings, 58 points behind the leader.

    Leffler scored his fourth runner-up finish of the season and ranks sixth in the standings, 86 points behind Bliss.

    Bill Lester took Raybestos Rookie of the Year honors in his No. 8 Dodge Motorsports Dodge Ram with a 15th-place finish. He moved up two spots to 16th in the standings. Dodge rookie Brendan Gaughan finished 18th in his No. 62 NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Ram and remained 11th in the standings. Carlos Contreras finished 17th in the No. 43 Hot Wheels Ram and moved up two spots to 14th in the standings.

    Busch Grand National and ARCA

    Hank Parker Jr. gambled on fuel mileage and led the final 17 laps to take the checkered flag. He finished 11 seconds ahead of runner-up Greg Biffle at Pikes Peak in Fountain, Colo.

    Casey Atwood scored a .749-second victory over Jason Jarrett in the Pepsi ARCA 200 at Pocono Raceway. Atwood started from the pole and led 56 of 80 laps, including the final nine.

    Pennzoil World of Outlaws

    Mark Kinser had a busy weekend in his Mopar-powered Maxim in the Pennzoil World of Outlaws Series and ended up with three top-10 finishes at Williams Grove Speedway in Mechanicsburg, Pa.

    Kinser finished 10th on Thursday night in the 25-lap feature, fifth on Friday night and seventh in Saturday night's 30-lap feature. Kinser remains fifth in the series standings.

    NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series

    Dean Skuza's Mopar Parts Dodge Stratus R/T Nitro Funny Car continued its mastery over 11-time Nitro Funny Car World Champion John Force. Skuza took home a third-straight round victory over Force and his fourth in the last five meetings. Skuza ran low elapsed time of the round at 4.962 seconds and 303.50 mph. Force smoked the tires and crossed the finish line in 7.152 seconds.

    With rain ceasing activity, Skuza matches up today with Cruz Pedregon in round two.

    An unusual first round match with Larry Nance ended in a red light for Mopar Parts Dodge Neon R/T rookie Gene Wilson. As rain threatened to end activities prematurely, Wilson and Nance's 105-second burn down did not please NHRA starter Rick Stewart.

    Stewart asked the duo to step back and wait for other pairs to run. One of the many rain delays halted activity before the two went back onto the starting line. On the second go around, Wilson staged early, brought up the rev limiter, and left before it chimed green. It was Wilson's first red-light loss of the season.

    Larry Morgan and the blue Mopar Parts Dodge Neon R/T fell in the first round of competition to point leader Jim Yates. After posting his best qualifying effort since a third at Memphis (Tenn.) Motorsports Park in 2000, Morgan clocked a 6.888-second elapsed time at 199.91 mph. Yates drove to a quicker 6.857-second lap at 200.65 mph.

    July 29, 2002: chryslertakeover: Top reasons to investigate DCX

    In an unusual move for a pro-company site, chryslertakeover.com has put together a list of the "Top 11 Reasons to Investigate DaimlerChrysler." The webmaster is, according to site statements, trying to elicit interest from journalists in the foul play which led to the creation of DaimlerChrysler. (Daimler-Benz's CEO has admitted to making fraudulent statements prior to the takeover.) The goal is to split Chrysler back from Daimler-Benz, mainly to keep Chrysler employees working. The webmaster of the site (who wishes to remain anonymous, as a Chrysler employee) noted: "DCX plans to consolidate production of small/mid-sized cars with its partners (Hyundai and Mitsubishi). Mitsu has an almost-new plant, Hyundai is building a new plant that will surely be non-union. Who do you think will get the short end of this stick?"

    DCX officials, in their turn, have repeated that the merger was necessary for Chrysler's long-term viability, pointing to losses which mounted once Chrysler was integrated into DCX. Some, including a writer from the Wall Street Journal, however, have questioned DCX's numbers for Chrysler's profits and losses, noting the opacity of German books. That will change as new laws take effect in Germany.

    July 30, 2002: Ford goes after diesels, UK reduces biodiesel tax

    According to AutoWeek, Ford is planning to sell a downsized version of its PowerStroke diesel in the 2005 version of the F-150. Diesels generally last longer than gasoline engines and can nearly double gas mileage when used in trucks, where their high torque overcomes relatively low horsepower and very low redlines. Ford is also discussing a diesel Focus, to arrive in a year or two, which would greatly increase the top gas mileage of the hot-selling compact car.

    Ford's diesels are generally not considered to be the best of their kind, particularly in trucks (where the GM/Isuzu diesel and Cummins engines used in Dodges seem to have more respect and better numbers), but the six-cylinder diesel would be the only one offered in a standard-duty full-size pickup. Likewise, the Focus would be the only American car offered with a diesel, and would likely steal some thunder from Volkswagen, currently the manufacturer with the largest selection of diesel cars in the US. Outside the US, diesels are common, and nearly half the cars sold in Europe come equipped with the efficient engines.

    In related news, the UK reduced the tax on biodiesel fuel by 20 pence. Biodiesel comes from organic sources, and has the potential to reduce reliance on petroleum. Unlike "gasahol," biodiesel does not require massive amounts of energy to distill.

    Chrysler uses diesel engines in its export versions of the Voyager, Cherokee (Liberty), Grand Cherokee, and (planned if not in production) PT Cruiser.

    July 30, 2002: Dodge sweep

    "MotorsportsNeon" wrote:

    Congratulations to Bill Elliot and the #9 Dodge! Congratulations ladies and gentlemen, you have seen history! This is the first time in history that Dodge has sweeped all motorsports in one weekend!

    Robert Pressely takes the CTS race in his Dodge.

    Hank Parker Jr. takes the Busch race in his Dodge.

    Casey Atwood takes the ARCA race in his Dodge.

    Bill Elliot takes the NASCAR race in his Dodge.

    Now all we need is Dodge to win Top Fuel and Pro Stock in NHRA and the dominacy will be complete.

    Also Sterling increased his point lead to 106 points over Mark "

    July 31, 2002: News from the trenches

    It was noted when Chrysler announced the sale of the Huntsville electronics plant that the facility had won a major quality award. The New Castle plant, which is in the process of being sold (in a way which avoids having to overtly violate or obey the union contract), is #1 in quality and attendance, according to an employee there, who said that employees gave concessions two years ago from their local contract, with the promise of job security and future employment with DCX. The employee noted, "We have made budget for the last two years and are on schedule to come in under budget this year." The New Castle local has protested the sale, against the wishes of the UAW's headquarters.

    August 1, 2002: Weak July, Zetsche says

    Chrysler head Dieter Zetsche warned analysis that July sales would be weak, because the company is not playing the incentive game.

    August 1, 2002: Diplomat in Maine wanted for model

    A model manufacturer located in Maine is looking for a Dodge Diplomat in the area for photography and measurement, leading to the production of a Dodge Diplomat model. A 1985 model would be preferred but similar years would be acceptable. Please e-mail us at allpar.com if you have one, or post at our forum (without personal information) and we'll contact you via private message. (You can also private-message Dave from the forums).

    August 1, 2002: Sales figures for Dodge, GM are in

    Bill Cawthon provided these numbers on July 2001-to-July-2002 sales, which are surprisingly good, especially in the light of Dieter Zesche's warning:

    • Chrysler Sebring Sedan reported record sales of 4,996 units, up 17 percent
    • Chrysler Sebring Coupe sales of 1,797 units, up 51 percent
    • Chrysler 300M sales of 2,852 units, up 22 percent
    • Chrysler Concorde sales of 2,188 units, up 37 percent
    • Total Dodge car sales of 26,789 units, up 33 percent
    • Dodge Intrepid sales of 8,141 units, up 38 percent - Intrepid is up 3% in year-to-date sales
    • Dodge Neon sales of 9,149 units, up 33 percent - Neon is up 11% so far this year.
    • Dodge Stratus Sedan sales of 6,568 units, up 19 percent
    • Dodge Stratus Coupe sales of 2,789 units up 59 percent
    • Dodge Ram pickup is 10% ahead of last year's pace, Jan to July
    • Caravan is up 5% from last year in Y-T-D sales.
    • PT Cruiser is also up 5%

    We will report later on the down-side, but so far things do look very good, with most models up.

    Over at the General, things are very rosy indeed. General Motors Corp. dealers sold 465,843 new cars and trucks in July in the United States, up 24 percent over last year. GM reported record July truck sales, up 36 percent, and July retail truck deliveries were up more than 40 percent. GM remains on track to establish a new calendar year industry truck sales record. GM's car sales were up 11 percent overall and up 18 percent retail. For the year, GM overall retail sales are up nearly 6 percent and retail truck deliveries are up 16 percent.

    While General Motors has been discounting vehicles heavily, other manufacturers have followed suit, leading to deals such as Mitsubishi's "no interest and no payments this year" as well as Chrysler's usual panoply of rebates coupled with 7/70 powertrain warranties.

    August 2, 2002: July sales - details

    Once again, thanks to Bill Cawthon, we have detailed analysis of July sales. Note that these figures may not correspond exactly with mainstream news media analyses - Bill's taken some effort to correct sources of bias. Bill wrote:

    Putting things into perspective, Ford's July sales rose about 1.5 percent compared to 2001, although YTD sales are down about 9 percent. Chrysler actually has more domestic models outperforming their 2001 pace than Ford, which has only three (Explorer, up 0.6 percent; Sable, up 2.6 percent; Mountaineer, up 1.1 percent). Ford's brand-new Expedition is down 14.2 percent compared to July 2001. [Note that Ford is discontinuing the Excursion.]

    In reality, Ford's sales boost came solely from Jaguar and Land Rover: every other blue oval brand is down from last year. Ford down 9.4 percent, Mercury down 14.9 percent, Lincoln down 14.5 percent, Volvo down 16.8 percent. Jag and Land Rover, Ford's smallest divisions by unit sales, were up 63.4 and 63 percent respectively.

    Counting only domestic models, as Chrysler does, Ford's year-to-date sales are really down by over ten percent.

    Chrysler U.S. Sales Summary Thru July 2002
    Month Sales DR % Sales CYTD DR %Model
    Curr Yr Pr Yr Change Curr Yr Pr Yr Change
    Cirrus 0 0 0% 0 371 -100%
    Sebring Sedan 4996 4095 17% 37041 32057 16%
    Sebring Coupe 1797 1145 51% 7679 10174 -25%
    Sebring Convertible 3280 3242 -3% 31431 30725 2%
    Concorde 2188 1534 37% 19814 17579 13%
    300M 2852 2253 22% 19563 20557 -5%
    LHS 0 545 -100% 552 6930 -92%
    Prowler 106 125 -19% 1035 526 0%
    CHRYSLER CAR 15219 14983 -2% 117720 145530 -19%
    PT Cruiser 11735 10697 5% 87395 82992 5%
    Voyager 3410 3712 -12% 26682 27579 -3%
    Town & Country 10891 10648 -2% 81380 86110 -5%
    CHRYSLER TRUCK 26036 25057 0% 195457 197021 -1%
    CHRYSLER BRAND 41255 40040 -1% 313177 342551 -9%
    Wrangler 5782 6068 -9% 37690 42871 -12%
    Cherokee 0 6208 -100% 0 66793 -100%
    Liberty 13586 10562 23% 87228 21048 314%
    Grand Cherokee 20167 18627 4% 123465 126158 -2%
    JEEP BRAND 39535 41465 -8% 248383 256870 -3%
    CP CAR 15219 14983 -2% 117720 145530 -19%
    CPJ TRUCK 65571 66522 -5% 443840 453891 -2%
    CPJ DIVISION 80790 81505 -5% 561560 599421 -6%
    Neon 9149 6597 33% 77245 69523 11%
    Stratus Sedan 6568 5317 19% 55086 59170 -7%
    Stratus Coupe 2789 1688 59% 11919 14305 -17%
    Avenger 0 0 0% 0 143 -100%
    Intrepid 8141 5665 38% 77640 75109 3%
    Viper 142 104 31% 974 871 12%
    DODGE CAR 26789 19371 33% 222864 219121 2%
    Dakota 12388 12933 -8% 80251 94343 -15%
    Ram P/U 33616 37133 -13% 228955 208814 10%
    Caravan 19565 18589 1% 163703 156150 5%
    Durango 9718 12383 -25% 64097 77939 -18%
    Ram Wagon 865 1072 -23% 10024 15670 -36%
    Ram Van 1871 2612 -31% 16153 24190 -33%
    DODGE TRUCK 78023 84722 -12% 563183 577106 -2%
    DODGE DIVISION 104812 104093 -3% 786047 796227 -1%
    TOTAL CAR     42008 34354 17% 340584 364651 -7%
    TOTAL TRUCK 143594 151244 -9% 1007023 1030997 -2%
    TOTAL CAR & TRUCK 185602 185598 -4% 1347607 1395648 -3%
    Total Minivan 33866 32949 -1% 271765 270179 1%
    Total Sport Utility 49253 53848 -12% 312480 334809 -7%
    Selling Days 25 24 178 178

    [Webmaster notes - not Bill speaking] Year to date, Chrysler seems to be doing fairly well in minivans considering that the Kia Sedona arrived and that the Honda Odyssey has been ramping up. B-Series van sales are understandably down since they will be discontinued, while the Durango seems to be feeling the impact of the TrailBlazer, with its newer engines and superior sales force. The severe decline of Sebring/Stratus coupe sales means little to Chrysler enthusiasts, since those are modestly redesigned Mitsubishi models (though it may bode ill for a future Chrysler where all Sebrings and Stratuses are based on Mitsubishis, albeit with more Chrysler intervention).

    Thanks again to Bill Cawthon for making this information available.

    August 3, 2002: Charger back...?

    Dodge is reportedly going to call its LX the Charger, and will offer it with four doors and maybe as a coupe as well. The four door version will have coupe styling, and Motor Trend portrays it with old-fashioned "maximum opening" doors (the rear doors having the hinges at the rear). The Charger drawings show a trendy, small coupe-like design. Engines slated for the Charger include the 3.7 V6 (the Ram's base engine, based on the 4.7 V8), the 4.7 V8, and, for the Charger R/T, the 5.7 Hemi. All three engines were designed for Dodge trucks, and would probably have more horsepower in car use, if the modified Mercedes transmissions are up to it. All are also substantially more powerful than current LH car engines, which max out at 3.5 liters and 255 horsepower, and run on regular gasoline.

    August 5, 2002: Mopar wins!

    Courtesy David Harris

    It was a magical day for Larry Morgan and the blue Mopar Parts Dodge Neon R/T. The Newark, Ohio, resident regained some of his old-time Pro Stock glory by winning his ninth NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series event today at the Fram Autolite NHRA Nationals at Infineon Raceway.

    Morgan, who won his first NHRA Pro Stock category event since Englishtown, N.J., in 1994 and participated in his first final since Heartland Park Topeka (Kan.) in 1997, used two holeshot starting-line advantages en route to victory.

    “I can tell you right now, Bob Glidden helped me get this victory,” said a jubilant Morgan. “I can’t tell you what we figured out, but what we did really helped me out. If it was not for him, I’d still be struggling.”

    In the final, Morgan took a .437 to .483 starting-line advantage on Greg Anderson; and his 6.845-second elapsed time at 201.58 mph was enough to hold him off. Anderson clocked a quicker 6.799-second elapsed time at 202.45 mph.

    The semifinal was a similar story for the Newark, Ohio, resident. Morgan, after staging a brief burn down with 2000 champion Jeg Coughlin, Jr., slapped a holeshot of .431 to .493 to gain the victory. Morgan clocked a 6.842-second lap at 201.31 mph, which was just enough to beat out Coughlin’s 6.809-second run at 202.61 mph.

    “I figured I’d better get them (on the tree),” Morgan added. “Those kids I’m racing are sure good on their lights though. The thing is, I never go in there with a game plan. I usually get up there and don’t plan on doing anything. I just got lucky and everything went my way. It was Bill Elliot’s day, and it was mine too.

    “We’ve worked real hard at this new Hemi program,” Morgan continued. “I left General Motors in 1999 to work on this program because I knew there was a big future in it. As you can see, it is all starting to come together because we had six Hemi cars in the program today. We’re just real proud of that fact alone. Without the support from Mopar, we wouldn’t be anywhere near where we are today.”

    Morgan advanced by defeating Mark Whisnant in the first round and fellow Hemi-powered driver Greg Stanfield in round two.

    Bill Elliot, driver of the No. 9 Dodge Motorsports Intrepid NASCAR Winston Cup Series entry, won today’s Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway; making it the second-straight weekend that at least two Dodge’s have visited victory lane.

    In other news, Dodge driver Larry Morgan knocked Greg Stanfield out. Stanfield and the DBP Motorsports Hemi-powered Dodge Neon R/T ran a solid 6.832-second elapsed time at 202.27 mph.

    Stanfield advanced to the second round with a holeshot (.441-.492) victory on point leader Jim Yates in round one. The Bossier City, La., resident logged a slower 6.842-second lap at 202.55 mph, but it was too much for Yates’ 6.793-second run at 202.76 mph. “It was Dodge against Dodge out there,” Stanfield said. “We knew it was going to be a tough run. We still have a lot to learn with our car. I’m real happy with where we are right now. I think we have decent power; I’m not sure that we have top of the line power just yet. I need time. The biggest commodity of today is time.”

    August 5, 2002: 2003 models

    Genciu wrote: "...saw a dealer's book on the 2003s. Not much new was listed.  Neon has new front and rear, as we've seen, as well as the Stratus and Sebring coupes.  All looked much improved.  ...It [listed a] new dash with white gauges for the coupes.

    "Intrepid was the same except a few colors and the SXT will be a late availability package to the ES model.  Stratus Sedan  SE and SE Plus lose four-wheel disc brakes to disc/drums.  The also have new colors and wheels.

    Caravan now has a  cargo van version.  

    "Couldn't tell for sure, but the 300 M looked like the headlights might be in tinted glass???   Really didn't look like there were many updates for 2003."

    For a rundown of models being introduced over the next three years, click here.

    August 5, 2002: Petition at St. Louis plant gets 330 signatures

    An employee at the Chrysler St. Louis plant has gotten 330 signatures on a petition to investigate the DaimlerChrysler merger for potential fraud, following concerns over the closure of a number of parts plants and recent deals to switch to American-made Hyundai four-cylinder engines and Mitsubishi car platforms. One specific concern is the opening of new, non-union plants in the South even as current DCX plants are being closed, with accompanying economic issues in their communities.

    The employee who gathered the signatures noted, "I was a little shy at first - but once I saw the overwhelming response it was a piece of cake.... " She requested that reports visit chryslertakeover.com's "Top eleven reasons to investigate DaimlerChrysler for corporate fraud."

    August 6, 2002: Chrysler employees protest plant sales

    According to Detroit News, two busloads of workers from Chrysler's New Castle metalworks plant are protesting in Auburn Hills today to show their concern over the sale of their plant to Metaldyne, as well as Chrysler's recent sales or closures of other plants (including Dayton, McGraw, Ajax, Huntsville, and Graz). The New Castle plant makes suspension, engine, and transmission components, but new Chrysler models will be using mostly Mercedes and Mitsubishi engines, transmissions, and suspensions.

    For the moment, New Castle is supposedly being turned into a joint venture with Metaldyne, but announced plans had Metaldyne owning the facility outright after the union contract expires. The factory is one of Chrysler's oldest plants, which in itself inspires some loyalty and concern, but Chrysler also has higher pay and a real pension, while Metaldyne workers get a 401(k) and, in their Indiana plant, a top salary of $17 per hour (roughly $34,000 per year).

    UAW Local 371 president Dan Hubble was quoted in the article as saying that the action was largely to help prevent other plants from going on the block: "It might be too late for us, but we want the world to know what's going on."    

    August 7, 2002: Chrysler tries for larger share of car market

    Dieter Zetsche said that Chrysler's future products will be designed to gain a larger share of cars, with two-thirds of the 21 new and refreshed vehicles showing up in model years 2003, 2004, and 2005 being car-based. Currently, Chrysler's mix is about 70 percent SUVs, minivans, and pickups, 30 percent cars. Zetsche called Chrysler "a great American auto company with a storied past." However, he didn't seem to say much specifically about Chrysler's strengths (as far as we can tell from Chrysler PR), preferring to cite Mercedes' "leading reputation for product innovation" and DaimlerChrysler technology. He said technology was "flowing both ways," noting Chrysler technological contributions in areas such as cost-efficient emissions controls, occupant sensing technology and computer-aided engineering which will be adapted company-wide (yes, even Mercedes, we assume - though he did not mention Mercedes). Zetsche again held up the 2003 Chrysler Crossfire as the car of the future, with a "combination of creative American design and solid German technology." That is, it's a Mercedes with Chrysler sheet metal and nameplates.

    August 7, 2002: Dodge racing wins

    One week after completing a rare sweep of four major racing series, with wins in the NASCAR Winston Cup, NASCAR Busch Series, NASCAR Craftsman Truck and ARCA series, Bill Elliott grabbed his second straight Winston Cup win Sunday at the legendary Indianapolis Motor Speedway. And Sterling Marlin retains a solid lead as Winston Cup, the world’s most popular racing series, heads into its home stretch.

    August 7, 2002: Lonsberry criticizes Chrysler ads

    Online columnist Bob Lonsberry, who has had Chryslers since the Valiant (but currently drives a GM), criticized DCX's current ad campaign, saying it is "re-writing, in a condescending and dishonest fashion, history...First it claims the hot dog, calling it a frankfurter, citing it as a German-American partnership. Then the company's advertisements get ridiculous, and speak of the German-American effort to conquer the moon.... I do know about the flight to the moon, and I know that it had nothing to do with Germany.... 'German rocket technology' was intended to drop bombs on civilians... Granted, some German rocket scientists were taken by the United States from the ruins of the Third Reich. .... But left to its own devices German rocketry would have never been anything but a crude instrument of destruction....The trip to the moon was paved by American dollars and vision, as well as a hundred essential technologies that had nothing whatsoever to do with either rocketry or German expertise."

    He goes on to express an opinion we suspect many radio listeners have, but have not put into words quite so well: "...maybe Chrysler is Daimler's junior partner, but America is not Germany's junior partner. And they're not going to sell many cars in this country by insulting us."

    Want to read the full article? click here.

    August 7, 2002: Sales of Hemi cars expected to be strong

    AutoWeek reported that the Hemi will indeed go into the 300N, but, more important, wrote that Chrysler plans to build 440,000 Hemi engines per year, 300,000 of which would not be sold in heavy-duty trucks. Though one could speculate these would end up solely in cars - which would indicate very high sales for the upcoming LX series - the Hemi, with 345 horsepower, could also be used in the Ram 1500, Durango, Dakota, Grand Cherokee, or even a special edition minivan [highly unlikely]. We suspect most will still find their way into trucks, with the 4.7 and 3.7 engines being the workhorse LX powerplants.

    August 8, 2002: Bill Ford whines about government regulation

    Bill Ford took the spotlight again yesterday, complaining about excessive government regulation.

    August 8, 2002: VW Golf ragtop to be replaced by Beetle ragtop

    Volkswagen is replacing the Golf convertible with the nearly-identical Beetle convertible.

    August 8, 2002: Lutz looking forward to long GM stay

    Bob Lutz told the Detroit Free Press that he expects to be able to stay on long after his current three-year contract ends, in a move which will disappoint, but not surprise, those who would rather he made a bid to run Chrysler. He is currently vice chairman of the world's largest company, and is often referred to as GM's "product czar." He is quoted as saying that many surprising vehicles will come out of GM in the next three or four years. General Motors' market share has been increasing at the expense of Ford and Chrysler.

    August 9, 2002: Hemi to get cylinder deactivation

    The new Chrysler 5.7 Hemi, which features 345 horsepower, hemispherical heads, a simple, low-cost design, and dual spark plugs, was originally planned to have cylinder deactivation under light loads (such as idle and highway cruising) to increase gas mileage. According to Automotive News, this feature will be delayed until 2004, presumably so that the engine's appearance would not be delayed any longer than needed while technical issues are cleared up. (Thanks, Doug Hetrick).

    August 9, 2002: Hemi to get cylinder deactivation

    The new Chrysler 5.7 Hemi, which features 345 horsepower, hemispherical heads, a simple, low-cost design, and dual spark plugs, was originally planned to have cylinder deactivation under light loads (such as idle and highway cruising) to increase gas mileage. According to Automotive News, this feature will be delayed until 2004, presumably so that the engine's appearance would not be delayed any longer than needed while technical issues are cleared up. (Thanks, Doug Hetrick).

    August 9, 2002: Hemi to get cylinder deactivation

    The new Chrysler 5.7 Hemi, which features 345 horsepower, hemispherical heads, a simple, low-cost design, and dual spark plugs, was originally planned to have cylinder deactivation under light loads (such as idle and highway cruising) to increase gas mileage. According to Automotive News, this feature will be delayed until 2004, presumably so that the engine's appearance would not be delayed any longer than needed while technical issues are cleared up. (Thanks, Doug Hetrick).

    August 9, 2002: American Axle supplants Dana at Dodge

    American Axle will start making rear axle shafts for a future Chrysler vehicle, most likely the next Dakota. They are the second largest maker of automobile drive systems, behind Dana, whose recent offerings have been very problematic for Chrysler (according to interviewed mechanics). American Axle is based in Detroit, and most of its business is currently with General Motors, though it is also making front and rear axles and driveshafts for the new heavy duty Dodge Ram. American Axle reportedly will supply major drive components for two future SUVs, presumably the Durango and Grand Cherokee.

    August 11, 2002: Rumor: Detroit Axle to get axe

    A source known to be within Chrysler wrote that American Axle reps have been looking at buying Chrysler's Detroit Axle plant. Sale of this plant will have to wait until the UAW contract runs out, but will likely occur almost immediately at that time - as with many other Chrysler parts plants. UAW's headquarters has not, to our knowledge, protested the systematic dismemberment of Chrysler's parts plants, possibly believing the un-auditable accounting figures from DaimlerChrysler's leaders (keeping in mind that CEO Juergen Schrempp bragged about lying in order to get Chrysler on his terms).

    August 11, 2002: PTs get first big recall

    Chrysler has recalled 2001 and 2002 PT Cruisers to install a secondary seal to the top of the fuel pump module. A fuel leak was detected during an inspection following a government crash test. While there are no known incidents or complaints related to this issue, Chrysler is taking this precautionary measure to further reduce the possibility of fuel leakage in a severe collision.

    Approximately one-quarter of these vehicles also will be recalled for a separate safety issue involving the underhood fuel supply line. The line may rub against the air conditioning service port, which could result in a fuel leak. While this is unlikely to occur, Chrysler will attach a clip to the fuel line to prevent contact.

    Owners will be contacted by mail regarding these recalls. If owners have questions regarding their PT Cruiser they may call the Chrysler Group customer call center at 1-800-853-1403.

    August 11, 2002: Coleman to head Chrysler brand PR

    Bonita K. Coleman has been named Director-Chrysler Brand Communications, and will be responsible for directing all marketing communications for Chrysler products. She is leaving her position as COO of Nia Enterprises, a marketing intelligence company she co-founded after leaving Chrysler. She had originally joined the company in 1993, as Chrysler was undergoing a historic cultural change effort which led to record profits and rapid innovation. She rose to the position of Director of Dodge Car Marketing Plans before leaving.

    August 11, 2002: Chrysler brags of technology

    (From a press release)

    Sue Unger, Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer for DaimlerChrysler AG, said today that the Company's "technology tool box" is helping to improve processes and drive innovation through the global enterprise.

    One of the tools critical to improving quality, value and speed to market is the Digital Factory. Chrysler is already doing virtual product development, using CATIA and digital mockup, but it doesn't stop there, said Unger. The goal is to have "an end-to-end solution, flowing from design and development to product planning and production." [This was a pre-takeover goal.]

    The Toledo North Assembly Plant, home of the Liberty, was the first Chrysler facility built using manufacturing simulation for only $54 per square foot, an industry benchmark when compared to the industry average of $70-80 per square foot.

    "Our global vision is that by 2005, every production factory will be planned, built, launched and operated first using full simulation, before going to bricks and mortar," Unger said. "Every digital vehicle must pass the Digital Factory quality gate – meeting cost, quality and timing targets – before approval will be given for the actual factory."

    According to Unger, the Digital Factory has the potential to shorten production planning cycles by up to 40 percent; enforces quality and "best practices"; and reduces cost, while improving quality to achieve gains in productivity, efficiency and safety.

    Another tool developed by the Company's Information Technology Management group is the eEngineering Portal, a Web-based application that provides access to current engineering data across organizational, company and system boundaries 24 hours a day, seven days a week, said Unger. Nearly 4,000 employees worldwide -- in Engineering, Product Planning, Purchasing, After Sales and Service -- currently use the system with plans to roll it out to suppliers in the fourth quarter of 2002. The worldwide user base is expected to grow to 20,000 by 2004.

    "The eEngineering Portal is driving collaboration between virtual teams at DaimlerChrysler and enabling global processes," said Unger. "Work can occur in a parallel rather than in a sequential process, which speeds development and brings the Company significant market and cost benefits."

    In addition to improving the way manufacturing and engineering does business, the "tool box" is also helping the dealer.

    DealerCONNECT is a single point of entry for all Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge dealer-related transactions and will improve the speed and effectiveness of factory-to-dealer communications. More than 150 dealer-facing transactions are being engineered for DealerCONNECT. Because of standards, all the transactions will have the same look and feel, and will be accessible via a Web browser.

    "For example, once the 2003 code guides were approved, we were able to distribute them to all dealers within one hour via DealerCONNECT, cutting two weeks off the process with no delays for printing, mailing or distribution," explained Unger.

    DealerCONNECT allows the nearly 5,000 Chrysler Group dealers in the U.S., Canada, Mexico and around the world to order vehicles and parts or check inventories and mail from anywhere, at anytime.

    "For the Company, DealerCONNECT provides a long-term cost benefit through a centralized, streamlined environment, as well as real-time information sharing," said Unger. "For the dealer, it will simplify his infrastructure, reduce the dealership technology lag and result in a single physical network at the dealership."

    [Our note] These technologies are, as far as we know, all outgrowths of existing Chrysler technologies and projects, under way long before the takeover by Mercedes - even though they are now all billed as "DaimlerChrysler" initiatives, sometimes involving the Chrysler Group.

    August 12, 2002: Chrysler unveiling tomorrow

    Chrysler is set to reveal a new small car tomorrow. This may be a concept of the next-generation Neon, it may be the SRT-10, it may be yet another PT variant, it may be something completely different. We'll know tomorrow.

    August 13, 2002: "New vehicle" is cosmetic PT package

    Not surprisingly, the "new vehicle" Chrysler was hinting at is yet another rendition of the PT Cruiser, this time the "Dream Cruiser Series II" with tangerine paint and a limited production of 7,500 units.

    August 13, 2002: Details on PT Dream Cruiser

    ...are at ptcruizer.com

    August 13, 2002: NHRA - new record for Dodge

    Six Hemi-powered Dodge Neon R/Ts qualified at the NHRA Nationals at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, the first time in history that Dodge had qualified that many cars in one professional NHRA category. The race also marked the first time since the early 1970s that six Mopar-powered cars qualified for a NHRA Pro Stock field.

    Mopar Parts Dodge Stratus R/T Nitro Funny Car driver Dean Skuza was 11th in points heading into the Western swing. After three-straight semifinal round appearances, Skuza goes into this weekend’s Rugged Liner NHRA Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway in the eighth slot.

    Skuza moved into sixth place for the eight-car Budweiser Shootout. The Brecksville, Ohio, resident was teetering in the eighth spot heading into Seattle, but his recent success has solidified a chance at winning the Shootout during the 48th annual U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis Raceway Park.

    Contributed by David Harris.

    August 14, 2002: Mitsubishi to enter Mexico

    Does anyone remember the deal Juergen Schrempp outlined, where Mitsubishi and Hyundai/Kia would cover Asia, Mercedes and Mitsubishi would do Europe, and Chrysler and Mercedes would cover the Americas? That deal seems to have been worth about as much as the "merger of equals" slogan. First Mitsubishi announced that they would be taking a firmer stake in Canada, and yesterday Mitsubishi announced they would start selling in Mexico, using selected Chrysler dealers to market their cars.

    August 14, 2002: GM to build new cars in Lordstown, Ohio

    Resisting the impulse to simply rebadge Isuzus, Daewoos, or Toyotas, General Motors has actually designed its own small cars and will be building them at the existing Lordstown plant. Production is scheduled for late 2004. GM will invest more than $500 million to renovate the assembly and stamping plants.

    August 16, 2002: Feds find Focus fires

    Reuters reported (and just-auto noted) that the NHTSA has upgraded its probe into engine compartment fires in the Ford Focus, apparently another in a long line of pyrotechnic Fords. There are current six Ford Focus investigations under way.

    August 16, 2002: Renegades illegal in West Virginia?

    The Jeep Liberty Renegade comes with a standard light bar - and that makes it illegal in West Virginia, according to Neon performance guru Gary Howell. Howell, who learned about this law from Chrysler after ordering a Liberty Renegade, said that State Senator Jon Hunter is willing to work on changing the law. He quoted Sgt. Forman of the WV State Police Vehicle Inspections as saying that no drive or fog lights may be located above the headlights, except of vehicles equiped for snow removal.  

    West Virginia is the only state where light bars are illegal, though they are may only be operated in off-road conditions in other states.

    August 19, 2002: Neon drag racer beats 200 mph

    Gene Wilson and his Hemi-powered Mopar Parts Dodge Neon R/T made a little Brainerd International Raceway history after clocking a 200.23-mph pass during the fourth and final session. It was the first Pro Stock lap to ever surpass the 200-mph mark at the historic facility.

    August 19, 2002: Neon SRT front clip changes

    The front clip on the Neon SRT has been changed, making it more consistent with the stock 2003 Neons. Rumors have surfaced that the reason was overheating, but "Mr. Source" wrote that this was not the case. "That car performed SEVERAL tests before it was given the OK...Just imagine if the car has that kind of problem, with the new "holes" in the front fascia, it will help it at idle speed, during rush hours?... So far that PARTICULAR engine has been already with customers, remember Mexico has that engine in the Stratus R/T with no problems...since 1995. Have you heard about the aftermarket Mopar upgrades for that car?" "Mr. Source" wrote that this may have been the reason for the chnage. (Note that the wheels have also been changed to a less expensive but still aluminum variety).

    The Neon SRT is powered by a Chrysler-designed 2.4 liter forced-air engine which reportedly brings its 0-60 times to around 6 seconds, making it the second-fastest Chrysler vehicle after the Viper. The last production Chrysler vehicle to attain this class of speed was the Dodge Spirit R/T, made in 1991-92 (and the Daytona R/T, which lasted through 1993). The Neon SRT's production is expected to be substantially higher than that of the turbocharged R/T models of the 1990s.

    August 20, 2002: Another Ford tread-separation tire recall

    Continental announced a recall of 596,000 tires used primarily on the Ford Expedition / Lincoln Navigator due to tread separations and other problems. The 17-inch ContiTrac AW and General Grabber AW tires were also used as replacements in the aftermarket.

    August 20, 2002: UAW local to protest Chrysler cuts

    The UAW's Local 227 has organized a protest against the UAW's international headquarters lack of action following the sale of Chrysler's parts and assembly plants. The "peaceful protest," to take place on Thursday August 22, at 10 am outside 8000 Jefferson Avenue, is expected to include members from McGraw Glass, New Castle, and other Chrysler facilities.

    August 20, 2002: Ford admits green talk all show, no go

    "Chris the Mopar Man" noted that, in a report on Ford enviromental policies, Bill Ford said average fuel economy of the vehicles it sells in the United States has remained essentially flat since 2000. Ford also admits that carbon dioxide emissions from its U.S. cars and trucks have also held relatively stable over the past two model years, instead of decreasing in line with its commitments as a "green" company.

    Ford has been criticized by environmental groups for its proliferation of oversized, inefficent trucks, such as the Expedition, Excursion, Navigator, and Blackwood. General Motors also sells a line of large, heavy trucks (Avalanche, Yukon, Suburban, etc.) but tends to have more efficient engines and boasts less about being green. GM, Ford, and Chrysler all have announced plans to sell relatively efficient (by large truck standards) hybrid-electric SUVs in the future.

    August 20, 2002: Chrysler announces 2003 model prices

    The price list for 2003 shows some interesting changes. The Neon SE is now selling for under $13,000, making it about $10,000 after rebates and haggling. The SRT will sell for over $19,000, making it very competitive with the WRX, Altima V6, and other fast cars. Click here for details.

    August 21, 2002: Gus Mahon dies at 54

    David Reynolds wrote:

    Thomas "Gus" Mahon, died on August 19, 2002, as a result of injuries sustained in a traffic accident. Gus was an inspiration to many in the Shelby Dodge community, and he will be missed.
    Gus achieved fame by not only achieving insane acceleration on his nearly-stock 2.2 liter minivan and four-cylinder Spirit, but by generously publishing the results on the Web and helping others to follow in his footsteps. He was known as being friendly despite his wicked sense of humor - shown by beating muscle car owners with a 13-second minivan at the track. His Web site is at http://home.earthlink.net/~turbogus/

    Gus was a grandfather: "I became a Grandpa on Mother's day at 6:13 AM. Little Gabrielle was on television as the Mother's Day Baby of the Hartford CT area. The newscasters commented on how lovely my daughter Nikki looked just hours after delivery."

    TheDodgeGarage.com wrote: "Gus was struck by an automobile while riding his 250 cc motorcycle August 19th at 7:00 P.M. Doctors worked on him for hours in an attempt to save his life but his injuries were to grave and he passed away at 11:00 PM. The accident is under investigation by the Connecticut State Police."

    For details and to make a donation to his family, please click here.

    August 23, 2002: Chrysler Sebring coupe to get advanced mirror

    Gentex is now supplying Chrysler with its interior auto-dimming rear-view mirrors for the 2003 Chrysler Sebring coupe. These new mirrors include binary complementary white (BCW) LEDs for the driver and front passenger map lights. The mirror also includes Homelink (to replace garage door openers), and a compass and temperature display. Each of the LED components produces 7.5 lumens of light with just over half a watt of power. Previously, map lights required 4.25 watt bulbs along with special lenses and cooling vents. In addition, the bulbs tended to burn out before the vehicle did - while LEDs last longer than most vehicles, so there is no need to include replacement ability in the design. The result is a less bulky, and we suspect cheaper to manufacture, mirror.

    The Chrysler Sebring coupe is heavily based on the Mitsubishi Eclipse and is produced by Mitsubishi in the United States.

    August 23, 2002: Hyundai wants more technology from DCX

    Hyundai, which is one-tenth owned by DCX, is looking to share more technology with the auto giant - specifically, they would like to tap DaimlerChrysler engines (e.g. Detroit Diesel) and "DaimlerChrysler's" large car expertise (there is no way of telling whether they mean Mitsubishi, Mercedes, Chrysler, or all three.) Hyundai and its partner Kia have been on a rapid expansion within North America, Australia, and other markets, and are becoming serious players in small and medium sized cars, SUVs, and minivans.

    August 23, 2002: Upcoming drags

    David Harris wrote: The second annual Mopar Performance Parts Hemi Challenge II is set for the 48th annual Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at the historic Indianapolis Raceway Park over Labor Day Weekend. And like last year’s inaugural event, nearly 25 racers will be chasing the $10,000 bonus awarded to the winner of the Aug. 31, NHRA Super Stock showcase.

    The Mopar Performance Parts Hemi Challenge II is a heads-up NHRA Sportsman category shootout for the world’s quickest and fastest Super Stock race cars. The event was inspired by the great history Mopar possesses within the class that it dominated prior to the development of the Pro Stock category in the early 1970s. Every driver that entered is eligible for competition.

    West Virginia resident and NHRA Super Stock category standout Bucky Hess and his 1968 Hemi-powered SS/AA Plymouth Barracuda took home the cash last season in a dramatic final-round match up with James Keyes.

    August 26, 2002: Neon SRT race debuts

    At neons.org, Darrel Cox wrote that their SRT-4 has 756 horsepower and over 600 lb-ft at the wheels, thanks to help from Chrysler. The SRT-4 has the longest wheelbase in its class. Nick Riley noted that their own SRT will be showing up at Natural Bridge's import shootout, where they are shooting for times in the 7s or 8s (it's a street driven car with a full interior and pump gas but obviously modified).

    August 27, 2002: Dingell pushes diesels

    You know the auto industry supports something when Michigan representative John Dingell gets behind it, and based on a recent speech, that means the auto industry is pushing diesel. That's not surprising, since diesel engines are a relatively inexpensive way to get dramatic gains in gas mileage - for example, full size pickups can add about 6-8 miles per gallon by using diesel engines. The problem in the United States has been poor quality diesel fuel, which makes it harder to use the state-of-the-art, high-precision engines common in Europe, and also increases toxic emissions. While the government has mandated a conversion to cleaner diesel fuel by 2006, Dingell is pushing handouts to the wealthy oil industry (in the form of tax breaks) to provide an incentive for earlier production of clean fuel.

    While petroleum-based diesel fuel is carcinogenic, new technologies can clean up diesel exhaust to make it as clean as gasoline emissions. These technologies are not yet fully used in the United States, but they can be if required.

    Opposition is expected from environmentalists and health care professionals, if a shift to diesel comes without cutbacks in hazardous emissions, and also potentially from oil companies, who would need to spend money to convert refineries, and would also be more open to competition from biodiesel fuel (click here for details).

    (Thanks, Doug Hetrick, for bringing this to our attention. Detroit News also has an article on the topic, which is notable for the number of slams to the Sierra Club and "Big Green" - presumably a very powerful environmental lobby we were previously unaware of.)

    DaimlerChrysler has a massive diesel capability, including the recently acquired Detroit Diesel and Mercedes' own diesel engines - both state of the art. Ford has most recently started to push for diesels as a way to remain "green" in appearance despite low average fuel economy and high sales of oversized trucks.

    August 27, 2002: NASCAR rumors (thanks, "Mr. NASCAR")

    Written by "Mr. NASCAR"

    Chip Ganassi and third team It has now been confirmed by NASCAR.com that Ganassi will be running a third team next year and it will be the Texaco/Havoline Dodge. Ganassi and Texaco will be making the announcment at Richmond International Raceway in two weeks. Hopefully by then we will find out who will be the driver and if indeed they will be using the #28 or perhaps the #42 which was used earlier at the Glen with Jimmy Spencer.

    Several names have been mentioned as possible drivers- Bobby Hamilton, Joe Nemacheck, John Andretti and Jerry Nadeu. Nadeu has stated that he would love to drive for Ganassi and would even take a pay cut if he doesn't perform up to expectations.

    Petty/Andretti News As many of you may or may not know Petty Enterprises announced several weeks ago that Christian Fitapaldi will be driving full time with them in 2004. In 2003 he will be driving the ABCs (ARCA, Busch and Winston Cup) part time to get him ready for 2004. It is not known what car he will drive for but early specualtion is either the #43 or #44. John Andretti's contract is up at the end of this year and Petty has given John permission to look at other teams but has said that he wants Andretti back and Andretti has stated that he wants to come back as well. One of the main sticking points however is the fact that Andretti wants to run the double header of Indy 500 and Brickyard 400. Earlier this year he was denied by Petty. If Andretti should join Ganassi then he would be able to do it.

    Kenny Wallace Kenny Wallace will be making his announcement on Tuesday on RPM2NIGHT at 6.30pm EST. It will also be announced on Totally NASCAR at 6.00 local and Speed Channel at 6.30 pm est. The announcment will be that he and Stacker2 will be moving over to Bill Davis Dodge for 2003. It is not known whether it will be as the #23 or #98 (his current number)

    More Penske Dodge More rumors coming out of Penske. Evidently unconfirmed reports are that Dodge is offering Penske $20 million a year to switch from Ford to Dodge in 2003. Also Larry Wallace, chief engine builder for Penske NASCAR operations and one of the top engine builders may be taking command of the engine program for Ray Everham's three teams. Wallace's Penske contract is up at the end of this year.

    Bristol Now that folks it why I love NASCAR so much, especially when it's Bristol. Short track racing and short tempers. What better place to watch Jimmie Johnson flip off Robby Gordon and Ward Burton throw things at Dale Jr? Bumping and pushing and the raw emotions make Bristol one of the best tracks on the circuit. My only complaint was the fact that Jimmy Spencer had a top five car all night but he knew that if he passed Busch dirty or bumped him in any way then it would be lights out for him. C'mon NASCAR! Bristol is all about bumping and if say that you can't bump a particular driver it makes it very frustrating and I knew that Jimmy was steaming under his helmet the entire night. But they allow Gordon to nearly send Wallace sideways at the end for the victory so what are you going to do?

    Until next Monday folks! And remember this quote from Tony Stewart- "We (Tony Stewart and Bobby Labonte) don't even give him (Joe Gibbs) a radio so that he can talk ... we give him money to go to the concession stand to buy a hot dog,"

    August 27, 2002: Ford successfully blackmails Ohio

    According to Detroit News, Ohio has given Ford $80 million in incentives to keep 2,000 jobs in the state for five years. The plant in question built the Nissan Quest, also sold as the Mercury Villager, which recently went out of production. Ford will build the Escape there, and continue to build Econolines in another Ohio plant. Originally, Ford had only guaranteed the 850 Escape jobs, while reserving the right to stop Econoline production in Ohio. The final agreement commits Ford to seven years of Escape employee employment and five years for Econoline employment. Ford said it never intended to eliminate the Econoline van jobs but could not guarantee them past five years.

    August 27, 2002: GM to end 0 percent discounts...

    ...and the rest of the industry breathes a sigh of relief.

    August 27, 2002: London cabs to come to the US

    A Just-Auto.com article discusses the new importation of London taxis to the US. These new vehicles will be an alternative to the ex-police Crown Victorias in common use. London taxis, made by London Taxis in England, are known for their massive interior space, comfortable and quiet ride, and longevity. The cabs have doors that open 90 degrees, wheelchair ramps, built in toddler seats, an interior intercom, passenger climate controls, and an ergonomic driver's seat (a far cry from the bench seats in most American cabs). However, the price is steep, at over $40,000 (used police cars can cost as little as $5,000). To be fair, the design life is 500,000 miles, the diesel engines are easy on fuel, and the parts are "simple and durable."

    The company importing them, Boston's London Taxis of North America, has orders for seventy cabs so far, and is working to meet American environmental and safety regulations. The first batch of taxis is expected in December. London Taxis of North America is hoping that, once people see and experience the cabs, sales will take off.

    August 27, 2002: Sterling Marlin does well

    Sterling Marlin, driving a "Dodge Intrepid R/T" NASCAR car, started the Sharpie 500 in 27th place, but held on for a seventh-place finish. Marlin picked up 52 points on Mark Martin and now enjoys a 95-point cushion over second-place Martin. Marlin also extended his advantage over Jimmie Johnson by 85 points and picked up 55 points on Tony Stewart.

    The bad news for Marlin, who has led the standings after 23 of the 24 events this season, is that Jeff Gordon won the race and the three-time champion moved to third in the standings, 111 points behind Marlin. Gordon broke a 31-race winless streak and gained 39 points on Marlin at Bristol. With 12 races remaining on the 36-event schedule, five drivers are within 162 points of Marlin's lead.

    August 28, 2002: Briefs

    Siemens is reportedly visiting Chrysler's electronics plant in Huntsville with a view to acquiring it; PetitionOnline.com has two "separate Chrysler" petitions, one with 628 signatures, the other (concentrating on possible fraud in the way Chrysler was acquired) has 128. The one with 628 signatures asks Daimler to return Chrysler to American management and, in essence, to continue to design and build Chrysler and Dodge cars in North America, using Chrysler engineers and employees.

    August 28, 2002: GST to be built next to M class

    The Mercedes plant in Alabama will be used to produce a new car-based SUV, the Grand Sports Tourer (GST), as well as the redesigned M class SUV which is reportedly based on the next-generation Grand Cherokee. The plant will double in production and the number of employees. The GST is expected to seat six passengers, and will compete with a new Volkswagen and Volvo which are expected soon.

    August 28, 2002: Cadillac to do mid-sized SUV

    These days, it seems like every Chevy truck ends up being a Cadillac - along with the Chevy Corvette. The TrailBlazer is the most recent target of the luxury automaker, which will be adopting the platform for its 2004 SRX.

    August 28, 2002: General Motors tops in owner loyalty

    According to R.L. Polk's annual survey, the company that beat everyone in owner loyalty - that is, the percentage of owners who keep coming back for more vehicles from the same company - was General Motors. By brand, Ford was the loyalty leader. One interesting result was that GM, with the top corporate loyalty, still managed to recapture only 68 percent of buyers. Only a single Japanese vehicle led a segment (the Honda CR-V), while only one Chrysler vehicle (the Town and Country) led a segment.

    August 28, 2002: Correction

    Our earlier story on the Cadillac SRX appears to have been wrong. Scott Kissinger, who is working on a new site called The Caddy Edge, wrote: "Caddy was looking into using the Trailblazer platform for a model, however that model is _not_ the SRX. The SRX is based on the Sigma platform which is shares with the CTS."

    August 28, 2002: News now searchable

    We've finally made it possible to search the news. There's a quick search feature at the bottom of the page - feel free to use it! There may be some gaps or mismatches, but it should generally work fine. Please don't do a search for "Chrysler" or "Dodge"...!

    August 28, 2002: Camaro, Firebird, Trans Am out of production

    The last F-bodies have been built, and the historic vehicle is out of production. While the Camaro, Firebird, and Trans Am were big sellers in the 1970s, the 1993 redesign, which greatly increased performance at the cost of comfort, led to increasingly low sales numbers.

    August 28, 2002: Wood-sided Liberty possible

    Following the success of the faux-wood-sided PT Cruiser, Chrysler is reportedly considering a Liberty with the same treatment, possibly to carry the venerable Wagoneer name.

    August 29, 2002: Cleveland: Ford Police Interceptor unsafe

    Cleveland, a town dominated by Ford - it not only hosts the famous engine plant but seems to have the world's highest proportion of Fords on the street - is the latest civic body to have decided that the Crown Victoria police package, known as the Police Interceptor, is unsafe for police duty. The city filed a class action suit against Ford, on behalf of law enforcement agencies across Ohio, regarding the potential for fuel tank fires. There are seven separate fuel tank fires in 2000 and 2001, all leading to injuries or deaths, listed in Cleveland's suit (none in Ohio). In June, Ford agreed to start looking at ways to make the car, in production now for many years, safer.

    August 29, 2002: LATCH now required for child seats

    For two years, most new cars have included strengthened loops in the seats and the rear deck (or a similar location) to support a new type of child seat, in what is called the LATCH system. While it may not be as safe as the European system, it is almost certainly safer than using seat belts in most cases. However, child seat manufacturers, whose concern for human life appears nominal at times, have been slow to actually make child seats which use this system - one year ago, only two LATCH child seats were widely available, and one of them was simply an existing child seat with an extra set of buckles - not exactly taking full advantage of the system, and also, one would think, not so expensive an addition that other seats could not have it. However, the hammer will come down on September 1 - LATCH will be required on most child seats sold in the United States, and on all new vehicles. Government figures show that nearly 80 percent of child seats are installed incorrectly, a number which could be cut in half (to a still-depressing 40 percent, apparently) with LATCH.

    Built-in car seats were available on many models for a time in the 1990s, but these seem to have largely disappeared except in minivans. Because integrated car seats (for children roughly one to three years old) are generally far safer than aftermarket seats, it is worth seeking these seats as well. (One is in our 1995 Neon).

    Chrysler, police departments, and other automakers frequently sponsor child seat safety inspections. Parents are urged to seek assistance, since most believe they are installing child seats correctly - but are not.

    August 29, 2002: New dealer look - 2004 Durango

    Dan Minick wrote: "Automotive News had a good article on the new look for dealers under the 'alpha project'.  Lots of glass, high ceilings, arched entryways, white signage with the Chrysler wing logo, Jeep block letters, and Dodge Ram logo." He also pointed to Detroit News' "sneak peak" advance photo of the 2004 Durango (click here). It has, as expected, more Ram-like styling, as opposed to PowerBox or Power Wagon concepts. However, styling reflects the new Ram family, which may disappoint many people. Detroit News wrote that the wheelbase would be expanded nearly ten inches, with an interior increase of 24 percent, but that the overall length would stay the same. The Durango will fit eight passengers, or, with the rear seats folded, seven-foot-long cargo.

    August 29, 2002: Huntsville plant finds many takers

    Chrysler's Huntsville electronics plant has, according to Dow Jones, found many possible takers, with Siemens visiting this week and Visteon and Delphi also considering taking it over. The plant, which makes electronics parts for Chrysler, has recently won quality awards. Dow Jones suggested this was a good thing because, somehow, buying from other people saves money (and we always thought those suppliers made a profit!).

    August 30, 2002: Jeep to get new marketing campaign

    It will be announced to the media on September 5.

    September 3, 2002: 2003 Neon gets nose job

    Photos of the 2003 Neon are officially available (and we will post them later today). The compact car, which at times has been Dodge's best seller (and was "hot" when new), now has a front clip which makes it look more like a Dodge Caravan than an original 1995-99 Neon. The hood is lowered a bit so that the fenders rise up in sports-car style (e.g. original Tiburon), a sportier appearance than the 2000-2002 look. The Neon is scheduled to be replaced in 2005 or so.

    September 3, 2002: Neon revisions

    We're still compiling 2003 model changes, but here is the list for the Neon. Finally, Chrysler has changed the fifth gear ratio on manuals to provide better gas mileage and lower noise - and has apparently retuned the rather poorly implemented four-speed automatic. Ready?

    • New front end styling with Caravan-style grille area and lowered hood for a more racy look
    • Automatic transmission thankfully retuned, with a new engine/transmission computer and new engine mounts for a quieter interior.
    • Model lineup makes more sense, albeit with no connection to any Dodge history, with the base model (SE), optioned-out SXT (replacing ES), sporty R/T, and high-performance, limited-edition SRT. The ACR is gone.
    • Dodge says 83 percent of first-time buyers would buy another Neon.
    • The SRT-4 boasts a refined 2.4-liter turbocharged engine with 215 horses (160 kW) and 245 lb.-ft. (332 Nom) of torque with 0-60 times reportedly under six seconds for under $20,000. The standard heavy-duty T850 manual transmission helps acceleration while the interior boasts "a satin silver center stack, shift knob and door handles. Performance seats modeled after those in the Dodge Viper and carbon-fiber texture leather on the steering wheel and shift boot all hail to the car’s racing-inspired heritage."
    • Mildly revised rear with new taillamps. New steering wheel with an aluminum Dodge medallion, new wheels and wheel covers, six-disc in-dash CD player available on 2003 SXT and R/T models.
    • It took virtually forever, but the fifth gear ratio on manual Neons has finally been changed to greatly reduce highway noise and increase gas mileage.
    • Sentry Key makes it hard to start the engine without the "real" key.
    • R/T gets new fog lamps, 16-inch aluminum wheels, non-gathered optional leather seat and door trim, body color center stack bezel.

    September 3, 2002: 2003 model details

    We have a rundown of the 2003 model year changes for all Chrysler, Dodge, and Jeep vehicles. Click here to see what's new! There are some pleasant surprises, such as revised Neon transmissions (both of them), a Hemi option on the Ram 1500, greater availability of the 3.8 V6 on the Grand Caravan and of the 545 RLE transmission, and several interior and feature updates.

    September 3, 2002: DCX to actually sell a German component concern?

    Just-Auto reported that German publication Handelsblatt wrote that DaimlerChrysler is discussing the sale of a majority stake in its steering gear operation, MB Lenkungen, to ThyssenKrupp. Nobody other than DCX - we assume Mercedes - buys from MB Lenkungen at the moment, making it difficult to recoup development costs.

    September 4, 2002: Blow for Canadian Chrysler plant

    DCX has announced it will not build Mercedes Sprinters in Canada, leaving the fate of Chrysler's Pillette Road B-van plan looking grim, despite a large and recent (pre-takeover) investment. Sprinters are currently built in Germany and sent to Freightliner in kits, then assembled in the United States and sold under the Freightliner name. Over the next four years, Sprinters will be phased out as Freightliners and sold as Dodges instead, in a rare case of DCX sort-of admitting they had made a mistake. Chrysler's outdated B-series full-size vans are slated to be discontinued in the near future, and the Ram Wagon has seen its last year already (2002). Dodge once dominated the full-size van market, but has let many years go by without a substantial update.

    September 4, 2002: Chrysler sales up 24 percent! in August

    Chrysler sales, including Dodge and Jeep, rose 24 percent in August. Bill Cawthon wrote:

    Total sales for August 2002 were 210,855, compared with 164,555 in August 2001. They are now within 1,741 units of their 2001 year-to-date sales pace.

    They were so happy, they were the first one to post August results on the newswires. (That could be just a matter of traffic, but I'd like to think otherwise). [Webmaster note: Chrysler tends to report in behind GM and Ford]

    Those new heavy-duty Ram pickups could help in the future.

    One side note: Cummins, who makes the diesel engines Dodge uses for the heavy duty pickups, was one of the few manufacturers who were ready for the new EPA regulations coming next month. Caterpillar, among others, was hoping to politic out of the agreement they made with the Department of Justice in 1998 (to avoid criminal charges of installing systems to defeat pollution-control devices on their engines). Cummins said, "We're not spending our energy trying to get out of something we agreed to in good faith. We're spending our energy on making sure we have the best products for our customers."

    Good feelings all around. Hope it keeps up. Especially, as Chrysler did not play the incentives game as heavily as Ford and GM.

    September 4, 2002: GM also has strong August

    General Motors Corp. dealers sold 492,434 new cars and trucks in August in the United States, up 18 percent over last year. GM reported an increase in truck sales of 27 percent, and August retail truck deliveries were up 28 percent. GM's car sales were up 8 percent overall and increased 3 percent retail. For the year, GM's overall retail sales are up 8 percent and retail truck deliveries are up 18 percent. (Chrysler overall sales are nearly even with last year, thanks to a previously reported 24 percent rise in August over last year.)

    GM (like Chrysler) has had heavy incentives in place, but has also launched several successful new vehicles, notably the TrailBlazer and CTS - which is probably why the incentives have corresponded with continued profits. GM is set to introduce new vehicles including a replacement for the Cavalier and is currently rolling out a new entry-level Saturn.

    September 4, 2002: Why DCX didn't use Pillette Road

    (News Analysis) There are always many factors behind decisions on whether to use a particular plant, some emotional and some rational. Though Chrysler invested a great deal of money in the Pillette Road assembly plant, where the current B-vans are made (not for much longer), Mercedes has chosen to eliminate Canada entirely as a location for its new Sprinter plant. (The Sprinter will eventually be sold only as a Dodge in the United States).

    Bill Cawthon noted: "The biggest reason that DaimlerChrysler did not go with the Pillette Road plant is very likely that Canadian federal and provincial officials did not offer the large incentives currently on the table from a couple of southern states. The CAW, among others, pleaded with the Canadian government to make an offer on infrastructure and employee training, but the government thought Canada's lower cost of production would carry the day. The packages being offered to DC are reportedly in the neighborhood of $200 million over a multiyear period." [Your tax dollars at work!]

    We asked Bill about the influence of unions in Mercedes' decision, given that Mercedes has preferred to open plants in areas without sympathy for unions, and that the Pillette Road infrastructure already exists complete with well trained employees. He responded: "Over the life of the plant, assuming no drastic shift in the balance between US and Canadian currencies, the savings [of using Pillete Road] would be pretty significant. However, that's not a sure thing. In the South, they are looking at no union and a government that is so grateful to have another basic industry employer that DaimlerChrysler would be able to call the shots fairly reliably (of course, that, too, could change). When you add a couple hundred million in incentives, the South looks might attractive."

    Bill Cawthon currently writes for just-auto.com, which broke the news.

    September 4, 2002: Dodge Ram beats GMC Sierra sales

    GMC's latest ads have been going directly after the Dodge Ram, as Chevrolet has gone after Ford with its nearly-identical Silverado. Bill Cawthon noted: "The 'Mayor of Truckville' continues to defeat GMC's Sierra in the only polls that count. In August, the Ram almost doubled sales of the Sierra. The 'votes' were 40,440 for the Ram, 20,620 for the Sierra."

    September 4, 2002: GM briefs

    GM has announced they will continue aggressive incentives (including zero percent financing) into the new model year, with rebates and financing programs though October on selected 2003 vehicles. Meanwhile, Cadillac blew past not only Mercedes-Benz, but also BMW, taking the second spot in the luxury market. (courtesy Bill Cawthon)

    September 5, 2002: Ford posts sales gain, too

    Ford posted a sales gain of eight percent from August 2001 to August 2002 (month to month), losing some market share to GM (18 percent gain) and, to a lesser degree, Chrysler (24 percent gain, but off far fewer sales). Industry-wide, there was a 13 percent gain, based largely on massive incentives. Toyota, Honda, Subaru, Kia, Mitsubishi, and Hyundai also gained, with record sales. GM, whose market share is 28.5 percent, has already announced zero percent or low-interest financing and cash rebates up to $2,000 on most 2003 models (except Saturn, Saab and Hummer). Chrysler and Ford have matched zero percent financing on many 2003 models.

    September 5, 2002: Chrysler influences Mercedes manufacturing?

    One stated reason for the "merger," if you can remember back when Chrysler Corporation existed, was so Mercedes could use Chrysler's highly efficient manufacturing system, itself based loosely on Honda and Toyota systems. Now, according to Detroit News, Mercedes has indeed been changing its manufacturing, though that newspaper (no doubt led by Mercedes executives) credits General Motors, not Chrysler, with the change. They point out  that the number of Mercedes cars that can be driven off the assembly line to dealers without repair has jumped to 84 percent - still not quite as good as the Chevy Impala's 90 percent. (We'd be curious to know that figure for the PT Cruiser, which has bested just about all Mercedes in quality according to a consumer magazine survey).

    /opinion/ It's quite possible that Chrysler was not credited for the success because DCX has a vested interest in maintaining an image of Chrysler as "crippled" before the takeover. There are groups of people who want to separate the two, and irregularities in the takeover - notably its positioning as a merger - may provide some legal ground for separation. To the extent that a lawsuit can be fought in the public arena, DCX has been successful in convincing people that Chrysler could not stand on its own. Crediting Chrysler with an efficient, high quality manufacturing process would not help that cause. On the other hand, it could be that Daniel Howes, who wrote the piece, simply assumed Mercedes was using the GM model because he knows it better, or indeed that Mercedes is using the GM model and ignoring Chrysler - though that seems less likely. /opinion ends/

    September 5, 2002: GM debuts five-speed automatic

    GM is introducing a new 5L50-E five-speed automatic transmission, designed to handle the strong power of the next-generation Northstar V8 (used in the XLR Corvette-based sports car and the SRX). GM claims it is "one of the most technologically advanced transmissions on any highway or autobahn in the industry." (Think that autobahn reference is pitched at the Mercedes transmissions to be used in large Chryslers?)

    As far as we know, Chrysler is not working on new transmissions for its minivans and other front-wheel drive vehicles, though Mitsubishi transmissions are almost certain to be used in all future front-drive cars and would probably make their way eventually into minivans as well.

    September 5, 2002: Chevrolet planning "new" SUV

    To be built in Canada at a joint GM/Suzuki plant, the Chevrolet Equinox would probably replace the aging Tracker (Suzuki Vitara) and be based on the Saturn VUE, according to Detroit News.

    September 6, 2002: Jeep to get new logo, to lose Rubicon requirement

    DaimlerChrysler will adopt a new logo and drop an old test for its Jeep brand.

    The company is launching a new ad campaign next week featuring the new mark -- a silhouette of the folding Jeep windshield, grille and headlights on an olive background designed to revive memories of the Jeep's glory days in World War II (betcha almost no one at Chrysler remembers that most of the WWII jeeps were built by Ford).

    The new ads will also feature a revived slogan, "Only in a Jeep," that was in use in the 1980s.

    The road test that will be dropped is the requirement that all Jeep products be able to traverse California's rugged Rubicon Trail. The standard was implemented by Bob Lutz, now "product czar" at GM. The requirement meant Jeep had to have heavy-duty components that were needed by only a fraction of Jeep buyers and could not be shared with other Chrysler products.

    Jeff Bell, vice president of Jeep marketing said, "Jeeps will always be more capable than any other vehicle in their price and size category. The Jeep brand is not going to be a slave to something that isn't relevant. We're not going to be driven by someone who doesn't even work here anymore."

    The new logo and revived slogan are part of an effort to raise awareness of the Jeep brand and double sales within ten years. The dropped Rubicon requirement is part of DaimlerChrysler's desire to reduce costs.

    (Article contributed by Bill Cawthon of just-auto.com)

    September 6, 2002: GM chosen for pattern-setting target by CAW

    The Canadian Auto Workers selected General Motors of Canada as the pattern-setting target for contract negotiations with the Big Three automakers. This is the first time the CAW has held contract talks at a different time from the UAW, so the negotiations and potential strike actions could have an added impact across North America.

    The CAW hasn't picked GM since 1984, when there was a 14-day strike. Industry analysts don't expect a strike at GM this year.

    The new contacts will set the pattern for more than 44,000 workers at GM, Ford and DaimlerChrysler.

    Union issues include the continuing downsizing of GM's operations in St. Catharines, Ontario, where the workforce has dwindled by two-thirds. The union is also looking for substantial wage increases.

    CAW president Buzz Hargrove also wants assurances GM won't sell its Electro-Motive Division and defense operations, both of which are based in Canada. It has been reported previously that GM wants to sell the defense business to General Dynamics and is looking for a buyer for EMD, best known for its railroad locomotives.

    Highest probability of a strike will come when the CAW talks to Ford. A strike at Ford's Windsor engine plant could cripple North American production and the CAW is upset by the closing of the truck plant in Oakville, Ontario.

    (Contributed by Bill Cawthon)

    September 6, 2002: DCX lends to Mitsubishi

    DaimlerChrysler, which has closed and sold many Chrysler facilities due to "cash flow" issues, is lending Mitsubishi an undisclosed sum of money, which, along with loans by other Mitsubishi companies, will total $1 billion. DaimlerChrysler owns 37 percent of Mitsubishi, and is using the company's designs as the basis for at least two new lines of Chrysler/Dodge vehicles (the replacements for the current Stratus/Sebring and Neon).

    September 9, 2002: Clean diesel engine rules upheld by court

    Judge Henry Kennedy of the U.S. District Court, ignoring pressure from lobbyists and House Speaker Dennis Hastert, is allowing the Environmental Protection Agency to enforce penalties on Caterpillar and Detroit Diesel for not keeping their end of a 1998 agreement. Caterpillar and Detroit Diesel argued that it would cost too much to make their engines meet new efficiency rules. Cummins, Mack, and other makers say they will be in compliance with the agreement, thanks to investments in new technology. Caterpillar had instead invested in a lobbying campaign, enlising the help of House Speaker Dennis Hastert and others.

    Fines will be levied based on how close engines are to compliance, with a maximium penalty of $12,000 per engine. The original agreement came from an investigation into diesel engine makers and truckers, with evidence that they were overriding emissions controls.

    The government is trying to reduce diesel emissions from large vehicles by up to 90 percent, following research that chronic exposure to these emissions seems to cause lung cancer and respiratory illnesses.

    September 10, 2002: Good NHRA weekend

    MOHNTON, Pa. (Sept. 10, 2002) -- Darrell Alderman knew it was special. The scoreboard flashed 6.788 seconds and the crowd lifted into a frenzy. The three-time POWERade Pro Stock World Champion had just shattered the vaunted 6.80-second elapsed time barrier; in what was the most talked about Pro Stock qualifier in NHRA history. And it all happened at last year’s Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway.

    Alderman has had a banner 2002 NHRA season and currently sits sixth in points; while recording his first victory since 1997 at Gainesville (Fla.) earlier this season. Alderman also has two other final-round efforts at Las Vegas and Columbus (Ohio).

    SPEED. A Hemi-powered Dodge Neon R/T currently holds the NHRA national Pro Stock speed record at 204.35 mph; broke during last season’s event at Maple Grove Raceway in Mohnton, Pa. It’s also the only pass to ever surpass the 204-mph mark in NHRA Pro Stock competition.

    THE LAST TIME THIS HAPPENED. Maple Grove Raceway holds a special place in Dean Skuza’s heart; as the Brecksville, Ohio, resident won his last NHRA national event at this historic facility in 1998. Skuza outran Tony Pedregon in the final, making his two final-round victories a result of defeating drivers from John Force Racing. The Mopar Parts Dodge Stratus R/T pilot ran past John Force at Houston Raceway Park in 1997 to claim his other NHRA triumph.

    RUNNING WELL. Speaking of Skuza, the Mopar Parts Funny Car driver might be the hottest driver on NHRA circuit right now. Skuza has logged four semifinal appearances in his last five races, along with a final-round run in the 21st annual Budweiser Shootout at Indianapolis Raceway Park over Labor Day Weekend. This stretch of success has vaulted Skuza from 12th in the POWERade Funny Car point chase to eighth; only 17 points behinds seventh-place Ron Capps.

    by David Harris

    September 10, 2002: Ford extends troubled Ford Focus' warranty

    Finally, the Focus warrants the term "troubled" in just-auto! They wrote: "Ford has announced an extended warranty on its troubled Focus model." The new warranty includes a five year, 100,000 mile powertrain plan, covering fewer years but more miles than Chrysler's standard plan (and fewer years and miles than Hyundai, Kia, and Isuzu plans).

    September 10, 2002: Ford expects operating (not net) profit

    Ford expects to have a small profit in the third quarter - though since Bill Ford qualified it as being on an "operating basis," we'd expect an overall net loss for the quarter.

    September 10, 2002: DCX to share with VW, not buy more Hyundai

    DCX and Volkswagen have extended a cooperation agreement for sharing components for commercial vans, an agreement which, on the Mercedes side, covers the Sprinter (sold in the US as a Freightliner and Dodge). In addition, Dieter Zetsche said that DCX will not increase its stake in Hyundai, despite current rumors.

    September 17, 2002: Rumor: new models

    "Mr. Source" wrote that Dodge will have a number of new models over the next few years: "New Durango, new light commercial van, 4500 and 5500 heavy duty trucks, small SUV, sports coupe, new convertible, a large sedan." This list was confirmed by an article in Automotive News. Everything which follows is our speculation, based on reports by Dan Minick and others in the news forum.

    We already knew the new Durango was coming, as well as a version of the LX large cars; the small SUV is expected to be a version of one of the new Mitsubishi small SUVs (probably Endeavour), while the light van is almost certainly the Mercedes Sprinter. The heavy duty trucks were rumored way back when the original Rams first came out, but were never produced; possibly these will be Ram-based, but they might also be rebadged Freightliners.

    As far as the sports coupe and convertible, we'd expect the coupe at least to be the upcoming Neon replacement, and the convertible could be based on just about anything (another Mercedes CLK? a Lancer? a Galant?). Of course, this is all still at the rumor stage - we only know for certain about the Durango and Sprinter.

    September 17, 2002: Chrysler idles two plants for one week

    Due to slow sales, Chrysler is idling two plants for one week. The closing of the Newark, Delaware plant that produces Dodge Durangos is no surprise, since the Durango has taken a pounding from the Chevrolet TrailBlazer (which has a more efficient drivetrain and softer suspension). The Brampton, Ontario plant which makes the LH series (Intrepid, Concorde, 300M) is in some ways more of a surprise, since the 300M and its LH kin are critically acclaimed, albeit soon to be replaced by rear wheel drive V8 models, but sales of the large cars have been unaccountably low.

    September 17, 2002: Chrysler's Sue Unger praised

    Sue Unger, DaimlerChrysler AG’s Chief Information Officer and Senior Vice President, received Automation Alley’s 2002 “CIO of the Year” award for her ability to motivate employees and implement new technologies within DaimlerChrysler. Some years ago, Unger actually monitored Internet newsgroups (presumably including rec.autos.makers.chrysler), resulting in actual changes to Chrysler vehicles.

    Unger was named Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer for DaimlerChrysler AG in November 1998. She is responsible for directing systems and computer hardware strategy and planning, systems applications development, data center operations and telecommunications network operations for DaimlerChrysler worldwide.

    Unger joined Chrysler in September 1972 as a finance analyst in Sales and Marketing and has held various positions in Finance and Product Development before moving to the Information Services Group in 1993.

    Chrysler's IT department had been lauded for its efficiency before the acquisition, bringing the company to the forefront of automotive technology with a relatively small staff.

    September 17, 2002: Racing roundup

    Sterling Marlin finished 21st in Sunday's rain-shortened New Hampshire 300 NASCAR Winston Cup race at New Hampshire International Speedway and gave up the series points lead for the first time since February.

    Marlin, driving a "Dodge Intrepid R/T," dropped to second in the standings, six points behind new leader Mark Martin. Martin finished 16th Sunday. Marlin had held the lead after the past 25 races.

    Marlin's teammate, Jimmy Spencer, took top honors for Dodge drivers at New Hampshire. Spencer's No. 41 Target Dodge finished 15th.

    Other Dodge Intrepid R/T finishers at New Hampshire were:

    • KENNY WALLACE (No. 23 Hills Bros Coffee Dodge Intrepid R/T) 18th
    • JOHN ANDRETTI (No. 43 Cheerios/Betty Crocker Dodge Intrepid R/T) 22nd
    • BILL ELLIOTT (No. 9 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge Intrepid R/T) 23rd
    • JEREMY MAYFIELD (No. 19 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge Intrepid R/T) 24th
    • JERRY NADEAU (No. 44 Georgia Pacific/Brawny Dodge Intrepid R/T) 28th
    • CASEY ATWOOD (No. 7 Sirius Satellite Radio Dodge Intrepid R/T) 34th
    • WARD BURTON (No. 22 Caterpillar Dodge Intrepid R/T) 38th
    • KYLE PETTY (No. 45 Sprint Dodge Intrepid R/T) 39th

    NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series
    Brendan Gaughan drove his No. 62 NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Ram to victory Friday night in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Silverado 350 at Texas Motor Speedway.

    Gaughan became the first repeat NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series winner at Texas Motor Speedway, winning back-to-back races at the track in the same year. The win was his second career win in 24 career starts. In his three starts at TMS, the Raybestos Rookie of the Year leader has finished second, first and first, respectively. Gaughan joins Kurt Busch and Kenny Irwin as the only NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series drivers to post multiple wins in their rookie season.

    The victory moved Gaughan to 11th in the series point standings with five races remaining and helped Dodge tighten the manufacturers standings. Chevrolet continues to lead with 115 points, followed by Dodge with 110 and Ford with 94.

    Four Dodge Rams finished in the top 10 at Texas. Ted Musgrave's No. 1 Mopar Performance Parts Dodge Ram finished sixth and Musgrave moved up to third in the series standings, 63 points behind leader Mike Bliss. Robert Pressley finished seventh in his No. 18 Dickies/Square D Dodge Ram and remained fifth in the standings, 139 points behind.

    Jason Leffler started eighth and finished eighth in the No. 2 Team ASE/Carquest Dodge Ram but dropped to seventh in the standings, 154 points behind the leader.

    Other Ram finishers at Texas were:

    • JOE RUTTMAN (No. 4 Red Line Synthetic Oil Dodge Ram) 11th
    • JERRY HILL (No. 79 RDS Racing Engines Dodge Ram) 18th
    • BILL LESTER (No. 8 Dodge Motorsports Dodge Ram) 28th
    • CARLOS CONTRERAS (No. 43 Hot Wheels Dodge Ram) 30th

    September 17, 2002: All 2003 Vipers sold!

    Bill Cawthon wrote: "All of the Dodge Vipers scheduled for production in the 2003 model year has been sold. Dodge contacted current Viper owners and gave them the first chance to buy the redesigned version with its 500-hp engine and they bought every one. Anyone else who was hoping for a new Viper has to wait until 2004."

    September 17, 2002: Neon seems popular among owners

    According to Chrysler, 83 percent of first-time Neon buyers would get another. The second-generation Neon seems free of the issues which plagued 1995-1997 models (windows falling out of adjustment, exhaust gasket noises, head gasket failures).

    September 17, 2002: Neon leads NDRA Pro Stock

    Dave Urwin pointed out that Neon-racing Scott Mohler of Team Phatridz locked up the points championship for the NDRA ProStock category.

    September 18, 2002: Ford taps China for parts

    Having shed much of its parts manufacturing into a separate company (a move also made by General Motors), Ford is now boasting that it will have saved $1 billion on parts by the middle of next year by buying them from China. By 2005 or so, that savings could reach $10 billion. China is a source of inexpensive parts for many companies, but has also been controversial, accused of using child and (effectively) slave labor and having little protection against pollution and toxic dumping. Ford spends about $50-60 billion per year on parts and components.

    September 19, 2002: Daimler whacks Mitsubishi again

    Mitsubishi Fuso, the commercial truck maker partly owned by DaimlerChrysler, will - like Freightliner, Chrysler, and Mitsubishi Motors - now receive an infusion of German management. In addition, as with Chrysler vehicles in Europe, the current diesels will be replaced by Mercedes engines. Overall, Mitsubishi's engine capabilities seem to be under attack by Daimler, with the four cylinders to be replaced by a Hyundai basic design, the sixes slated for replacement by Chrysler designs, and now the commercial-vehicle diesels being supplanted by Mercedes engines. /speculation/ A trend does seem to be emerging, that is, the creation of a number of "centers of competency" throughout DaimlerChrysler, heavily favoring Mercedes-Benz. It was already announced that Chrysler would handle V6 engines, Hyundai appears to be in charge of fours (though they had much-needed help from Chrysler and Mitsubishi with the current model), and Mitsubishi is handling small car platforms and contributing their mid-sized car design to the next generation. While the two companies are working together on many projects, overall, it seems that the future may hold much more specialization. The risk of that is lower innovation, but the promise is cost savings - and Daimler has made its preference for cost savings above all else (outside of Mercedes, of course) clear. /end speculation/

    (thanks, Doug Hetrick, for the news!)

    September 19, 2002: Clarification

    Bill Cawthon clarified the prior story:

    "Yomiuri Shimbun, a Japanese daily, reports DaimlerChrysler will probably announce on Friday that it will become the majority owner of Mitsubishi's Fuso truck operation. The truck group, regarded as the strongest of the Mitsubishi automotive operations, will be spun off as a separate company with a German CEO, likely Wilfried Porth, currently head of management personnel development at DaimlerChrysler.

    "DaimlerChrysler will own 43% of the new company, which will be called Mitsubishi Truck/Bus in Japanese. Mitsubishi will own 42% and the remainder will be split among various other Mitsubishi companies.

    "Mitsubishi and Toyota's Hino are said to be the strongest of the Japanese truckmakers."

    September 19, 2002: Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep out of "Big Three"

    Chrysler is not only out of today's customers' Big Three, but apparently just about out of the running. The AutoPacific study of what customers want finds that Ford, Chevrolet, and Toyota now make up the Big Three, with the top ten brands then including, in order, Honda, GMC, Dodge, BMW, Lexus, Acura and Nissan.  Trucks had an influence on this study (which is why GMC is listed, and probably why Dodge is in the top ten).

    The ranking for the top three is the same for each major age category, though with those over 70, Buick bumps Toyota as #3. For those over 60, BMW drops out of the top 10, and for those over 70, Lexus drops out; these older respondents included Cadilalc in their top ten. Mercedes only figures in for drivers in their 40s.

    The survey results varied by region, with Toyota and Honda doing better in New England and the South. (Thanks, just-auto.com)

    Historically, Chrysler has rarely had a brand with sales in the Top Three - but when it has, that brand was usually Plymouth, which is no longer sold.

    September 19, 2002: AutoPacific study doubts (news analysis)

    Bill Cawthon wrote:

    For a bit of perspective on the AutoPacific survey, check out my comments in the Forum at just-auto.com. While I have not seen the details of the study, past experience makes me wonder about its validity.

    In particular, AutoPacific seems to be addicted to the word "aspirational." ...Aspirational is nice, but I wonder how meaningful it is. I might aspire to a new Mercedes E-Class, but DaimlerChrysler would make a big mistake marketing to me, as my income and four children practically guarantee I will never actually own one. They would be far wiser to target me for a Sebring or Caravan.

    Please note it was an AutoPacific analyst who described Taurus as "non-aspirational" and Taurus customers as an undesirable demographic. These are the folks who have kept the Taurus [one of] America's best-selling car[s] since 1989.

    I am also wondering about GMC ranking ahead of Dodge. Did AutoPacific break down trucks into SUVs, pickup, etc. If not, the fact GMC has SUVs not offered by Dodge may have skewed the numbers. Certainly sales figures indicate when it comes down to money changing hands, Dodge is "considered" far more often.

    I personally would want to know more about the methodology before I got too bummed about Toyota replacing DaimlerChrysler.

    AutoPacific's study makes good press, but does it make good sense?

    September 20, 2002: DCX to buy larger shares of truck operations

    Just-Auto has confirmed that DaimlerChrysler will buy 43% of Mitsubishi Motors' spun-off commercial vehicle business for around 760 million euros. In addition, DCX will buy half of Hyundai Motors' spun-off commercial vehicle business for around 400 million euros.

    September 20, 2002: Congress to raise gas mileage - eventually

    Congress has enacted ever-so-slightly tougher regulations which may increase gas mileage of light trucks, minivans, and SUVs by almost one mile per gallon - by 2006. Though the United States imports most of its oil from politically volatile regions, many of which support terrorism, lawmakers have been reluctant to actually limit use of oil through gas mileage regulations. The new laws will continue the "flexible fuel loophole," which gives credits to automakers for building vehicles that can also run on mixes of ethanol or other fuels. The flexible fuel program has been criticized since making ethanol is energy-intensive, while other alternative fuels, such as soy-derived diesel, are not especially supported. Ethanol, however, has the support of well-funded lobbying.

    September 20, 2002: Vito to come to the US as a Dodge?

    Bill Cawthon wrote:

    I read "Mr. Source's" comments from Sept. 17. While the Freightliner Sprinter will also appear under the Dodge nameplate (with the Freightliner badge disappearing by 2006), the "light van" may well be the next-generation Vito van, coming out in 2004. [Mr. Source only mentioned a light van on its way, we assumed it was the Sprinter.]

    The Vito, currently the next-to-smallest van in Mercedes' four-model collection, is assembled at the Mercedes plant in Vittorio, Spain. Current plans call for both the Sprinter and Vito to be built in the new DaimlerChrysler Vans, LLC, facility to be located somewhere in the southeastern US. I have heard both van models will carry the Dodge badge.

    The Vito is slightly smaller than a standard Dodge Caravan. It is produced in both cargo and passenger configurations. There was also a now-discontinued special luxury model called the V-Class. However, the US is likely to see only the cargo version to avoid siphoning sales from the Chrysler minivans.

    Incidentally, the whole reason DCAG is building the new plant is to avoid the 25% duty on foreign-built trucks. Passenger vans are exempt. The Sprinter bus is fully assembled in Germany, while the cargo version is shipped as a CKD kit to the Freightliner Custom Chassis plant in Gaffney, South Carolina, for final assembly.

    September 20, 2002: Chrysler consolidating more dealers

    Chrysler has consolidated Jeep, Chrysler and Dodge brands at 18 U.S. urban dealerships and is in talks with 80 more in an effort to boost sales at each outlet and discourage them from selling other manufacturers' cars and trucks.

    Chrysler began the voluntary program last year and hopes to combine as many as 1,000 of its 4,259 franchises into 500 outlets. In return for the extra franchises, the dealerships agree not to sell non-Chrysler vehicles at those locations.

    About a third of Chrysler's dealers now also sell other brands, accounting for about 460,000 sales a year. Chrysler wants to cut that by half.

    (Courtesy Bill Cawthon)

    September 20, 2002: Ex-Mercedes Chrysler CFO on DCX board

    DaimlerChrysler has promoted two deputy board members, Wolfgang Bernhard, 42, and Ruediger Grube, 51, to ordinary board member status. The company's management board now consists of 11 Germans and two Americans.

    As number two at Chrysler, Bernhard has overseen cost-cutting measures. Most of his DaimlerChrysler career has been at the corporation's German holdings.

    DaimlerChrysler also appointed Thomas Weber, 48, as board member in charge of research and technology to replace Klaus-Dieter Voehringer, who is retiring.

    September 23, 2002: Toyota bets on rise in Tundra sales

    Toyota is planning on increased demand for its Tundra pickups, investing $140 million in a new facility in Tijuana which will build 20,000 pickups per year as well as 170,000 truck beds for Toyota's other plants. Toyota has increased its range of truck and SUV models in response to American buying habits and the higher profits (due partly to lower regulation) of light trucks when compared with passenger cars.

    September 23, 2002: Chrysler says zero-percent financing will stay

    Chrysler's sales and marketing head Jim Schroer (inherited from Ford) said that zero percent financing will stay as long as interest rates remain low.

    September 23, 2002: Honda extends warranty to cover bad transmissions

    Honda will provide a seven-year, 100,000 mile automatic transmission warranties on about 1.2 million Acura and Honda models due to a problem which could cause unpredictable failure. The problem appears to be a bearing in some cases, and a third-gear clutch part in other cases. Honda had been requiring owners to pay for their transmissions unless the cars were still under the standard three year (Honda) or five year (Acura) warranty. Affected vehicles are the 2000-2001 Odyssey, Accord, and Prelude, and 2000-2003 Acura 3.2 TL and CL (some 2003 models not included).

    September 23, 2002: CAW wins raises, concessions from GM; Ford next

    The Canadian Auto Workers, which split some years ago from the United Auto Workers (now a US-only union), won substantial concessions from General Motors, their initial strike target. GM is the sole member of the former Big Three to have consistently earned profits over the past two years, and has a rejuvenated product line as well as Bob Lutz in a leadership role. Bill Cawthon wrote: "Ford will be next up for negotiations with the Canadian Auto Workers. The talks are unlikely to go as well as the ones recently concluded with GM. In particular, Ford wants to close the Oakville Truck Plant, a key Canadian facility. Ford may be over a barrel, however, as a strike could cripple production of its most popular lines."

    September 23, 2002: Shelby-Dodge show/autocross in Delaware

    The Delaware Valley Chapter of the Shelby-Dodge Auto Club is having a Cruise & Show, and autocross "Motorsports Weekend" on Saturday and Sunday, October 5th & 6th in Northeast Philadelphia! This event'will include a DV-SDAC / Strauss Discount Auto sponsored car show, performance and repair discussion groups for all MOPAR fans, clinics to discuss specific repair and performance topics, and even door-prizes and a significant in-store discount in the Strauss discount Auto Store for all registered attendees showing a car - and that doesn't have to be a "show car." Gary A. Joseph wrote:

    This is a FUN event! It does NOT matter if it's a trailer queen, a show-car, a work-in-progress, or a demonstration of your spray-can-of-primer abilities!! BRING IT WITH YOU!!"

    Last year, we had several 'Performance Clinics', that were very successful. Some of them were inside Strauss' bays, and others were outside in the parking lot. If you would like to HOST A SESSION, and share what you know (or what you have accomplished) with your ride, with others, please let us know ASAP!! You might be surprised at how large your audience is!

    The show is going to be attended by members of the Philadelphia Region SCCA, and they too have some nice cars for show. Philly SCCA is expected to have their timing truck on-site, and will have lots of SCCA propaganda and decals (etc) for those that need them.

    For more information:
    http://www.dv-sdac.org/events.htm
    http://www.dv-sdac.org/meetings.htm

    September 24, 2002: Ford gets new line of medium duty trucks

    Ford is revamping its line of medium-duty trucks, such as the F-759 and F-650, assembled at the Navistar plant in Escobedo, Mexico. These trucks will be produced in December, and will compete against offerings from GM, Freightliner, Volvo, and others - including, perhaps, Chrysler, if a medium-duty Ram is produced (as has been rumored since 1993). The new medium-duty F-series look more like the original Ram than the current Fords.

    September 24, 2002: Chrysler to actually take some work in-house

    Reversing a trend of farming more work out to contractors, Chrysler announced that it would be taking back its axle production for the Jeep Grand Cherokee from Dana. Once known for its high durability, Dana has more recently developed a reputation among Chrysler mechanics for problems. The move to having Grand Cherokee axles built at Chrysler's Detroit Axle factory will occur with 2005 or 2006 models, according to Chrysler's Dave Barnas.

    Through August of this year, Chrysler has sold nearly 147,000 Grand Cherokees.

    September 24, 2002: Ford Focus plant shuts for a week

    Due to a fall in sales, the Ford Focus plant is closing for a week. (Before we gloat, we need to remember that an entire Neon plant is permanently closed due to lack of sales - the Toluca, Mexico plant is now producing PT Cruisers instead of Neons, as it did from 1993 to 1999).

    September 24, 2002: smart won't enter the US

    (Written by Bill Cawthon of just-auto.com:) Jürgen Hibbert, head of Mercedes-Benz, says the Smart won't come to the U.S. unless American safety standards are changed. Hibbert says DaimlerChrysler studies have shown a strong potential market, but the Smart cannot meet bumper requirements. Hibbert was referring to the Smart City Coupe and made no reference to the new Smart Roadster.

    Hibbert also said he hopes Mercedes sales will keep pace with last year. If there is no war with Iraq, Hibbert said sales should be flat compared with last year.

    September 25, 2002: Ford slipping?

    Bill Cawthon wrote:

    How bad is it at Ford? Even after a record-breaking August, every Ford division except Jaguar and Land Rover is behind 2001 in year-to-date sales. Out of 40 models offered by Ford, Lincoln, Mercury, Jaguar, Land Rover and Volvo, only the following seven are beating their 2001 numbers:
    • Ford Explorer, up 5.2%
    • Ford E-Series full-size vans, up 1.8%
    • Jaguar X-Type, up 1,760.4% (it was still a new model last August - its first full month on the market. It is the only Jaguar model beating its 2001 numbers)
    • Mercury Sable, up 13.9%
    • Mercury Mountaineer, up 2.3%
    • Range Rover, up 57.7% (the Freelander has no 2001 numbers for comparison)
    • Volvo S60, up 12.1%

    Compare that to Chrysler, with 27 light vehicle models, where eleven are currently ahead of 2001. And Chrysler's winners include volume models like the Dodge Ram pickup, Dodge Caravan, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Dodge Intrepid, Dodge Neon, PT Cruiser and Chrysler Cirrus Sedan. While whole company comparisons suffer because Plymouth is gone, Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge brands are all ahead of last year.

    September 25, 2002: Chrysler to have good September?

    Bill Cawthon wrote:

    Luckey Consulting Group, an automotive research company based in New Jersey, forecasts a 14% boost in Chrysler sales for September compared to a year ago. Luckey also thinks GM sales will rise 6.3% while Ford will resume its decline, dropping 2.1% (While August was generally pleasant for Dearborn, Ford's good numbers in July were almost solely due to outstanding performances from Jaguar and Land Rover).

    Michael Luckey, company president, believes heavy incentives will overcome flat sales in the first half of the month. Other analysts have also predicted a strong finish.

    Gary Dilts, Chrysler's senior VP of sales, thinks the gain will be more modest, in the range of 2%.

    September 25, 2002: Rumor: Pacifica to be basis of next-gen minivan?

    The latest rumors swirl around the all-important minivans, noting that the Pacifica was originally meant to be based on the Caravan, but has experienced many changes along the way. Just as we would suggest incorporating PT Cruiser enhancements into the Neon, from which it started, the rumors suggest that the Pacifica's upgrades will find their way into the next Caravan and Voyager minivans. These would include the removable, fold-flat seats, the 3.5 liter engine, and, presumably, the new instrument panel which includes a navigation control.

    It has seemed incredible that Chrysler has done nothing to refresh its minivans as Toyota and Ford have announced redesigned versions of their vans, and as Honda has added to capacity as thousands flock to its high-priced "but Japanese" Odysseys. Perhaps this next version will finally include the 3.5 - or even the 3.7, which would be superior in most respects - and gee-whiz seats. It may even have some of those "Mercedes technological features" we keep hearing about, but have not seen yet on the Chrysler side.

    September 26, 2002: Chrysler to have official profit

    Bill Cawthon wrote: "At the opening of the Paris Auto Show, Chrysler CEO Dieter Zetsche said the company will break even this year. Zetsche told reporters he expects profits in the next two quarters."

    September 30, 2002: Ford finally to make squads safer

    On Friday, after years of denying any problems and then studying the problems that had not existed, Ford agreed to install shields around the gas tanks of about 350,000 "Police Interceptors" (Crown Victorias) in the United States. At least ten police officers have been killed in fires after crashes, and Ford has been the target of lawsuits aimed at making the squad cars less likely to catch fire after an impact. The Police Interceptor has been the most popular police car in America by a substantial margin since the more-popular Chevrolet Caprice ceased production - before that, the Dodge Diplomat was used by most agencies before it ceased production. Many departments have switched to the Chevrolet Impala and Dodge Intrepid squads, though it is difficult to say what the deciding factor has been - cost, maneuverability, braking, gas mileage, personal preference, etc.

    September 30, 2002: Jeep brand expansion in Europe

    Jeep's European lineup will expand to largely match the American line and to include two diesels: a Cherokee (Liberty) with a 2.8 common-rail turbo diesel hooked up to a five-speed automatic (probably a Mercedes design, since the 545 is usually called a four-speed in Chrysler's current literature), and a Grand Cherokee Overland with a the 2.7 common rail diesel (an alternative to the normal high-output V8).

    Past Jeeps sold in Europe have used Detroit Diesel engines, but the company is likely to substitute these with Mercedes diesels. The lineage of the Cherokee's diesel is unknown to us at this time.

    September 30, 2002: Mopar does well in drag

    Pro Stock rookie Gene Wilson led the way as Hemi-powered Pro Stock Neon R/T entries swept the top-three positions today for this weekend’s 75th Anniversary Craftsman NHRA Nationals at Route 66 Raceway.

    Wilson, driver of the Mopar Parts Dodge Neon R/T, grabbed his first career No. 1 qualifier with a 6.819-second elapsed time at 201.73 mph. The Georgia resident backed up his round-two effort by also collecting the quickest elapsed time of the fourth round at 6.833 seconds. It’s the first time in NHRA history a Dodge has occupied the top-three slots in Pro Stock competition.

    September 30, 2002: Two Southern cities try for DCX van plant

    According to Bill Cawthon, Jacksonville is no longer being considered for the new Mercedes commercial van plant, which will make vehicles under the Dodge and Freightliner labels. Charleston and Savannah are still in the running, in a contest to see which city and state will donate the most taxpayer dollars (and the least environmental restrictions) to a German company in return for having a factory in their town.

    September 30, 2002: Dodge M80, smart

    Bill Cawthon wrote:

    According to Wolfgang Bernhard, Chrysler COO, Dodge may build the M80 as a way to introduce Dodge to the European market. Bernhard made the comments at the Paris Auto Show. The company believes the smaller pickup would have a better reception in Europe than the larger American models.

    Also, the story on Smart is changing. Now it's a bigger, government-mandated fuel filter that is the only thing keeping the Smart from the American market. This according to Andreas Renschler, head of Smart cars.

    October 1, 2002: Chrysler, Ford sales - Chrysler up, Ford down

    Chrysler sales are up 18 percent from last year - hardly surprising given the conditions of September 2001, but still a good sign, finally moving the company ahead (year-to-date) of last year's sales. Specific sales highlights, month to month, are provided courtesy of Bill Cawthon:

    • Chrysler Sebring Sedan, up 5% for September, 18% Y-T-D
    • Chrysler Sebring Convertible, up 8% for September, 5% Y-T-D
    • Chrysler Concorde, up 43% for September, 17% Y-T-D
    • Chrysler 300M, up 22% for September, just 152 units behind 2001 Y-T-D
    • Chrysler PT Cruiser, up 9% for September, 7% Y-T-D
    • Jeep Wrangler, up 67% in September, but still down 1% from 2001 Y-T-D
    • Jeep Liberty, 37% in September
    • Dodge Stratus Sedan, up 20% in September, just 82 units behind 2001 Y-T-D
    • Dodge Stratus Coupe, up 19% in September, but still down 7% from 2001 Y-T-D
    • Dodge Intrepid, up 35% in September, up 4% Y-T-D
    • Dodge Neon, up 28% in September, up 17% Y-T-D
    • Dodge Viper, up 178% in September, up 24% Y-T-D
    • Dodge Dakota, up 16% in September, down 8% Y-T-D
    • Dodge Ram pickup, up 82% in September, up 18% Y-T-D
    • Chrysler total, up 18% in September, 1%Y-T-D

    Meanwhile, Bill reports that "Ford bucked the trend. Every analyst thought it would be GM whose sales declined, but Ford's September numbers are down 5 percent from 2001. Ford Motor Company is now down 6.4% year-to-date. General Motors' numbers have not been posted yet."

    October 1, 2002: Chrysler sales update

    Earlier, we saw what did well; now, let's look at what did not do so well. The Chrysler Sebring Coupe was down (year to date) 19 percent, or about 2,400 units, while the Dodge version fell 7 percent, or 1,200 units. These are Mitsubishi imports, and have been touched up for the 2003 model year, which may increase sales. Neither has done well, with about 25,000 sales so far this year - compared with, say, 117,000 sales for the Sebring and Stratus sedans, and 38,000 for the convertible (which is based on the sedan). Sebring/Stratus sales are not bad, albeit nowhere near Accord and Camry.

    While most LH cars rose, the LHS dropped by over 7,200 units, not surprising since it is no longer made. About 3,400 of those sales can be considered swallowed up by the Concorde, which took over the LHS body.

    The Voyager is down, now running about 31,700 units - which we believe is below the Plymouth sales, and is certainly down from last year. Town & Country has also fallen a little, 5,000 sales, but is still nearly 100,000 units so far this year - and it should have a good profit margin, too. (The PT Cruiser managed to outsell it, at 112,000 units, but the PT has no Dodge version.)

    The Liberty has finally managed to outsell combined Liberty/Cherokee sales from last year...it seems to be gaining acceptance, or the factory is able to produce more of them, or both.

    Neon year to date sales have supposedly increased, but since last year Plymouth was factored in, this is hard to guess. Chrysler-Plymouth car has gone down 15 percent, or by about 28,000 units. We'd guess most of that is Neon sales. The Dodge Neon has gone up by about 14,000, so there are probably some lost sales hidden in the cracks. Perhaps a redesigned Civic and Corolla would have robbed those sales in any case.

    Durango sales continue to be lower, down 15 percent from last year to about 83,700 units (last year, 99,000 by this time), still quite respectable for a truck going up against a redesigned Explorer and the new TrailBlazer. Ram van and wagon falls are meaningless given the small number produced and the fact that just about everyone knows they're being discontinued.

    Overall, year to date, Dodge Truck is up 3 percent (16,000 units), Dodge car is up 7 percent (16,000 units), Jeep is up 3 percent (8,400 units), Chrysler car is up 2 percent (2,400 units), Plymouth is gone, and Chrysler truck (minivans, that is) is down ever so slightly (0 percent, or 1,500 units).

    October 1, 2002: GM, Ford sales drop

    Possibly due to GM's temporary abandonment of incentives early in September, the company's United States sales dropped by 13 percent, overall. September's total sales were 312,276, with truck sales down 8 percent and car sales down 18 percent.

    Bill Cawthon also noted that "MSNBC is reporting that Ford sales rose 1.6%, excluding foreign brands. I have no idea where they got that number except possibly playing with day-rate sales (there were two more selling day last year). Overall, Ford sales are down 5% for the month, 6.4% for the year, as I stated earlier." He noted Ford's announcement: "Overall, U.S. customers purchased or leased 280,319 cars and trucks from Ford, Mercury, Lincoln, Jaguar, Volvo, and Land Rover dealers in September, down five percent compared with the same period a year ago."

    By comparison, Chrysler reported sales of 165,397 for the month of September 2002 - a bit more than half of GM's sales. Hyundai's sales, which increased 15 percent year to date, were 30,257 in September - still less than a fifth of Chrysler (though, we believe, with better sales outside of North America).

    October 2, 2002: Cawthon: Chrysler does well in SUVs, minivans

    Bill Cawthon wrote: "While they couldn't catch up to the Explorer, the Jeep Liberty and Jeep Grand Cherokee each outsold all 17 of GM's SUVs in September as well as every import. In year-to-date sales, the Grand Cherokee is third out of more than sixty SUVs sold in the U.S. Only the Explorer and TrailBlazer have done better.

    "Chrysler still has 41% of the minivan market (counting the PT Cruiser as a minivan), but the Honda Odyssey was only 323 sales behind the Dodge Caravan in September. Honda has apparently resolved some production issues and a lead change could be in the offing."

    October 4, 2002: Briefs

    GM and Chrysler have both announced more incentives on new cars, including extensions of interest-free loans. Meanwhile, NHTSA has decided that there is no defect in Ford police cruisers, even though there have been a number of fatal fires following accidents, and several civil organizations have sued Ford to make modifications for safety. Ford itself has been investigating fuel bladders, but instead chose to retrofit its "Interceptors" with a fuel tank shield.

    October 4, 2002: Rumor - Penske to sign with Dodge?

    "Mr. NASCAR" wrote: "Dodge officials have a big announcement concerning Penske. This announcement will occur on Sunday October 13, at 9 am. This announcement will be that Penske South will be switching to Dodge for the 2003 season."

    October 7, 2002: Third shift added at Dodge plant

    Chrysler Group and the United Auto Workers announced a third shift of production at the Warren truck assembly plant, adding 1,000 jobs when the plant's capacity increases next summer. Chrysler is investing $35 million to raise the Warren plant's capacity by 60,000 units per year, so it will eventually produce 338,000 Rams and Dakotas per year. (A redesigned Dakota is also expected in a year or two.)

    October 7, 2002: Rumor - Dodge version of Pacifica coming?

    "Mr. Source," who is usually accurate, has predicted a Dodge version of the Pacifica. Based on recent trends, we'd expect it to be have a different instrument panel and the corporate Dodge front clip (which was standardized on the 2003 models), along with other sheet metal and interior differences to differentiate it more from the Chrysler Pacifica.

    October 7, 2002: New Ram spots highly effective

    Two new Dodge Ram ads have tested as having ground-breaking performance in impact, getting the message of Dodge Ram "toughness" and power across to test audiences. Watch for them on your TV.

    October 8, 2002: CAW sets Chrysler strike date, targets van jobs

    The CAW has set a close Chrysler strike deadline of midnight on October 15, after having quickly resolved issues with GM and Ford. The CAW split off from the UAW relatively recently to protect Canadian jobs, which is the focus of current talks with Chrysler. The CAW has released a statement that they expect Chrysler to follow the "pattern settlement" (follow GM and Ford's terms), and to resolve job security at the newly-expanded Pillette Road plant. This plant currently makes slow-selling full-sized vans, but was to gear up for production of new vehicles - probably full-size SUVs - before Chrysler was acquired by Daimler-Benz. DCX has all but committed to closing the plant, and moving production of Dodge-labelled, Mercedes-designed vans to the Southern United States in order to avoid unions (despite having overall higher costs due to the move). Some have criticized the Canadian government for not bribing DCX with tens or hundreds of millions of dollars to keep the plant open, noting that Southern cities and states are in a bidding war for auto factories. DCX could well get over half a billion dollars to build a new plant in a Southern city.

    October 8, 2002: LA buys fuel cell cars

    Los Angeles has purchased five Honda FCX fuel cell vehicles, and is currently working with prototypes. Though Toyota was the first to deliver fuel cell vehicles to American customers, Toyota works by lease, and Honda sells by retail. (Honda was also the first to introduce a hybrid-electric vehicle to the American public, but Toyota was the first to sell one in the world - in Japan - and continues to have the most environmentally friendly hybrid, the Prius).

    October 8, 2002: VW plans to add particulate trap to diesels

    Volkswagen, which pioneered the use of recyclable and recycled materials in production cars, now plans to add a particulate trap to its diesel engines to address concerns over carcinogens. VW is, to our knowledge, the only company which still sells diesel engines in passenger cars in the United States.

    Notes: In Europe, diesels account for about half of sales, but American gasoline industry subsidies and relatively low fuel taxes make the purchase of a diesel car economically unrewarding except in unusual cases. (Diesel trucks are a different story, since gas mileage going from 10 to 18 mpg is rather more dramatic than going from 35 to 45. Likewise, many work trucks remain in use by the original owner for over 200,000 miles, allowing the diesel's better gas mileage and lower maintenance to pay off.)

    October 8, 2002: Ford returns to "Quality is Job One"

    Ford is going to go back to its old slogan of "Quality is Job One," which, while it did not apparently increase quality much, did wonders for the perceptions of quality - which is more important from a sales point of view.

    As a personal note, I did once work in a Ford plant in Edison, New Jersey, during the original "Quality is Job One" campaign. This plant made Escorts before they were based on the Mazda 323, so you can imagine how proud I was to work in the quality area - admittedly in a clerical role. I quickly found out that quality was, indeed, Job One - but that Job One is industry jargon for the first day of production of a new car. So all the quality problems of the original Ford Escort, and they were legion, were indeed Job One. They were fixed when Ford switched to the Mazda platform for the Escort...and fixed even better for those who got the optional Mazda 1.8 liter engine instead of the Ford 1.9 liter engine.

    In short, "Quality is Job One" means "We'll fix it when we start making a different new car."

    October 8, 2002: DCX to launch fuel cell vehicles

    DaimlerChrysler will launch the world's first fleet of fuel cell passenger cars in the United States and Europe in 2003, the company said. The fuel cell vehicles, based on the Mercedes-Benz A-Class passenger car, will be called the "F-Cell".

    "With these vehicles, we become the first manufacturer to put fuel cell cars on the road," said Prof. Ferdinand Panik, head of Fuel Cell Development at DaimlerChrysler. "The hydrogen-powered F-Cell cars are genuine zero-emission vehicles which have left the research stage and are now going to field testing."

    Honda and Toyota have both announced fuel cell fleets. Toyota's is already operational in the US, leased to municipalities and companies, while Honda, like Mercedes, is claiming to be the first company to sell fuel cell vehicles.

    The hydrogen fuel is combined with oxygen from the air in the fuel cell to produce electricity and drive an electric motor. The Mercedes-Benz A-Class F-Cell, the first cars to grow out of the research stage and to go on the road, are being manufactured under near-standard conditions and will be operated and tested by customers in everyday use within the framework of government-sponsored international cooperative ventures. DaimlerChrysler is testing a fuel cell-powered Sprinter van in a delivery fleet and will begin delivering fuel cell-powered Citaro buses to 10 European cities next year.

    In the "F-Cell", the entire fuel cell system is accommodated in the sandwich floor of the long-wheelbase A-Class. Its tanks supply compressed hydrogen directly to the fuel cell system, giving the "F-Cell" a cruising range of about 90 miles. Hydrogen consumption is equivalent to 56 mpg gasoline.

    The electric motor has an output of 65 kW. The vehicle accelerates from 0 to 60 mph in about 16 seconds and gets a top speed of around 87 mph. This performance makes the "F-Cell" suitable for everyday use. In addition, the vehicle has zero smog and greenhouse gas emissions and is extraordinarily quiet in operation.

    October 8, 2002: Dodge does badly at Talladega, Marlin out for 2002

    Daytona 500 winner Ward Burton led the way for Dodge by driving his No. 22 Caterpillar Dodge Intrepid R/T to a 10th-place finish in Sunday's EA Sports 500 NASCAR Winston Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway.

    Working with crew chief Frankie Stoddard for the first time this season, Burton recorded his seventh top 10 of the 2002 campaign and moved to 25th in the series standings. Bill Davis Racing teammate Scott Wimmer, subbing for Kenny Wallace, finished 17th in the No. 23 Hills Bros Coffee Dodge Intrepid R/T.

    Kyle Petty finished 16th in his No. 45 Sprint Dodge Intrepid R/T and continued his streak of solid finishes. In six of the past seven races, Petty has finished 15th, 13th, 17th, 16th, 15th and 16th and has moved to 21st in the series standings.

    Sterling Marlin withdrew from racing for the balance of the 2002 season prior to the EA Sports 500 at Talladega. Injuries sustained in a racing accident at Kansas City forced Marlin to sit out the rest of the 2002 campaign. Marlin led the NASCAR Winston Cup point standings for 25 straight races (Rockingham through Richmond). He lost 216 points in the five races prior to his withdrawal, going from a 95-point lead after Bristol to fifth in points after Kansas, his final race of the 2002 season. Marlin scored 14 top-10 finishes in the 29 races he ran in 2002, including 19 top-15 finishes. Marlin ended a 162-race streak of consecutive starts by missing Sunday's race.

    Jamie McMurray subbed for Marlin and finished 26th in his NASCAR Winston Cup debut. McMurray will drive a third Dodge for Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates in 2003.

    Dale Earnhardt Jr. won Sunday's race in a Chevrolet and that tied Chevy and Ford with 10 victories each in 2002. Dodge has six and Pontiac four. Ford leads Chevy 200-181 in the manufacturers standings. Dodge is third with 144 points and Pontiac trails with 135.

    Bill Elliott, who finished 19th Sunday in his No. 9 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge Intrepid R/T, leads the way for Dodge with an eighth-place ranking in the standings. Elliott is only 28 points out of sixth, 82 out of fifth and 229 points behind the leader.

    Rumor has powerhouse Penske lining up behind Dodge for the next season, but many have criticized NASCAR rules and suggested that winners and losers are determined almost as much by the NASCAR leaders as by skill and vehicle design.

    October 9, 2002: Ford to update factory, recall cars

    After the Canadian Auto Workers gained new commitments to job security from Ford, the company chose to convert its Ontario factory to a flexible structure so it can pound out different models at the same time. Meanwhile, Ford is recalling 400,000 Taurus/Sables with adjustable pedals because the brake and gas pedal are too close together, so that it is too easy to hit both while trying for just one.

    October 9, 2002: Have corporate scandals affected you?

    BetterCompany is doing research on whether corporate scandals have affected your company or organization. Can you take five minutes to do their survey? The Allpar webmaster is involved and interested... and you can get a summary of the results if you provide your e-mail address (no marketing involved).

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    October 10, 2002: CAW organizes DCX subsidiary

    The Canadian Auto Workers have done something the (USA) United Auto Workers have not: won the right to represent 1,100 Freightliner workers even as (or maybe because) DaimlerChrysler has downsized the weakened commercial truck maker and marketer. The CAW is also in negotiations with DCX to keep Chrysler's Windsor Road plant open.

    October 11, 2002: DCX pawns agree to swap parts

    DaimlerChrysler and the companies it owns have agreed to jointly develop and swap parts totalling $13 billion, according to Reuters, quoting the Korea Economic Daily, and itself quoted in just-auto.com. This is not exactly news, except in the volume, which is larger than the annual parts purchases by GM ($11 billion) and Ford ($10 billion). However, Chrysler and Mitsubishi are being integrated into a single organization in terms of manufacturing and engineering, and Hyundai/Kia, while retaining its independence (Chrysler is a division of DCX with Mercedes executives, while Mitsubishi is 1/3 owned by DCX but still has Mercedes executives) is also sharing key components and will probably share auto platforms as well. Most of GM and Ford parts and platform sharing is between different divisions in the same company, e.g. between Ford and Jaguar, or Chevrolet and Cadillac.

    October 11, 2002: GM, Ford working on six-speed automatic

    Even as Chrysler de-features the Mercedes six-speed automatic for use in its cars, General Motors and Ford are working on a next-generation six-speed automatic which promises substantial increases in efficiency over existing transmissions (many of which, like current Chrysler automatics, tend to waste power). It will also have a high torque capacity to handle output from increasingly powerful engines.

    GM had worked with Chrysler in the past to design and build manual transmissions.

    October 13, 2002: Official: Penske signs with Mopar

    As "Mr. NASCAR" predicted in the Allpar forums, Penske has signed with Dodge to race Intrepids at NASCAR. Wallace and Newman will be driving the Intrepid R/T lookalikes, powered by Chrysler engines.

    October 13, 2002: CAW suspends talks, may strike

    The Canadian Auto Workers have suspended talks with DaimlerChrysler, with a Tuesday strike deadline looming. Buzz Hargrove, president of the union, said no progress had been made. There are 12,800 Chrysler employees in Canada, but 1,100 of them - nearly 10 percent - are soon to be laid off as DaimlerChrysler shuts down the Windsor Road plant which currently makes commercial vans. (Dodge will instead sell Mercedes vans made in Germany and assembled in a Southern Freightliner plant.) While Chrysler has offered a wage increase matching GM and Ford, they have not offered any job protections - both GM and Ford have - and are demanding changes in work rules such as job postings, overtime, and work schedules.

    October 14, 2002: NASCAR - new Dodge driver wins race

    Jamie McMurray defied astronomical odds to win the UAW-GM Quality 500 NASCAR Winston Cup race at Lowe's Motor Speedway. McMurray, a 26-year-old from Joplin, Mo., filling in for injured Sterling Marlin, held off former series champion Bobby Labonte for the final 31 laps and scored his first Winston Cup victory in only his second start in NASCAR's premiere series. The No. 40 Dodge was the only Intrepid finishing in the top 10 on Sunday in the rain-delayed race at LMS, but two Penske drivers also placed in the top ten. Penske has signed to race Dodges next year.

    October 14, 2002: Chrysler misses all APEAL categories

    In the 1990s, Chrysler was invariably over-represented in J.D. Power's APEAL surveys, designed to measure "Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout." In 2002, though Chrysler tried to put a good face on the matter (noting four top three placements), DaimlerChrysler (including Mercedes and Mitsubishi but not Hyundai) did not come out on top of a single category. Toyota grabbed two, Honda three, Ford five, GM three, and Hyundai, Audi, and BMW (Mini) each got one. To be fair, the survey results are questionable, and in some cases seem biased in favor of cars with more buzz - e.g. the Ford Thunderbird, Mini, Audi TT, and Acura RSX. We have to wonder whether the Crown Victoria is really the best executed/performing large car, and why the Avalon is considered mid-size. Still, Chrysler has done better in the past. The Ram was eclipsed by the Cadillac Escalade, the PT Cruiser displaced by the Mini Cooper, the Caravan by that Honda. The Thunderbird won as a luxury car.

    October 14, 2002: GM to produce hybrid bus fleet

    General Motors is soon to produce 13,000 diesel-electric buses, which the company claimed would save as much fuel as 500,000 small hybrid-electric cars. According to The Car Connection, GM is also still on track to produce hybrid versions of its Silverado pickups, with a 12 percent increase in fuel economy, in 2004 - including a portable generator in the package, a feature borrowed from the Dodge PowerBox concept. Dodge has announced that it will not be introducing a 2003 Dakota hybrid, as previously announced, but may have hybrid Rams in 2004.

    October 15, 2002: Ford's Viper to exceed $100,000

    Ford's version of the Viper, the GT40 (designed by a team which includes some original Viper design team members), will cost between $100,000 and $150,000, and will feature a 500 horsepower engine as well as 1970s-sports-car styling. Cars will be allocated to dealers first according to sales and customer satisfaction, and then by lottery; about 1,000 per year will be produced. The GT40 will be powered by a mid-engined 5.4 liter V8, while the Viper is powered by an 8-liter V-10, the Corvette remains V8 powered, and an unspecified new Cadillac will have a V12 producing roughly the same power.

    October 15, 2002: GM earns profit

    General Motors earned nearly $700 million in profits over the last quarter, excluding special items and Hughes. Including special items and Hughes, GM lost $804 million. "Special items" includes a write-down of over $1 billion to cover declines in the value of Fiat, as well as smaller amounts for issues such as moving commercial truck production to Flint, Michigan (home of Michael Moore) from Wisconsin.

    October 16, 2002: CAW helps Canada to get new Chrysler vehicle

    The Pillette Road plant in Windsor, Ontario, where B-vans are currently made, will see a new product after all. Thanks to a tough stance by the Canadian Auto Workers, the plant will not be shuttered. With 25 minutes left before a strike, DaimlerChrysler gave in and agreed to produce a new vehicle in the plant in 2005, which will actually increase the number of employees.

    just-auto.com reported that, in their 1999 contract talks, DaimlerChrysler had agreed to produce a new model in the plant after the current vans ended in 2003, but later reneged on the deal. The on-line news publication suggested that, though current vehicles were not threatened by a brief strike, the Pacifica might be delayed further.

    October 16, 2002: 2002 minivan recall

    Chrysler has voluntarily recalled about 143,500 minivans to check for a fuel leak caused by a supplier error.

    October 17, 2002: Chrysler to test diesels in the US

    Chrysler, which has sold diesel-powered vehicles for many years in Europe along with the Cummins turbodiesel-equipped Ram pickups in the US, will start testing a diesel-powered car shortly, according to the Detroit News (thanks, Doug Hetrick).

    Over a third of the cars in Europe are diesels, which are generally quiet, smoke-free, and efficient. Diesels tend to have far higher gas mileage than gasoline engines, without the extra cost of hybrid powertrains. Chrysler is likely to use a Mercedes diesel, but could also tap DCX-owned Detroit Diesel, which Chrysler used for its European Jeeps and minivans.

    October 17, 2002: Chrysler to test diesels in the US

    Chrysler, which has sold diesel-powered vehicles for many years in Europe along with the Cummins turbodiesel-equipped Ram pickups in the US, will start testing a diesel-powered car shortly, according to the Detroit News (thanks, Doug Hetrick).

    Over a third of the cars in Europe are diesels, which are generally quiet, smoke-free, and efficient. Diesels tend to have far higher gas mileage than gasoline engines, without the extra cost of hybrid powertrains. Chrysler is likely to use a Mercedes diesel, but could also tap DCX-owned Detroit Diesel, which Chrysler used for its European Jeeps and minivans.

    October 17, 2002: Bush administration fights states' rights

    The Bush administration, joined by GM and DCX, is currently fighting a legal battle to invalidate state laws governing vehicle emissions. The White House is particularly opposed to California's zero-emissions vehicle standard, as DaimlerChrysler, Toyota, and Honda field-test hydrogen-powered vehicles that would qualify, and is now also fighting Massachusetts' attempt to use California standards. The Bush administration's position is that only the Federal government can regulate (or deregulate) pollution and gas mileage.

    October 18, 2002: DCX chooses Georgia

    DaimlerChrysler has, not surprisingly, chosen Georgia to assemble its next-generation Dodge commercial vans around 2004-2005. The Sprinter and Vito, made and designed by Mercedes in Germany, will be assembled in a nonunion Georgia plant from kits. Georgia won the deal with a bid of $320 million in state and local funding.

    The real news here may not be where the factory is located - most observers knew it would end up in one of three Southern states - but what will be assembled there. Bill Cawthon and some others have suggested for months that the Vito would come to the United States, but this is the first confirmation that the medium-sized Mercedes passenger van will be built in the US.

    Dodge full-size van production, already at a trickle, will halt in the summer of 2003. New product is promised for the plant which makes the "B-vans" for 2005, but DCX may be able to wriggle out of their deal with the CAW by pleading financial distress, if contract language is as loose as current reports suggest.

    October 21, 2002: Neon SRT performance beats estimates

    Sport Compact Car magazine released the results of their tests of a Dodge (Neon) SRT-4. They found: 60-0 braking - 119 feet ("normal" is around 140-160)
    0-60 - 5.8 sec
    1/4 mile - 14.2 @ 99
    250 wft/lbs @ 3000 rpm (at the wheels)
    223 hp @ 5600 (at the wheels)
    200' skidpad - .85g
    700' slalom - 69mph

    14 PSI maximum boost

    Travis Kittlitz of Apex Performance Parts, who brought this to our attention, noted that "The hood scoop is stamped so that a clever enthusaist can make a cold air intake by cutting the hood and the airbox top."

    October 23, 2002: DCX dashes hopes for diesel Dodge

    Recently, when DCX announced it was thinking about bringing a diesel car to the US, many potential buyers thought they might mean a diesel minivan, PT Cruiser, or Jeep - all of which are sold in Europe. A recent followup announcement dashes these hopes; a DCX spokesman said that "Mercedes-Benz" would not import diesel-powered cars until clean diesel fuel is widely available in the US (around 2006), and sales of 5,000 vehicles could be assured. While it would probably be easy to sell 5,000 high-mileage diesel minivans, Libertys, or Cruisers, selling 5,000 diesel Mercedes would likely be harder - though some models do have the volume, diesels seem inconsistent with the Mercedes image (except perhaps in the M class).

    October 23, 2002: New plant for Windsor?

    The CAW's contract with DaimlerChrysler provides for a new plant in Windsor, to replace the closing Pillette Road facility. The plant, designed from the ground up to be flexible, will use past Chrysler ideas such as having suppliers design and operate certain sections (as, for example, PPG handled the paint shop in Chrysler's Brazil Dakota factory). Suppliers may also end up owning a majority share in the plant to reduce DCX's investment. The plan depends both on DCX's "projections" and on the Canadian government's financial incentives. Some expect the M80 (see our concept vehicle page for details) to be built there.

    October 23, 2002: Details on the LX plans

    (Thanks to Doug Hetrick for sending this, the diesel notes, and the Windsor plant details to us). According to Ward's Alisa Priddle, the new LX large cars will start production on January 19, 2004, while the current front wheel drive LH series will be sold through the end of the 2004 model year. The new vehicles will be the Chrysler LX, LXi, and 300N, and the Intrepid, Concorde, and 300M nameplates will, in Chrysler "our past is junk" tradition, be retired. Two Dodge models will be produced, the All Sport SUV and, if money is there, the Dodge Charger, with four doors and a V8.

    The LH series was brought out just ten years ago, in June 1992, revolutionizing the large car market with far superior handling and large, comfortable interiors that seemed out of proportion with the relatively trim exteriors. The LH models are still highly competitive, though getting prospective customers to actually test drive them has been difficult. Ms. Priddle expects a substantial cosmetic redesign of the series before their retirement, to keep sales up.

    October 23, 2002: Truck rumors

    The latest rumors (thanks, 2.0 R/T and others) diverge regarding whether the upcoming Cummins High Output diesel transmission will be the new six-speed Eaton commercial automatic, or a beefed up 47RE called the 48RE, but there seems to be some agreement that heavy-duty diesel owners will have to wait for an automatic: it's not due until mid-2003. In the meantime, the standard-duty Cummins diesel is available with an automatic, and the high-output version has a beefy manual transmission. For those looking for something lighter, Hemi-powered 1500s are estimated at arriving either "any day now" or "early spring 2003."

    October 25, 2002: Chrysler posts operating profit

    Chrysler posted an operating profit for the last quarter, prompting a flurry of "Mercedes saved Chrysler" stories in the Detroit News. Some are skeptical, pointing out that German accounting laws allow for all sorts of diversions behind the scenes, so that operating profits and losses for a division can be attributed as easily to creative accounting as anything else.

    October 29, 2002: Airbag lawsuit thrown out

    Chrysler was the first company to make airbags standard equipment on "regular" cars - and was punished for it with a class action lawsuit. Specifically, a woman whose 1989 Chrysler LeBaron's airbag saved her from "serious injury" sued Chrysler for a minor hand burn that healed after two weeks in 1992. She sued Chrysler and won $58.5 million for herself and 75,000 other plaintiffs after the suit was granted class action status.

    The Superior Court of Pennsylvania threw out that verdict, ruling that the lawsuit should never have been granted class action status. Just-Auto.com quoted DCX general counsel Ken Gluckman as saying, “But it's outrageous that we had to spend six million dollars in defense costs and many years in court to defend a device that has saved over 6,800 lives. This suit is like holding the manufacturer of a bullet-proof vest responsible because its product saved someone's life, but left a few bruised ribs."

    “This lawsuit is a prime example of trial lawyer greed and class action abuse,” Gluckman added. “Individuals should not be denied the right to sue if they believe they have cause, but in this example even the plaintiffs' expert acknowledged that 99% of the class members would never be in an accident causing hand burns. Most class members have no idea they were ever part of this lawsuit.”

    Airbags have now been credited with saving thousands of lives, and became standard first across Chrysler's entire lineup (driver's side). Eventually, dual driver-passenger airbags became mandatory, and today most automakers sell optional or standard side airbags as well.

    October 29, 2002: Toyota to go totally hybrid?

    The makers of the first mass-production hybrid-electric car, and the only company to specifically design a mass-production hybrid from the ground up for maximum economy and environmental benefit, plans to make its entire product line more fuel-efficient through the technology. Masatami Takimoto, Toyota's managing director for engine engineering, told Bloomberg News that Toyota would try to have hybrid technology throughout its entire lineup by 2012. The effort will be supported by the fact that hybrid and fuel-cell technologies have some overlap, so that advances in mass-producing hybrids will help Toyota to mass-produce fuel cell vehicles as well.

    October 29, 2002: GM uses safer airbags ahead of mandate

    General Motors said it will put child-safe air bags in 2003 full-size pickup trucks and sport-utilities, which account for nearly a third of the vehicles it produces. While these airbags are mandated for the 2004 model year, GM is the first United States automaker to install them ahead of time.

    October 30, 2002: Gas mileage continues to fall

    According to Federal reports, the average fuel economy of 2003 model year passenger vehicles is now 20.8 miles per gallon, 6 percent below the nation's high - set 15 years ago. These reports, it should be noted, actually OVERestimate average gas mileage, because a number of vehicles are no longer required to gain gas mileage figures - such as the GMC/Chevrolet 1500 HD trucks - because Congress made an exemption for vehicles having a certain capacity, and GM and Ford have both used the exemption to take "ordinary" vehicles out of gas mileage calculations. Some have suggested removing any exceptions for vehicles not requiring special licenses so accurate numbers can be obtained, and so vehicles will not actually be made more wasteful to avoid having them in the mix.

    October 30, 2002: Briefs

    From just-auto: Volkswagen's third quarter profit fell 51 percent , GM is planning to continue to gain market share and hurt reduce competitors' ability to invest in their future products by increasing incentives again, Ford has stopped production of Mustang Cobras due to quality problems (which must be pretty serious!), and Toyota's profit went up 90 percent to 554 billion yen in the first half. Goodyear is still getting clobbered with a $200 million sales loss over last year, and Ford plans to raise sales in Russia to 23,700 cars by 2005 - a rather small amount by American standards but a good start in a large country with potential for future wealth.

    November 1, 2002: Sales figures coming in...

    For October, so far, it seems that the big winners are the vehicles that cater to the wealthy. Ford took a major hit, presumably due to its #1 competitor's "zero down, zero payments for three months, zero percent interest" incentives - Ford brand sales are down 31.4%, Mercury is down 44.6%, Lincoln is down 22.2, even Volvo is down 19.7. Ford's only good news are Jaguar, up 3.7 (probably due to the new Ford-based X series) and Land Rover (which just introduced a new low-end model), up 53.3 percent - from a fairly small base. While last October was a record sales month, Ford is still down 280,000 sales year-to-date from this time in 2001 (9.4 percent).

    Meanwhile, Toyota, another mainstream brand, is down 20 percent from last October, but still ahead of last year by around 20,000 units. However, the two luxury brands reporting in so far, BMW and Mercedes, are both up. BMW is up 6.6 percent - NOT including the Mini - and Mercedes had its best sales month ever with 18,871 units sold (neither BMW nor Mercedes have high volume compared with, say, a single Toyota model, but prices and profits per vehicle are higher).

    (Information in this article was provided by Bill Cawthon. Actual language may be blamed on Allpar.com. We expect to have Chrysler figures shortly).

    November 4, 2002: Hi-po Stratus to appear at SEMA?

    According to Mr. Source, Dodge will show a high-performance Dodge Stratus with the 2.4 liter turbocharged engine at SEMA. No word yet on whether it will be available for sale as a production vehicle, but it seems likely. The SRT-6 should debut within the next two-three months as well, presumably with the supercharged 2.7 V6 that was originally to power the Crossfire.

    November 4, 2002: smart to hit US

    Chrysler might not have enough room for Plymouth, but there is still room for another low-end DaimlerChrysler brand. Bill Cawthon wrote:

    DaimlerChrysler AG will be producing a variant of the Smart 4-seat model at its Juiz de Fora site in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais. The model is based on the new compact car concept developed jointly with Mitsubishi.

    This is the first time for a Smart production site outside Europe. The Juiz de Fora plant is fairly new and currently produces the M-B A-Class for the South American market and the C-Class for North America.

    Jürgen Hubbert, head of Mercedes passenger cars and the Smart Division, remarked: "This variant underscores the great potential of the Smart brand. At the same time, it marks a major step toward Smart’s entry into the US market in coming years." (Hubbert originally targeted 2004 as the entry date for Smart vehicles.)

    "Our goal is to establish the Smart as a multi-product brand worldwide," said Andreas Renschler, CEO of Smart GmbH. "The model will build on Smart’s unmistakable flair with outstanding technical features and the design and interior elements typical of the brand, and will be closely aligned to customer preferences in the US market."

    November 4, 2002: October sales plummet for US automakers

    United States car sales plummeted 27% this October, compared with October 2001, a nosedive that failed to surprise many industry insiders. Automakers have generally been raising sales through heavy incentives, and incentive-fueled purchases borrow from the future. The future seems to be here.

    Ford was hit hardest among American automakers and, most likely, for overall volume, with a 34 percent drop month-to-month (Oct. 2001 to Oct. 2002). GM was nearly as bad with a 32 percent drop, while Chrysler fell 31 percent. Foreign automakers tended to do better, though Ford-owned Mazda fell 42 percent. Honda only fell 6 percent. Both BMW and Mercedes actually improved slightly. Even Toyota fell by 21 percent.

    November 5, 2002: Top Chrysler Sellers

    Bill Cawthon provided this list of the best sellers in the Chrysler stable. Sales figures (USA) are for January through October 2002.

    • Dodge Ram - 331,537
    • Dodge Caravan - 207,787
    • Jeep Grand Cherokee - 178,801
    • Jeep Liberty - 139,314
    • Chrysler PT Cruiser - 121,391
    • Dodge Dakota - 114,086
    • Dodge Neon - 109,388
    • Chrysler Town & Country - 107,609
    • Dodge Intrepid - 96,533
    • Dodge Durango - 91,875

    Warning: perspective can be depressing, so don't read farther if you're a Chrysler fan. That said, for comparison, the best selling vehicles in the US are (courtesy KeithO):

    • Ford F-Series pickup [this is a large variety of different models] 681,883
    • Chevy Silverado pickup [again, this includes light and heavy duty models but not GMC and Cadillac equivalents] 535,258
    • Toyota Camry [presumaly excluding Solara] 370,946
    • Ford Explorer - 363,719
    • Honda Accord - 337,152
    • Dodge Ram pickup [light and heavy duty] 331,537 - this is up 15 percent from 2001
    • Ford Taurus - 275,279 [heavy fleet sales]
    • Honda Civic 269,634
    • Toyota Corolla/Matrix 212,164 [why are these allowed together if Voyager and Town and Country are not? Who knows?]
    • Ford Focus 211,126
    • Dodge Caravan 207,787 [same as Voyager]
    • Chevrolet Cavalier 207,388 [same as Pontiac Sunfire]
    • Chevy TrailBlazer 203,609 [same as GMC Envoy]
    • Ford Ranger 196,780
    • Chevrolet Tahoe 173,782 [essentially the same as the Sububan, Yukon, Escalade etc, except for wheelbase and trim]
    • Nissan Altima 172,248 [a serious increase in sales]
    • GMC Sierra pickup 167,216 [essentially the Silverado]
    • Jeep Grand Cherokee 161,175
    • Chevrolet Impala 161,001
    • Chevrolet Malibu 143,815 [heavy fleet sales]

    November 5, 2002: Focus recalled - no, this isn't an old news item

    Yes, the Ford Focus has been recalled once again. Long-time Ford followers will not be surprised to learn the issue is unscheduled pyrotechnics. 572,795 2000 and 2001 model year Focus subcompacts are being recalled for safety issues including a potential for engine fires, an issue which seems to have afflicted Ford far more than other automakers. The Focus, while the darling of the automotive press, has suffered from repeated recalls and quality issues, prompting Ford to dredge out their highly successful "Quality is Job One" ad campaign.

    November 5, 2002: Chrysler to increase incentives

    Chrysler will be trying to better match GM's incentives to stem its fall in market share, which is currently 11.5 percent or nearly two percent below its Jan-Oct 2001 market share. GM's market share has improved, meanwhile, as it offered interest-free loans, cash rebates, no down payment, and three months without payment. This means GM's revenue per vehicle is lower, but by making more vehicles and amortizing their fixed costs, GM makes more money overall. Chrysler's Jim Schroer told Reuters, though, that incentives were only part of the story, and that many people saved (or borrowed) enough by refinancing mortgages to buy new cars - and that the rate of refinancing slowed in September, prompting the October auto sales losses. [As an example, a family which had a relatively good 7.375 percent 30-year mortgage could, in the current climate, replace it with a 5.5 percent 15-year mortgage, paying roughly the same amount each month, but also increasing the mortgage amount by enough for a new car or a down payment. Likewise, replacing a 7 percent mortgage with a same-term 5.5 percent mortgage would free up more than enough cash each month for a car payment.)

    We currently do not have details on Chrysler's higher incentives, but note that GM was doing three months without payment, zero percent, and rebates.

    November 5, 2002: Ram 1500 to get Hemi as 2003.5 model

    Hemi power will finally be coming to the Ram 1500 model, offering owners more power (345 horsepower and 375 lb.-ft. of torque) and better gas mileage than the current 360 / 5.9 liter engine. The Hemi option will be available only with a responsive five-speed automatic at first, and will cost $800. It appears to be available on all models, and we'd expect it to replace the 5.9 entirely in the near future.

    Chrysler's PR on the Hemi follows:

    Modern technology meets tried and true combustion with the all-new 5.7-liter HEMI Magnum. The use of the classic HEMI (hemispherical) head design creates optimal air flow, while twin spark plugs, direct ignition and Electronic Throttle Control (ETC) allow for smooth, efficient operation. Composite air-flow modules combine with cross-flow aluminum heads, splayed valves and investment cast rocker arms to deliver an awesome 100 horsepower increase and an additional 40 lb.-ft. torque compared with the 5.9-liter Magnum.

    Fuel efficiency is also improved by 10 percent over the 5.9-liter, while the new HEMI Magnum engine is approximately 60 lbs. lighter in weight. The 5.7-liter HEMI Magnum debuted in the all-new Dodge Ram Heavy Duty 2500 and 3500 as the standard engine offering, and replaces the 5.9-liter Magnum V-8 in the entire Dodge Ram truck line-up.

    In 1951, Chrysler introduced the HEMI V-8 engine to the public. The engine produced 180 horsepower, an impressive output in those days. The first cars to carry the new engine were the New Yorker and Saratoga lines. Between 1951-53, HEMI engines were offered on the Chrysler and Imperial, DeSoto and Dodge. Although the engines carried different names - "Firepower," "Firedome" and "Red Ram" - and were manufactured in separate facilities, they shared a similar design approach with each engine having its own size range.

    November 5, 2002: T-Rex lives

    Doug Hetrick notes an article in the December 2002 issue of Four-Wheeler. Apparently, a guy in New Mexico liked Dodge's T-Rex concept car, and chose to make his own, a 6x6 1995 Ram V-10 with 2.5 ton Rockwell axles. Believe it or not, it's painted Hemi-Cuda lime green.

    November 6, 2002: DCX plans another new plant

    After Chrysler was merged into Daimler-Benz, a large number of Chrysler plants were shut down to reduce costs. Now, DaimlerChrysler has already announced a new plant to build vans - far, far away from all existing Chrysler plants - and is considering another new one, to build engines. This time, however, the plant would, according to Chrysler CEO Dieter Zetsche, be located in Michigan or Ohio, near existing plants (Sterling Heights and Belvedere). The plant would build the new four cylinder engines jointly designed by Hyundai, Mitsubishi, and Chrysler, which will be used in the next-generation, Mitsubishi-based Neon, the next-generation, Mitsubishi-based Stratus, and Mitsubishi and Hyundai models. Over half a million of the engines are expected to be needed each year just in North America, with 1.5 million used across the world. Hyundai will start making it in South Korea in 2004. Eventually, all production may be centrally located, possibly in the United States.

    The implication of this may be negative for those who work in the plants that currently make the 2.0 and 2.4 liter engines used in the Neon, Stratus, PT Cruiser, Wrangler, and minivans. While the 2.4 might continue for a year or two after 2005, the existing plant's days would seem to be numbered unless it is converted to produce the new engines.

    November 7, 2002: Long-wheelbase Wrangler finally to be produced?

    The long-wheelbase Jeep Wrangler, discussed for years, may actually reach production within the next year. Adding two doors and between 1.5 and 2 feet of length, the long Wrangler would help to replace the old Cherokee for buyers who want something more "rough and ready" than the Liberty, but would also like to have more interior space and four doors.

    November 7, 2002: CAS lemon list

    The Center for Auto Safety announced its annual "lemon list" of cars with the largest number of complaints on file with the National Traffic and Highway Safety Administration. The following number is an index which adjusts the number of complaints for actual vehicle sales, so that the best sellers aren't penalized and the slow sellers allowed to get away. This list goes from worst to less-bad, so that the vehicle with the most complaints (adjusted for sales volume) is the Japanese Mazda MPV. Note Ford's representation with three of the top five - and that three minivans are on the list, but none are made by Chrysler! (The "lemon list" minivans are the Ford Windstar, Honda Odyssey, and Mazda MPV.) Indeed, Chrysler has done very well overall, with only two vehicles near the bottom of the list - both slated for replacement in the near future. None of Chrysler's new vehicles are represented.

    No less than five Fords are on the list, including Lincoln/Mercury - but not including Land Rover. Honda has three vehicles but to be fair, they only actually make one of them. (Still, you can use the Odyssey's placement as justification for sticking with Dodge minivans.) Notable also is Hyundai and Kia's relatively low representation, with only one model from each maker on the list - a better showing than Honda. (Toyota had a single truck.)

    • Mazda MPV 11,090
    • Kia Sportage 7,204
    • Ford Excursion 6,682
    • Ford Windstar 4,550
    • Mercury Cougar 4,342
    • Honda Passport 3,691
    • Honda S2000 3,510
    • Mitsubishi Eclipse 3,421
    • Isuzu Rodeo 3,393
    • Ford Explorer 3,039
    • Land Rover Range Rover 3,034
    • Audi A6 2,982
    • Hyundai Tiburon 2,954
    • Honda Odyssey 2,825
    • Lincoln LS 2,753
    • Jeep Grand Cherokee 2,744
    • Volkswagen Passat 2,676
    • Buick LeSabre 2,555
    • Suzuki Grand Vitara 2,552
    • Chevrolet Blazer 2,541
    • Chevrolet Impala 2,463
    • Jeep Wrangler 2,456
    • Toyota Tundra 2,454
    • Dodge Dakota 2,380

    November 7, 2002: Mopar announces new aftermarket parts, stores

    Mopar today announced a new focus on renewing passion among existing customers while finding new markets for emerging vehicle categories. Christine Cortez, Senior Vice President - Global Service and Parts, said, "One of the ways is through the Mopar Speedshop. Creating a Mopar Speedshop in every retail store gives dealers an enthusiast connection with customers. It's the idea of a store within a store; a boutique. We see the Speedshop as an interactive hangout for car nuts."

    A SEMA Show exhibitor since 1976 -- the longest running of any OEM brand -- Mopar has been the Chrysler Group's parts brand since 1937. As part of Chrysler Group's Manufacturer of Show presence, Mopar placed products and displays throughout the SEMA Show and unveiled a number of new parts.

    "We've just begun to unleash a stream of great new products," said Kevin Miller, Senior Manager - Mopar Performance and Brand Marketing. "We're dialing up the excitement for new Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge vehicles such as SRT-4 and PT Turbo by creating a stock of parts and a selection of accessories to support and personalize every single one."

    Mopar Performance Parts announced plans for a complete line of Dodge SRT-4 parts including Stage I, II and III Turbo upgrade kits, coilover suspensions, annodized engine parts and performance seating.

    Mopar Accessories unveiled new appearance products at SEMA including body accent kits, "Euro-style" taillamps, aggressive audio upgrades, PT Chrome packages, PT Cruiser "baby moon" wheels and a new satellite navigation system.

    Mopar can trace its roots to 1937, when the brand was born by combining the words MOtor and PARts. Mopar Parts has developed and sold parts for some of the most legendary names in American history, including Chrysler, Plymouth, DeSoto, Jeep and Dodge.

    November 7, 2002: Minivans recalled

    Chrysler is recalling about half a million 1996-1998 minivans and providing a partial lifetime warranty on 1.3 million more due to clocksprings which may have been installed off-center. This would cause the airbag warning light to come on, and the airbag, horn, or cruise control to stop working. About 164 people told NHTSA about the problem, and two people said it caused injuries because they were in a crash and the airbag did not work. Chrysler said, though, that one of those injuries involved a person who had seen the warning light on months earlier, but ignored it - and the other injury was unrelated. Announcement letters will be sent over the next month.

    November 7, 2002: Celine Dion to be Chrysler spokesman

    The Canadian singer will get over $10 million to represent Chrysler over the next several years. Click here for discussion.

    November 8, 2002: Hemi to replace 5.9 soon, Mound Rd to close

    The Mound Road engine plant, purchased from Briggs Manufacturing in 1953, will close down in late 2002. At that time, production of the current 5.9 liter V-8 and, according to Detroit News, the 8-liter truck V-10, will cease at that time, with the engines replaced by the Hemi. The 5.9, 3.9, and V-10 are based on the LA series, which stretches back over 40 years and included the popular 318/5.2 liter engine which was a staple in passenger cars and trucks for decades. The V-10 will presumably be replaced by the 6.1 liter Hemi in truck use. (Thanks, Doug Hetrick)

    November 8, 2002: Consumer Reports dings Mercedes, Chrysler minivans

    Consumer Reports' latest reliability survey (see critique here) did not rate a single Mercedes model as having acceptable quality, according to a Detroit News summary. The Jaguar S and X type were among the least reliable vehicles, according to the survey. The rating which will probably have the most disastrous effect for Chrysler is the placement of its minivans on the "not recommended" list due to below-average quality - even though complaints to NHTSA show the Caravan and its kin as being far better than the Honda Odyssey, which was recommended. This may be because most of the complaints about the minivans in CR had to do with "power equipment, electrical systems, air conditioning, body integrity and brakes." A Chrysler spokesman said that warranty reports showed no decline in quality.

    We will have more information later - stay tuned. Last year, the PT Cruiser was the third-highest rated small car, after the Toyota Echo and Toyota Corolla/Prizm, easily beating the Honda Civic.

    November 8, 2002: Hemi exhibition at Walter Chrysler museum

    Pete Hagenbuch wrote: "Have you heard about the Hemi Exhibition at the Walter P. Chrysler Museum this winter? History of the Hemi at Chrysler starting with the XIV-2220 inverted V-16 aero engine thru the 50s and 60s all the way to the Hemi Magnum truck engine for 2003. Cunninghams, Dual-Ghia, Facel Vega, Allard, Indy pace cars, the Saratoga that won the Carrera Panamericana, Swamp Rat, Hemi Under Glass, Lil Red Truck, and Silver Bullet, to name just a few. ”

    November 8, 2002: Mound Road plant closing - again

    The Mound Road plant closing will end production of the 8-liter V-10 used in trucks, as well as the 5.9 liter V8. However, Viper V-10 production is currently at the Conner Road plant. Note that overall, no jobs should be lost by the Mound Road plant closing, as production has shifted to the Mack Ave. plant instead. This may be on reason why the Hemi will be available in all Dodge Rams - because the 5.9 will not be made past next month.

    [Perspective] Overall, it's hard to argue with this decision. The Hemi is reportedly cheaper to build than the 5.9 - and, last we heard, cheaper than the 4.7. The 5.9 gets lower gas mileage and has less power than the Hemi. It simply makes sense to concentrate production in one place. Though the loss of the V-10 will eliminate some prestige points from the small number of people who buy V-10 equipped Rams, the 6.1 Hemi will cost Chrysler far less to build (so the option will be cheaper, presumably) and should easily outdo the V-10 in gas mileage, and probably power, as well.

    November 8, 2002: Chrysler fuel cell vehicle lauded

    The Chrysler Town & Country Natrium, a fuel cell concept vehicle based on the popular minivan, has been recognized with a "2002 Best of What's New" Award from Popular Science magazine.

    The Natrium, which made its first public test drives in the Spring of 2002, uses a unique fuel and fuel cell system to provide the hydrogen needed by the vehicle's fuel cells to produce electricity.

    "Attempting to solve the eternal 'where do we get the hydrogen?' question," the magazine said in making the award, "Chrysler this year unveiled the most imaginative solution we've seen. Its Natrium minivan is powered by sodium borohydride - essentially, laundry detergent combined with hydrogen."

    The hydrogen is extracted from the sodium borohydride fuel using patented "Hydrogen on Demand" technology from Millennium Cell Inc. in Eatontown, New Jersey.

    The unique fuel and fuel cell system give the Natrium a range of 300 miles, comparable to a gas-powered vehicle. In addition, the fuel is nonflammable and emits no smog-forming or greenhouse gases. Sodium borohydride is available in abundant supplies in the United States, and the fuel can be recycled.

    "Each of the fuels being studied for fuel cell vehicles - including gasoline, methanol and compressed hydrogen - has significant drawbacks," noted Thomas Moore, Vice President and head of the Liberty research group. "We want to explore fully this approach to fuel cell vehicles, so that when the time comes to select the best fuels, we can make informed decisions."

    It should be noted that the Natrium is based on research by Chrysler's own Liberty group, which started the program before the takeover, though the company's press materials refer to it as a DaimlerChrysler achievement.

    November 8, 2002: Ram wins award

    The 2003 Dodge Ram Heavy Duty 2500 pickup has won Truckin' magazine's "Truck of the Year" award, the publication's editorial director announced today. During an intensive three-week competition, the Dodge Ram 2500 4x4 Quad Cab with 345 horsepower upstaged all of its rivals in the competition.

    Steve Warner, Editorial Director, Truckin', wrote, "The Dodge Ram Heavy Duty 2500 is the personification of all things good in the exciting world of OEM trucks. Because we take pickup trucks seriously, we evaluate them for all their intended functions. And while we included pickups from every manufacturer in this test, the Dodge Ram proved to be most adept at showing us all the qualities enthusiasts look for in a four-wheel drive pickup."

    All testing was conducted by the Truckin' magazine staff over the course of three weeks and included both empirical as well as subjective tests. The staff logged roughly 3,000 miles on each vehicle. Testing criteria included fuel efficiency, standing 1/4-mile mph, 0-60 mph numbers and 60-0 mph braking. The Dodge Ram 2500 4x4, completely redesigned for 2003, scored highly in every category. The all-new Dodge Ram Heavy Duty boasts the option of two or four standard doors, the all-new 345 horsepower 5.7-liter HEMI Magnum engine as standard equipment and the most powerful diesel engine available in a pickup, the all-new 5.9-liter High Output Cummins Turbo Diesel with 555 lb.-ft. of torque.

    The Truckin' "Truck of the Year" competition will appear in the February 2003 edition of the magazine. Click here for more information on the new Rams.

    November 8, 2002: Diesel Liberty in the US?!

    At some point within the next six months, Chrysler will decide whether or not to make a diesel version of the Jeep Liberty (Cherokee) available within the United States, according to Chrysler head of advanced engineering Bernard Robertson. The vehicle would appear before 2006, when low-sulfur diesel fuel will be mandated. While Chrysler's diesel trucks are very popular, the company has no way to judge the popularity of non-pickup diesels in the US. Robertson said that a survey found only six percent of potential customers would consider a diesel. However, Robertson also said the survey would not influence the company's decision. Having a diesel could widen the Liberty's customer base, and actually seeing a modern, quiet, clean diesel could change some customers' attitudes about the technology, which tends to yield relatively high gas mileage. The Liberty is already equipped with advanced diesel engines in Europe, and diesel-equipped Volkswagens have proved to be popular.

    November 8, 2002: Dangers of child seats

    "Tog," one of the inventors of the original, famed Macintosh interface, has an article on his site about unforeseen dangers of child and infant seats. Click here to read it.

    November 10, 2002: Anti-DCX lawsuits move forward

    For details on the current status of lawsuits which seek to break Chrysler off from Daimler-Benz again, based on published statements by Juergen Schrempp that Chrysler was never intended to be an equal partner - which would mean that the terms of the takeover were far too unfavorable for Chrysler stockholders - click here (Detroit News).

    November 12, 2002: Hyundai builds in Alabama

    Parts maker Hyundai Mobis is building a $30 million plant near Montgomery, Alabama, to supply the new Hyundai factory being built there.

    November 12, 2002: Congress goes back on hybrid breaks

    The new Congress is expected to remove tax breaks and rebates for buyers of qualifying high-mileage vehicles almost as soon as it returns from its break. The goal behind the breaks was to jump-start new technologies by creating economies of scale. Toyota has, on its own, decided to implement hybrid-electric powerplants across the board in order to reach production levels where hybrid vehicles would not be much more expensive than "normal" vehicles, but this decision is likely to cut into Toyota Prius sales.

    November 12, 2002: First DCX product due in the US soon

    The first product to be completely designed by DaimlerChrysler as a corporate entity is soon to reach the United States, via Brazil. Dan Minick sent us Mitsubishi's Web site for the next-generation Colt, which was designed jointly by Mitsubishi and smart. The four-seater's marketing in the US is unknown - will it be a smart, a Mitsubishi, a Dodge, or a combination of these?

    Other forthcoming joint products include the next-generation Neon/Lancer, Sebring/Stratus/Galant, Grand Cherokee/M-Class, and presumably many more in the future. (Note: the Crossfire appears to be entirely a Mercedes vehicle under the skin, but it may also be a joint product of Mercedes and Chrysler - we do not have the information to classify it now.)

    November 12, 2002: Smart details

    The new Smart car for the United States, codeveloped by Mitsubishi and Daimler's Smart brand (originally created with Swatch), will have four doors and all wheel drive. In addition, a two-door hatch and four-door microvan for European sale will be built in a Mitsubishi plant in Born, the Netherlands. All will go on sale in 2004.

    Mercedes head Juergen Hubbert, who is responsible for Maybach (essentially an upscale Mercedes) and Smart, said that the marketing study showed unbridled enthusiasm for the city cars.

    The four-door Smart will be produced in Mercedes' Juiz de Fora, Brazil, plant. DCX is to invest $500 million in the plant to bring it up to capacity, incidentally avoiding large penalties by Brazil for downsizing the plant. Chrysler's nearby Dodge Dakota plant, which is brand new and state of the art, has been closed, incurring said penalties - but on the Chrysler Group side of the ledger.

    Thanks to Doug Hetrick and Dan Minick for sending Smart information.

    November 13, 2002: Dodge unveils new Pro Stock Stratus

    At SEMA, Mopar spokesman unveiled the new Hemi-powered Dodge Stratus R/T Pro Stock car for the 2003 NHRA drag season, just one year after bringing out the Neon R/T dragster. The vehicle, designed to look more like current Stratus R/Ts, has been updated throughout, with better aerodynamics and newer technology. Click here for more details. (Thanks, Pat Clement)

    November 13, 2002: Mitsubishi on a roll

    With its advertising finally getting people to try out new Mitsubishis - which in our opinion are ready for prime time (Ok, the SUVs feel underpowered, but the cars are nice) - the company is planning a second North American plant, and is about to roll out a bunch of new vehicles, some designed with Chrysler, some designed independently. Dan Minick summarized an article in just-auto.com, where the head of Mitsubishi North America, Pierre Gagnon, stated that: (comments in brackets are ours)

    • the new Galant will be out in Fall 2003, three months ahead of schedule [this one was, we are told, designed entirely by Mitsubishi, and is not the shared-platform version to be sold as the Dodge Stratus replacement]
    • The Lancer Sportback (Lancer Cedia Wagon) is to be brought to the US in 2003, helping to fill America's craving for SUV styling in convenient car form
    • The hot-performing Lancer EVO will hit the US in 2003, [competing directly with the Dodge SRT-4]
    • Mitsubishi has more than 20 projects currently with Chrysler, including engineering, development and purchasing.
    • Mitsubishi USA dealers are begging for a pickup, and sharing production with Chrysler has been discussed. [A small MMC pickup sold as a Dodge, like the old Ram 50, would not be entirely unexpected - it would help Mitsubishi achieve the volume it would need to build a small pickup in the US, while filling a gaping hole in the Dodge line. If produced, it would most likely have an optional 3.7 V6, but that's pure speculation.]
    • The Endeavor SUV will be shown in January.

    November 15, 2002: DCX Services reshuffle

    The following is a DCX press release.

    DaimlerChrysler Services North America has announced the appointment of several key executives.

    Paul Knauss is appointed vice president - Chrysler Financial, reporting to Juergen Walker, president and CEO, DaimlerChrysler Services North America. Knauss is now responsible for all of the activities in North America and Canada plus DaimlerChrysler Insurance Company. Knauss replaces Thomas McAlear who is retiring “in order to pursue other opportunities”. [their quotes]

    Mark Manzo, formerly vice president - Chrysler brands marketing, will replace Knauss as vice president - customer service reporting to Walker. Manzo will be responsible for organizational strategy development and operations for collections, customer service, vehicle remarketing and credit card.

    Dietmar Exler is appointed vice president - Chrysler brands marketing reporting to Knauss. Exler is responsible for the marketing activities of the Chrysler Financial brand. In his previous position, Exler served as senior manager - operations programme management.

    Martin Geers is appointed to the newly created position of vice president - communications and corporate marketing reporting to Walker. He will oversee the entire operations in communications, public relations, event marketing and marketing communications. Geers previously was head of international communications and public relations for the Chrysler Group in Auburn Hills and has been with DaimlerChrysler since 1985. [This is quite a feat since DaimlerChrysler did not exist in 1985. Perhaps they meant he joined Chrysler in 1985.]

    November 15, 2002: Nuclear shipping accident

    Russ noted that a Norwegian newspaper covered the collision of a United States nuclear submarine with a Norwegian gas tanker, damaging the latter's hull. No injuries have been reported, and thanks to the tanker's dual hull, no fuel leaked. The US did not acknowledge that its Oklahoma City attack sub was involved, though it did report a collision with an "unknown merchant vessel" at the same time as the tanker reported its accident.

    November 15, 2002: Lincoln comes home

    Ford's Lincoln group has been brought back from California to Michigan after a brief stay.

    November 15, 2002: GM readies new mid-sized cars

    GM is preparing a new, smaller fleet of mid-sized cars, including a new version of the fast-selling Chevy Malibu. Details will be released soon. Chryser's own mid-sized Stratus and Sebring have been selling slowly and will soon be replaced by Galant-based models.

    November 18, 2002: Ford to cut dealer "satisfaction" payments

    Ford will make substantial cuts to payments under its version of the Five Star customer satisfaction program, according to Detroit News. Ford brought out its dealer-service quality program amidts heavy fanfare, touting its independent judges (J.D. Power), but Ford set the bar low enough to allow most dealers to qualify without any changes. (Chrysler set the bar higher, but perhaps fatally damaged the program's credibility by allowing zone reps to certify dealers.)

    November 19, 2002: DCX testing the waters with diesel Jeeps

    Doug Hetrick noted that Truck Trend road-tested the Jeep Grand Cherokee with its Detroit Diesel 2.7 liter turbodiesel, and found much to like, saying the tradeoff between gas mileage, overall price (lower than the V8 model), and acceleration ended up in favor of the diesel. The review (click here to read it) also noted that a "top" German publication, 4 Wheel Fun, chose the Grand Cherokee diesel over the Mercedes ML270, which uses a Mercedes diesel.

    If the Truck Trend review was supported by DCX, it could be a sign that Chrysler is getting more serious about finding out American reactions to current diesels, and may be getting ready to put one into the Liberty and next-generation Grand Cherokee (both sport diesels in Europe already). Diesel engines may also be a key to raising Durango sales, which have fallen since the TrailBlazer arrived with a more powerful, more economical straight-six engine.

    November 19, 2002: Chrysler reorganizes zones

    Chrysler is reorganizing its old 24-zone geographical office system with eight (so far) main business centers in the United States. Zone officials have, in Allpar's experiences, generally been lambasted for their poor customer service, tending to prefer to avoid customers. Chrysler says the move will improve communication, better align the zones with the corporate strategy and marketing efforts, and save money, albeit also dislocating current zone employees (who are being offered relocation).

    At the moment, marketing and vehicle content are handled nationally, but this move would allow regions to have greater control over marketing and content.

    The business centers will have their own finance, legal, marketing, parts, service, fleet, customer relations, training, and warranty staff. The zones had 24 managers with 78 dealer operations managers.

    Regional business centers have been or are being set up in Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Los Angeles, New York, Orlando, and Washington, DC. Current zone managers are being re-assigned to handle service and parts, field operations, marketing, or the dealer network.

    November 19, 2002: Tires to be relabelled

    As part of the Ford Explorer tire fall-out, where Ford told customers to underinflate tires, leading to tire separations, the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration has ordered that tires be marked with an identification number and the date of manufacture on both sides, and that automakers put more clear, colorful labels onto their driver-side door pillars to tell owners what the recommended inflation pressures are. This will ease recalls and help owners to know what the automaker things the tire pressure should be.

    November 19, 2002: First fuel cell vehicle to be mass produced

    Toyota has gained government permission to mass produce a fuel cell vehicle, another first from the company that was first to market with a hybrid-electric. See full details at Corolland.

    November 19, 2002: New Chryslers - sneak peak

    The 2004 Chryslers will all sport nearly-identical front clips, with massive grilles and slanting headlights, according to a 2003 dealership brochure. A photo of the lineup appears at http://www.autonews.com/.

    November 20, 2002: Chrysler museum opening soon

    Pete Hagenbuch wrote that the "Grand Opening" gala is scheduled for Friday Nov.22. "One of the Cunninghams on display is the C4R which raced at Le Mans in 1951-54. The Dual-Ghia is a fresh restoration and is just gorgeous! And the Chrysler Allard is so mean and ugly looking it's almost beautiful! There's lots of NASCARs and dragsters and a few funny cars too. For more, you can visit the museum at http://www.daimlerchrysler.com/museum." A Hemi exhibition is one of the museum's first.

    December 2, 2002: Liberty diesel news

    The Liberty diesel will have a 2.8 liter, four cylinder engine made by VM Motori (surprisingly not Detroit Diesel or Mercedes), putting out 150 horsepower. Due to the Liberty's heavy weight, that will yield a 0-60 time of about 13 seconds, compared with 10 seconds for the gas V-6 (both slower, incidentally, than the PT Cruiser.) The good news, though, is that the diesel version could have 30 mpg highway with two wheel drive - the gas version delivers 24 mpg with the 2.4 four cylinder. The diesel will be in both rear and four wheel drive configurations, manual or automatic. There is still no word on cost, and only 5,000 will be made in the first year to test the market (Volkswagen imports 20,000 diesel-powered cars to the US each year, by comparison).

    Chrysler killed the gas-electric hybrid Dodge Durango TTR due to disappointing acceleration and economy (and, we suspect, the imminent redesign of the Durango). The same powertrain was tested in a minivan, but that project was killed due to cost.

    Thanks to Doug Hetrick for pointing out the AutoWeek article which contained this information.

    December 2, 2002: Chrysler to power new Smart/Mitsubishi

    The 1.4 and 1.6 liter engines developed cooperatively with Rover, and reportedly based on the Neon engine, currently powers the BMW Mini (at least, the 1.6 liter version does) - including the supercharged Cooper S, the only Mini to have truly sporty acceleration. This "Pentagon" engine will, according to The Car Connection, be used in the North American version of the upcoming four door Smart / Mitsubishi Colt. The engine is made in Brazil.

    BMW is reportedly planning to move the Mini to a new Peugeot engine, most likely to avoid reliance on rival DaimlerChrysler. (Thanks, Dan Minick.)

    December 2, 2002: Chrysler to trim minivan lineup again

    Bill Cawthon of just-auto reported:

    Chrysler is planning to trim its minivan lineup. Currently the company offers 21 different models (including European versions) ranging from the base, short wheelbase Dodge Caravan SE at around $20,000 to the fully equipped Chrysler Town & Country at $39,000.

    The base eC Voyager and Caravan models are already missing from the 2003 new model lineup, but Chrysler wants to cut even more models as the company continues to look for ways to reduce costs. The problem is which ones to cut: there are no uniform, nationwide preferences and a model that sits on one dealer's lot is another dealer's bread-and-butter.

    The decision won't be made soon and is unlikely to be implemented before the next generation of minivans is rolled out in 2005 or 2006.

    Incidentally, Chrysler says it will sell its ten-millionth minivan sometime in either December or January.

    Allpar's opinion: Chrysler does need to cut back on the confusing number of trim levels, but also needs some unusual features, such as small diesels - already sold in Europe - and a manual transmission version, to capture or recapture as much of the market as they can. They also need to publicize the all wheel drive van so people know it exists. Despite what Chrysler seems to think, Honda isn't going away, and Toyota's coming on strong in the next generation, while Ford and Mercury are bound to close the gap - and everyone seems to be in the minivan horsepower race except Chrysler. Only Chrysler has the sales volume, overall, to justify niche vans at this point. They need to act while they still can.

    December 3, 2002: Chrysler November sales are in...as well as GM

    General Motors dealers sold 309,263 new cars and trucks in November in the United States, down 18 percent versus November 2001. GM's overall truck sales (171,862) were down 26 percent; car sales (137,401) were down 6 percent. Meanwhile, Chrysler seems to be doing moderately well:

    Quoted verbatim from Chrysler PR:

    Chrysler Group reported U.S. sales of 158,839 units in November 2002, up 10 percent from October 2002, though down 12 percent compared to November of 2001, when 173,361 vehicles were sold.

    In November 2002 there were 26 selling days versus 25 days in November 2001.

    Led by the launch of the all-new 2003 Dodge Ram 2500 and 3500 Heavy Duty pickup trucks, total Ram sales in November were 30,585 units, up 13 percent from October 2002, and up nine percent from last year's November sales volume of 26,941 units....

    Jeep(R) Liberty reported strong sales of 15,343 units for the month, up eight percent from October 2002 and one percent ahead of the November 2001 mark of 14,670. With 21,308 units sold, Jeep Grand Cherokee sales also improved, up 26 percent vs. October 2002 and three percent compared to November a year ago...

    Additional November sales highlights, compared to the same month last year:

    • Dodge passenger car sales rose by 22 percent to 23,280 units.
    • Dodge Neon sales of 9,343 units, up 54 percent. Neon sales posted their sixth consecutive month-over-month gain.
    • Dodge Stratus Sedan sales of 6,072 units, up 36 percent versus last year.
    • Dodge Intrepid sales of 6,904 units, up two percent.

      Month Sales DR % Sales CYTD DR %
      Model Curr Yr Pr Yr Change Curr Yr Pr Yr Change
      Cirrus 0 0 0% 0 371 -100%
      Sebring Sedan 3,056 4,841 -39% 53,874 52,094 3%
      Sebring Coupe 521 1,343 -63% 11,265 15,509 -28%
      Sebring Convertible 1,671 2,506 -36% 41,627 42,997 -4%
      Concorde 2,190 3,548 -41% 29,028 29,051 0%
      300M 2,109 3,446 -41% 30,015 33,595 -11%
      LHS 0 315 -100% 552 8,623 -94%
      Prowler 39 114 -67% 1,289 974 0%
      CHRYSLER CAR 9,586 16,113 -43% 167,650 183,214 -9%
      PT Cruiser 8,537 12,067 -32% 129,928 132,041 -2%
      Voyager 1,852 3,209 -45% 35,481 41,761 -15%
      Town & Country 8,712 12,154 -31% 116,321 130,297 -11%
      CHRYSLER TRUCK 19,101 27,430 -33% 281,730 304,439 -8%
      CHRYSLER BRAND 28,687 43,543 -37% 449,380 487,653 -8%
      Wrangler 4,295 5,274 -22% 59,279 63,970 -8%
      Cherokee 0 244 -100% 0 74,248 -100%
      Liberty 15,343 14,670 1% 154,657 75,722 104%
      Grand Cherokee 21,308 19,986 3% 200,109 202,516 -2%
      JEEP BRAND 40,946 40,174 -2% 414,045 416,456 -1%
      CP CAR 9,586 16,527 -44% 168,255 214,246 -22%
      CPJ TRUCK 60,047 67,604 -15% 695,775 720,895 -4%
      CPJ DIVISION 69,633 84,131 -20% 864,030 935,141 -8%
      Neon 9,343 5,827 54% 118,731 99,384 19%
      Stratus Sedan 6,072 4,278 36% 83,096 82,443 0%
      Stratus Coupe 916 1,562 -44% 17,830 20,996 -15%
      Avenger 0 0 0% 0 143 -100%
      Intrepid 6,904 6,511 2% 103,437 102,243 1%
      Viper 45 120 -64% 1,434 1,292 11%
      DODGE CAR 23,280 18,298 22% 324,528 306,501 6%
      Dakota 8,045 12,245 -37% 122,131 142,936 -15%
      Ram P/U 30,585 26,941 9% 362,122 314,285 15%
      Caravan 17,888 18,618 -8% 225,675 223,570 1%
      Durango 7,623 9,468 -23% 99,498 120,775 -18%
      Ram Wagon 53 571 -91% 10,661 17,719 -40%
      Ram Van 1,732 3,089 -46% 24,307 34,280 -29%
      DODGE TRUCK 65,926 70,932 -11% 844,394 853,565 -1%
      DODGE DIVISION 89,206 89,230 -4% 1,168,922 1,160,066 0%
      TOTAL CAR 32,866 34,825 -9% 492,783 520,747 -6%
      TOTAL TRUCK 125,973 138,536 -13% 1,540,169 1,574,460 -3%
      TOTAL CAR & TRUCK 158,839 173,361 -12% 2,032,952 2,095,207 -3%
      Total Minivan 28,452 33,981 -19% 377,477 395,968 -5%
      Total Sport Utility 48,569 49,642 -6% 513,543 537,231 -5%
      Selling Days 26 25 282 281

      December 4, 2002: November sales analysis

      Most of the credit for this analysis and information goes to Bill Cawthon. However, we take credit for any errors or poor judgement arising from our take on his views.

      The auto industry expected November to be disappointing, but the sales results may have been worse than they thought. Total volume fell nearly 8% from October - down 13% from November 2001 - and only Chrysler had a sales increase since last month.

      Aggressive incentives did not prevent American automakers' market share from falling below 59%. Most sales were light trucks, with 2 million full size pickups sold so far in 2002, and 300,000 SUVs sold in November alone. The Dodge Ram is doing well, the only full-size pickup posting both monthly and year-to-year gains in November. But light truck sales fell 26% in November.

      GM had a particularly nasty surprise, with new rebates failing to prevent market share from falling to 25% thanks to an 18% sales decline - and, for GM, an 18% decline is big.

      Ford fared even worse than GM, with a 20% drop in November, based on daily selling rates (by an absolute benchmark, Ford only fell 17%) - but cumulative sales are down by 10% for the year. The Ford brand, though not the company, is still the sales leader, and the F-series is close in sales to all four GM full size pickups combined - strange, given the many advantages of the GM pickups, and dangerous for GM, since the F-series will be redesigned soon.

      Chrysler posted the smallest decline of the domestics, 12%, but still gave up market share to the Japanese automakers. Honda actually increased 4.6%, probably due to new SUVs as well as the redesigned Accord, while Toyota and Nissan posted relatively small declines of 5.2% and 1.6%, respectively. All remain ahead of their 2001 sales totals, but Toyota’s lead is less than one percent.

      Mercedes, Audi, (Ford-owned) Land Rover and a resurgent (Nissan) Infiniti reported their best-ever November results. The new G35 sedan and sport coupe are giving Infiniti their first really competitive mainstream products, while the Mercedes E-Class is continuing to be a sales success, passing the C-Class in monthly sales. Audi may hit a new sales record this year, while Volkswagen sales fell 17% last year.

      The best selling car is likely to be the Camry again, followed by the Accord and Taurus, all at the top ofo the charts for a decade. The Corolla is gaining on the Civic, while the Dodge Caravan will easily be the best-selling van, followed by either the Odyssey or Windstar. Meanwhile, Chrysler's best selling car, the PT Cruiser, had the worst month in its history, dropping well below 10,000 units.

      The Jeep Grand Cherokee was the second best selling SUV in November, after the Ford Explorer.

      December 5, 2002: Toyota creates CO2-based a/c - no need for R134a!

      (From Corolland, based on a just-auto.com article): Toyota and Denso (a parts company associated with Toyota) have developed the world's first non-fluorocarbon car air conditioner by using carbon dioxide (CO2) under high pressure in Toyota's fuel cell hybrid vehicle FCHV. Most vehicles use HFC-134a, which contributes to global warming even though it is not harmful to the ozone layer.

      The new unit operates as a heat exchanger, removing the need to have a heater core robbing heat from the engine in the winter. However, to work well, the CO2 needs to be under very high pressure, requiring stronger tubes, tanks, and compressors.

      Carbon dioxide for the units would be created from purified gases from chemical plants - most would presumably be created using byproducts from industrial processes.

      December 5, 2002: Chrysler - quick sales analysis

      With Plymouth out of the way, it would seem that the Chrysler brand has had room to grow - albeit downwards. In reality, the loss of Plymouth still seems to have been more of a benefit for Ford, GM, and Toyota, but the Chrysler brand is not doing too badly with a year to date sales loss from 2001 of 9 percent. The 300M Special seems to have backfired on Chrysler, with journalists and customers complaining of its cheapened interior, and an overall sales drop of 11 percent through November - 41 percent month-to-month! Year to year, the Concorde has held steady, the Sebring Sedan has had a slight improvement (3 percent, or 1,800 units), while the Mitsubishi-made Sebring Coupe has continued to fall, reaching a mere 11,265 units year-to-date (down 28 percent from last year, and roughly one fifth of the sedan's sales). Chrysler's best-selling car remains the PT Cruiser, by a large margin, but since it isn't officially classified as a car, the Sebring Sedan will have to take the honors in its place, with 52,094 units - beating out the Sebring Convertible by 9,000 units, and the 300M by 18,000. The Concorde, larger but not as sexy as the 300M, sold only 30,000 units, down 11 percent from last year.

      Minivan sales were also disappointing for Chrysler, with the Voyager and Town and Country both down. Only the PT Cruiser was a bright spot, with 130,000 sales so far this year, down only 2 percent from last year.

      Over at Jeep, the numbers are looking better, with the Liberty making up for the absence of the Cherokee - or, rather, with the redesigned Cherokee doing well, and hopefully making more money per unit thanks to lower warranty costs. The Wrangler dropped a bit, but the old-fashioned "niche vehicle" turned in more sales than any Chrysler-branded car, 59,279 to date. The Grand Cherokee roughly held its own, with a 2 percent drop to 200,100 units. Not bad for a vehicle that's about to be replaced in a hotly competitive market - and good enough for a #2 position on the best-selling SUVs list. Frankly, we still like it better than the #1 Explorer.

      The Neon has posted gains in sales, presumably due to lower pricing and the buzz around the SRT-4. Shipments were up to 119,000, a 19 percent increase over the same time last year. The other Dodge models did well, holding their own or improving slightly, while the Mitsubishi-made Stratus Coupe fell 15 percent and was, aside from the Viper, the slowest-selling Dodge by a huge margin. The next slowest seller, the Stratus Sedan, managed 83,000 units - the Coupe could only sell 18,000. Meanwhile, the Intrepid sold a respectable 103,437 units.

      Truck news was mixed, with massive increases in pickup sales (15 percent higher than last year, for a total of 362,122 sold) making up for massive drops in Dakota/Durango (about 16 percent combined) sales. The Durango, despite being outclassed in many ways by the TrailBlazer, managed to sell about as many units as the Neon - 99,500. The Ram Wagon and Ram Van together sold 36,000 units in what may well be their last year, still beating the Mitsubishi coupes. The Caravan held its own once again, with 225,675 sales, leaving the Dodge division roughly even with last year. So, overall, year to year, Chrysler sold 5 percent fewer cars, minivans, and SUVs, which is not terrible considering the competition, climate, and Daimler-klutziness-induced loss of many traditional Mopar fans. Future products may well help Chrysler to regain some of its lost ground - assuming they can get back to basics and make their minivans the most desired models once again.

      December 5, 2002: Rumor: new vehicle start dates

      According to "Mr. Source," the current LH series will continue to be produced through August 2003. 2004 model-year LHs will start in February 2003, with both the 2003 and 2004 model years being cut short. The LX series will start production, one model at a time, in late 2003.

      The Sebring/Stratus sedans and convertibles will switch to the 2004 model year on January 21, 2003, while the 2004 Grand Cherokee will enter production almost immediately in 2003, on January 2. That will be the last model year for the current Grand Cherokee, which is to be replaced by a model jointly designed with Mercedes; Mr. Source did not mention it, but we understand the 2005 Grand Cherokee will start production in October 2003, with the predictable engine lineup of new truck V6, 4.7 V8, and 5.7 Hemi, along with the possibility of a 3.0 Mercedes diesel which may or may not make it into the North American lineup.

      December 5, 2002: Intrepid squad tested

      The 2003 Dodge Intrepid squad car was tested by the Michigan State Police in their annual police car roundup. It held its own with the sales-leading Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor in acceleration and braking, but had a higher top speed. Unlike last year, the Intrepid beat the Police Interceptor slightly in braking tests. It also beat the Impala in acceleration, while lagging it in braking. The Intrepid beat both the Chevy and Ford in ergonomics, by a small margin. In fuel economy, the Impala was the leader with 23 mpg overall, 20 city and 29 highway, but the Intrepid managed 20 city and 27 highway, for nearly the same average at 22 mpg. The Ford Police Interceptor, the only car fielded with a V8, had substantially lower mileage, with 15 mpg city, 22 highway, and an average of 18 mpg.

      December 9, 2002: Government eliminates luxury car tax

      As Federal deficits mount, wartime approaches, and thousand are laid off from companies bankrupted by unethical business practices - from Chrysler to Enron - the government has taken action. After voting to eliminate the large-scale inheritance and capital gains taxes, the U.S. Government will eliminate the luxury car tax on January 1, 2003. It was imposed in 1990 as a way to raise money from those who could afford to give the most, but often did not. The import car dealers' group, AIADA , applauded the move, saying that it was the car dealers who really paid the tax.

      December 11, 2002: Yet another Ford squad car problem?

      Dallas officials announced that the design of the Ford Crown Victoria (Police Interceptor) was partly to blame for an explosion which killed an officer last month. Other cities have taken the squad cars out of service due to premature frame rusting which could result in loss of control.

      In the most recent Michigan State Police squad car tests, reported on Allpar's squad car page, both the Chevy Impala and Dodge Intrepid achieved performance similar to the Crown Victoria Police Interceptor. The Crown Victoria was fastest overall by a slight margin, but the Impala had the best brakes, followed by the Intrepid (which did however show some brake fade and overheating during the most extensive tests). The Intrepid also had a higher top speed, and the best ergonomics of the three tested cars.

      December 11, 2002: Camp Jeep expanding locations, allowing anyone in

      Camp Jeep®, one of the nation's largest and best-attended ownership gatherings, expands to two locations and dates next year, and will be open to not only Jeep owners but to the general public for the first time in the event's nine-year history. New dates and locations will be announced to consumers on the Jeep.com website and at 1-800-789-JEEP starting December 11.

      Camp Jeep 2003 will be held at the Oak Ridge Estate in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Nelson County, Va., Thursday, June 26 - Saturday, June 28. Camp Jeep California will be held at Gardner Ranch in the Santa Inez Mountains north of Santa Barbara, Calif., Thursday, August 14 - Saturday, August 16.

      For the first time, Camp Jeep will open its doors to the public on the Saturday of each event at both locations. "People really have to see Camp Jeep and experience it for themselves to believe it," said Bell. "The pride our owners have for their vehicles and the fun they have is amazing. It begins with their passion for the outdoors and continues with the camp environment and music. We want to show 'non-Jeepers' what the fuss is all about!"

      One of the most popular highlights of the event is the Jeep 101 courses, designed to teach attendees basic off-highway driving and safety skills, and to demonstrate capabilities of the Jeep Liberty, Grand Cherokee and Wrangler. Participants are paired with experienced guides as they negotiate steep downhill grades and encounter large rocks, log-crossings, sand and other off-highway obstacles. Once they have mastered the Jeep vehicle's capabilities, they can navigate various levels of 4x4 trails in their own Jeep vehicles.

      Jeep owners also can visit the Engineering Village and participate in roundtable discussions with Jeep engineers and other guests to learn more about what distinguishes a Jeep brand vehicle from any other four-wheel vehicle in the world.

      Camp Jeep 2003 and Camp Jeep California also will feature numerous lifestyle and family activities, live musical performances and a fireworks finale. Details will be released in a separate announcement.

      Jeep also sponsors Jeep Jamborees, which began in the 1950s. From the Maine Mountains to the famed Rubicon Trail, approximately 7,000 owners participate in the more than 30 Jamborees held each year. The excellent response to Camp Jeep led to the spin-off of Jeep 101. Jeep 101 driving courses are offered in cities across the nation to provide owners and prospective owners basic skills of safe, yet adventurous off-road driving.

      Approximately 3,000 vehicles are expected to be registered for each Camp Jeep location in 2003. To date, approximately 55,000 people from 48 states have attended Camp Jeep.

      People can visit the Jeep website to find more information about Camp Jeep on the web at www.jeep.com (enter keyword campjeep) or call 1-800-789-JEEP starting December 11. Registration for both events will begin in January 2003. Registration fees are $325 per Jeep vehicle for participation in all Camp Jeep activities and $95 per non-Jeep vehicle for participation in the Saturday (last day), activities. The event has usually sold out.

      December 12, 2002: Chrysler buying New Venture Gear

      Dan Minick pointed out that Chrysler is buying out General Motors' share of their joint venture, New Venture Gear. The company made, among other things, the manual transmissions for the Cavalier and Neon. GM will retain the Muncie plant, wtih DCX receiving the rest. Dan pointed us to http://www.auto.com/reuters/2002-12-12T142...1Z_01_N1235.htm for details.

      December 13, 2002: Truck gas mileage to rise?

      The Bush administration has finally come to a decision on fuel economy, calling for car gas mileage to remain the same and for truck/SUV/minivan mileage to rise 1.5 mpg by 2007. This should be incredibly easy for the industry, given that clean diesel fuel will be mandated by 2006, and that a diesel version of a large truck with 10-12 mpg can average 18-20 mpg now. Making new small cars conform to the definition of "trucks" also works - as in the Chrysler PT Cruiser and the Chevrolet SSR (which at least has a truck chassis). The measure is still far more than most people had expected - in that it not only raises gas mileage requirements, but even keeps them in place. However, the final bill may well contain loopholes which make the measure pointless - such as the proposal (defeated this year) which would allow pickup trucks to be exempted, as a class, or the current "heavy duty vehicles are immune" rule which allows big pickups and SUVs to be excluded from average gas mileage figures.

      December 13, 2002: Postal Service to use Jeep Wranglers?

      Jeep Wranglers - the latest generation of the basic Army Jeep - will go into postal duty next year, with a special series of right-hand-drive models. Built in Toldeo, Ohio, the new Jeeps let postmen easily put mail into rural mailboxes without leaving his seat. It will be an automatic with full doors, a hard top, and rollup windows, with the six-cylinder (4.0) engine to assure quick getaways under full loads. Amenities for the postmen include a four-speaker cassette stereo and cloth seats. For severe weather, all-terrain tires, a Dana 44 heavy-duty locking rear axle, and full size spare are included. The cost is under $21,000 per vehicle, and it will be available in different colors.

      While right-hand drive Jeeps were used by the Postal Service since just after World War II, the first postal model was built in 1955, and was called the Dispatcher. It was based on the CJ3A Jeep Universal of 1949, and was available until 1964, still equipped with an outdated but cheap flat-head four-cylinder engine. The DJ5 Dispatcher lasted until 1983, with a CJ5 base and various improvements for postal use. Until 2001, a specially adapted Cherokee was available for postal use.

      Since engineering for a right-hand drive Jeep was already in place for export models, the fleet models made sense - they keep the factory running at a higher capacity, and help to pay for fixed costs.

      December 13, 2002: Howell developes new DOHC 2.0 intake manifold

      Howell Automotive is about to introduce a new intake manifold to increase the performance of the DOHC 2.0 engines used in Neons and other cars. At $500, the part uses the stock throttle body location, so you can use existing air intakes, but has an enlarged throttle body to plenum area, eliminating restrictions from the stock intake; high flow runners; uniform transition from the plenum to the runners; and secondary injector (or nitrous nozzle) bosses on the underside. It works with stock-mounting fuel rails.

      December 13, 2002: More on the postal vehicles

      Some may wonder why Chrysler posted a list price on the new Jeep postal Wranglers. Bill Cawthon shed some light on this:

      "I believe many rural route carriers buy their own vehicles, for which the governments reimburses them a certain amount. Where I live, our letter carriers drive different vehicles. One has a red Jeep Cherokee, one has a Honda CRV, then there is one who actually drives one of the small standard postal trucks."

      December 16, 2002: Same platform for mid-sized, compact cars

      Bill Cawthon wrote that Chrysler and Mitsubishi will build small and midsize cars on variations of the same chassis rather than as separate projects. According to Richard Schaum, Chrysler EVP of product development, says there are "significant" savings in sharing a basic platform among as many as nine future versions of current models, like the Lancer, Neon, Stratus and Galant, which now use four different chassis (two Chrysler, two Mitsubishi). Basic chassis and suspension components for the next-generation Lancer/Neon will simply be stretched and modified for the Stratus/Sebring and Galant.

      The idea is not new - it stretches back in time, predating even the most extreme implementation, the extended K-cars. There, the same platform (and many basic parts) were used for economy cars, sports cars, minivans, limousines, near-luxury cars, and family sedans. However, Chrysler failed to invest in keeping the platform up to date, and often did not differentiate the models enough, leading many to criticze the idea itself - and leading Chrysler swing far in the opposite direction.

      December 16, 2002: Chrysler can easily meet new economy standards

      While Ford claimed it would increase gas mileage by 25 percent, Chrysler is the only company to have publicly stated that it can meet the new 2007 gas mileage standards. NHTSA said that, based on information given to it by the automakers, Chrysler would have to pay around $11 million to meet the 22.2 mpg standard, while GM might have to spend over $678 million. GM's 2007 estimate is only .1 mpg better than the current standards, with 20.8 mpg; the world's largest automaker said it would actually fall below current standards before then (it current is below current standards, even though some of its larger trucks are exempt). NHTSA suggested that if GM brought its technology up to date with Chrysler and Ford, and dropped truck engines over 6 liters in size, it could raise economy by a full 1.5 mpg by 2006. (Thanks, Bill Cawthon, for the information.)

      December 16, 2002: Ram gets Motor Trend Truck of The Year

      The all-new 2003 Dodge Ram 2500 Heavy Duty has hauled away Motor Trend magazine's prestigious 'Truck of the Year' award following an intensive three-week competition. The Dodge duo of the Heavy Duty Ram 2500 4x2 Quad Cab with 345 horsepower worth of HEMI® Magnum power and the Ram 3500 4x4 with the High Output Cummins Turbo Diesel upstaged all others in the competition.

      "From the onset of our 'Truck of the Year' competition, we knew the Ram Heavy Duty was a prime contender," said Kevin Smith, Motor Trend's Editor in Chief. "It fulfills the promise set forth last year by the introduction of an all-new Ram, and now offers the power and capability expected in the three-quarter and one-ton segments - plus features, content, and capabilities that in many ways raise the bar for this class of truck.

      "Simply put, after spending weeks with our competitors, evaluating every aspect and nuance, the Ram Heavy Duty stands out as the most significant new truck for 2003," Smith said. "With its excellent powertrains, off-road prowess, smooth on-road driveability, and stump-pulling power, the Dodge Ram Heavy Duty is the hands-down winner of Motor Trend's 2003 Truck of the Year award."

      Competitors for Motor Trend Truck of the Year are evaluated on significance, superiority and value. The trucks are put through thousands of miles of testing, including back-to-back comparisons examining each truck's characteristics during normal commuting, traversing mountain roads, cruising freeways, trailer towing, off-pavement running, and loaded and unloaded performance testing. Truck of the Year competitors compete not only against the trucks in the competition, but also against other trucks in their class, whether they are included in the test or not.

      Thanks, Bill Cawthon, for bringing this to our attention!

      December 17, 2002: Two Mopar engines hit Wards Top Ten list

      Ward's Ten Best engines for 2003 includes two Chrysler-designed engines, the Hemi and the 1.6 engine used in the Mini. Other companies with two engines on the list were BMW (3 and 3.2 liter I-6) and Honda. Also represented were Ford (diesel V8 - though we always thought it did not measure up to the Cummins), GM (straight-six), Nissan (3.5 V6), and Volkswagen (turbocharged 1.8).

      December 17, 2002: Chrysler to use advanced thermal system

      According to just-auto.com, Chrysler will use one of Valeo's "next-generation thermal systems," which combines engine cooling with passenger heating and air conditioning. In keeping with the pre-takeover strategy of the "American kieretsu" - that is, heavy supplier involvement - Valeo will have full responsibility for all aspects of design of the vehicle's thermal systems. Valeo said this would "generate a more cost-effective climate control and engine cooling system that will significantly enhance market appeal. Their systems allow fine tuning of temperature in relatively small portions of the car, so that each passenger would presumably be comfortable even if they like different heat ranges. The system will be used on an as-yet-unspecified future vehicle.

      December 18, 2002: GM's fuel cells to be tested by FedEx in Tokyo

      Federal Express will be using General Motors trucks equipped with fuel cell engines in Tokyo, providing a real-world test of their durability and practicality. Toyota has put fuel cell vehicles into service with cooperating clients as well.

      December 18, 2002: US actively supporting lower gas mileage

      Bob Sheaves pointed us to this article in Detroit News, which describes how the government is providing greater tax subsidies for businesses (including "sole proprietors") who buy luxury SUVs and pickups than they do for buyers of environmentally friendly vehicles. The tax loophole appears to be designed to support Big Three profitability at the expense of clean air and national security (since it increases the country's reliance on foreign oil, which tends to translate to providing funding and weapons to governments that pass them along to terrorists).

      December 19, 2002: John Fernandez heading Motorsports - expect wins

      John Fernandez, who worked closely with Carroll Shelby during his 30 years at Chrysler, will be heading up Dodge Motorsports. He had started and headed the PVO team, partly (as far as we can tell) as a way to keep the 70 Team Viper engineers together, and was also involved in turning the LeMans Vipers into a stunning success. Fernandez also worked on the Neon, Omni GLHS, Shelby Lancer, and other Mopar sport compacts. He said that the "one team" approach to NASCAR, where the four teams racing Mopars share their secrets of success, was working well, and expects to have a better season in 2003. Dieter Zetsche is reportedly very interested in having Dodge win the Winston Cup for cars in 2003, and is following motorsports closely.

      December 20, 2002: Ford settles another Explorer lawsuit

      Ford agreed to pay $51.5 million to settle lawsuits by all 50 states, based on their advertising of the Ford Explorer, which depicted it being driven at dangerous and inappropriate speed with the disclaimer, in fine print, "Professional driver. Closed course." As part of the settlement, Ford will share its Belt-Minder technology with the government [which presumably would allow other automakers to use it], and add "Do not attempt" to their fine print, without overtly warning of the dangers of flipping over.

      December 20, 2002: Chrysler takeover lawsuit moves on

      Detroit News has an article exploring the current status of the Kerkorian lawsuit against DaimlerChrysler. Depositions will continue through mid-January, and will include Juergen Schrempp, Robert Eaton, and presumably James Holden, Hilmar Kopper, and others. At issue is whether anyone really intended the takeover to be a "merger of equals," as it was billed in public statements and SEC filings, or whether it was all pretense, as Juergen Schrempp later bragged. Many investors say they would not have agreed to a takeover, while others are demanding the acquisition fee which applies to takeovers but not mergers.

      Bob Eaton's testimony will be crucial, since he referred to a "merger of equals" in public but received $70 million in profit on the deal. Bill Vlasic and Bradley Stertz, who wrote a book about the deal, have had their notes subpoenaed, since they were close to key players throughout the deal.

      The Kerkorian lawsuit would give the wealthy greenmailer $8 billion in damages and takeover premium, and also break up DaimlerChrysler again. DaimlerChrysler stock now is worth less than either Chrysler or Mercedes stock then, and Chrysler has fallen from being one of the most admired automakers.

      December 23, 2002: Rumor: Pacifica schedule

      This is unconfirmed and posted in the Allpar forums by "eddievader." Quoted verbatim:

      Windsor assembly now builds 1325 minivans per day. This timeline will show the ratio of Pacificas to minivans.

      January 13 1:265
      January 20 1:133
      February 3 1:65
      March 3 1:6
      March 24 1:4
      April 21-----full production 1:3 (441 pacificas a day)
      April 14-launch front wheel drive pacifica.

      The plant can raise the pacifica to caravan mix to 2 out of every 5, if sales increase.

      December 23, 2002: New sliding doors in the works?

      Chrysler has filed a patent application for a new type of power sliding door which is safer (stops automatically when a fuel door or person is blocking it), more convenient (doesn't need to be slammed shut), and more efficiently packaged. This may show up in the next-generation minivan, though companies file many patents that never materialize into actual products.

      December 23, 2002: Chrysler working on new automatic transmission?

      Examination of patent applications shows a number of innovations which may indicate that Chrysler is, and has been, working on a brand new automatic transmission. For example, patent 0020162721 describes a clutch system which has superior lubrication and cooling (for greater longevity), as well as fewer moving parts and less overall length and weight.

      We are currently seeking volunteers with engineering experience who can help us to put together the pieces. (We suspect Chrysler's competitors have already done this.)

      It should be noted that Chrysler applications are filed from Auburn Hills (DaimlerChrysler Intellectual Property) while Mercedes applications are filed from Washington, DC (CROWELL & MORING LLP).

      December 30, 2002: Rumor: 2004 production dates

      "Mr. Source" predicted:

      • 2004 300M , Concorde, Intrepid, Grand Cherokee, to start on 2/1/03
      • 2004 Sebring and Stratus [presumably sedans] to start on 1/21/03
      • 2005 Sebring and Stratus coupes may be phased out

      Another reader suggested "I show 1/2/03 as the Grand Cherokee Laredo/Limited start date and 2/03/03 for the Overland."

      Meanwhile, it appears that the SRT-4 is in production (thanks, "2002SXT") and ready to ship - and that the diesel Liberty is a go, with 5,000 units to be made (though we do not know when). The diesel Liberty trades off far better gas mileage (from about 20 to 30 mpg) for about two seconds longer in the 0-60 sprint, without adding much noise.

      December 30, 2002: NY state senator requests no new Ford squads

      After yet another fatal accident involving a Ford Crown Victoria squad car, a New York state senator has publicly asked the state police not to buy any more of the vehicles until the safety issues have been investigated and resolved.

      As a side note, Connecticut, which used Fords even before GM stopped making the Caprice, appears to be trying out Dodge Intrepid squads.

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