Just in time for Sunday’s season-opening FoamTex Trans Am 100 at Sebring International Raceway, Dodge and Mopar have announced they will provide joint support for Dodge Viper ACR-X vehicles competing in the Trans Am 3 International Group (TA3i) class.

SCCA-Challenger-No1-Web

At each of the 12 races in the 2015 season, a Dodge Viper driver that earns a win, a second or third place finish will be awarded $1,500, $1,000 and $500, respectively. At the end of the season, a Dodge Viper driver that wins the class championship, finishes second or third overall, will be awarded $5,000, $2,500 or $1,250 to honor their success in representing the brand.

The Mopar and Dodge brands will also support the two Miller Racing Dodge Challengers in Trans Am’s TA2 class. The team will be given access to wind tunnel testing at FCA headquarters in Auburn Hills, while at-track season-long technical support also will be available for all Dodge entries in both classes.

“We’re pleased to have Mopar and Dodge supporting racers competing in the Trans Am series,” said John Clagett, President of the Trans Am Race Company. “Our partners tell us the continued momentum and growth of the series provides them with a great platform for their products. That’s further reflected in the record 70-plus car field we’ll have at Sebring this weekend.”

Even though winter storms ravaged vehicle sales in some states and the price of regular gasoline rose 16%, analysts are still predicting strong February results when the numbers are released next Tuesday.

Analyst-Forecast-Web

“Gas prices inched back up this month, but it didn’t appear to have much impact on shoppers’ choices,” said Edmunds.com’s Jessica Caldwell. “We’re still seeing a strong market for trucks and SUVs — especially compact crossover SUVs, which continue to ride an impressive wave of popularity. It is likely that the hard-hitting winter weather motivated some buyers to upgrade from their two-wheel drive vehicles.”

Allpar looked at by-manufacturer predictions from three major industry sources, Edmunds.com, KBB.com, and TrueCar.com. All three said that February’s big winners will be Toyota and Honda, but that FCA US will post the largest year-over-year increase of the three Detroit automakers, as well as notching its 69th consecutive month of year-over-year growth.

Based on the predictions, FCA’s market share will be essentially unchanged from February 2014.

The chart below shows the average of the three analyst outlooks.

AVERAGE ANALYST SALES FORECAST: FEBRUARY 2015
Manufacturer Feb-15 Change Market Share
FCA US LLC (Chrysler) 168,104 8.3% 13.0%
Ford Motor Co. 193,789 5.7% 15.0%
General Motors 233,240 5.0% 18.1%
American Honda 113,027 12.5% 8.8%
Hyundai/Kia 95,269 5.6% 7.4%
Nissan North America 121,655 5.4% 9.4%
Toyota Motor Sales 184,047 15.5% 14.3%
Volkswagen Group 41,485 3.0% 3.2%
Total Industry 1,288,873 8.1% N/A

TrueCar.com estimates that industrywide incentive spending fell 2.9% in February, so “Automakers should expect to post net revenue gains this month,” according to TrueCar analyst Eric Lyman.

FCA was second only to General Motors when it came to cash on the hood, but it wasn’t that far ahead of Kia, which TrueCar says outspent Ford on a per-unit basis.

ESTIMATED INCENTIVE SPENDING: FEBRUARY 2014
Forecast Change from
Manufacturer Feb-15 Feb-14 Jan-15
General Motors $3,247 -7.60% 3.80%
FCA US LLC $3,145 -3.20% 1.80%
Kia Motors America $3,000 35.00% 3.10%
Ford Motor Company $2,888 -9.30% 2.80%
Nissan North America $2,554 -8.40% -13.20%
Volkswagen Group $2,394 -4.80% 4.00%
American Honda $1,871 -2.70% 5.40%
Hyundai Motor America $1,844 9.60% 3.00%
Toyota Motor Sales $1,811 0.50% 0.00%
Industry $2,623 -2.90% 1.40%
Data Source: TrueCar.com

Motor Authority was able to get one of each Hellcat together, to give us a semi-objective look at the two monsters side by side.

Admittedly, not much real information is given, other than some points about the cars in daily real life use, and some tire smoke. Ideally, we would see a side by side drag race or one-mile race between these two Dodge monsters. Just for fun, could we throw in a Viper TA and get the best of the top three Dodges, especially on both a drag strip and a standard track?

 

Opinion/analysisAny time you take a brand and split it in two, there’s going to be an identity crisis.

With the recent 2015 Ram 1500 Laramie Limited  and Ram Rebel, we see more distance between Dodge and Ram. Gone are the crosshair grilles and Rams-head emblem, which first appeared on the 1932 Dodge cars. (Ram did not become the name on full size Dodge pickups until 1981 or so, unless you count the Ramcharger, and it was shared with the Mitsubishi-sourced Ram 50. The Ram name was used across all Dodge pickups, vans, and van-based wagons starting in 1984.)

Only in 2010 did Ram become its own brand, not just a Dodge model — and at that point, Ram still shared Dodge’s brand code in the VIN.

Part of the process of differentiating Ram from Dodge was that the ram-head emblem, which started showing up on all Dodges in the early 1990s, would be dropped from Dodge. Now, it appears that Ram itself is playing down both the ram’s head and shared crosshair grilles as well, possibly to keep people from saying “Dodge Ram.”

1940 and 1994 Dodge Ram pickups

In five years since the amicable divorce, Dodge and Ram still share the same showrooms, are serviced by the same techs, and in most cases, share drivetrain components with the rest of the full size vehicle lineup;  even many dealership personnel use the name “Dodge Ram” when referring to the full size trucks.

Differentiation has never been harder.

In a recent article in  Automotive News, Larry Vellequette eloquently laid out the case as to the why Dodge and Ram might be seeking some distance. He did however question the methods that FCA appears to be using to do so. I agree with his conclusions, as many of the same thoughts had percolated to the top of my head when I first saw the images of the Rebel and the Laramie. [This article was begun before Mr. Vellequette’s article.]

Does creating distance from its roots help or hurt the Ram brand? Only time will tell, but if after five years the name Dodge Ram is still on everyone’s tongue, there is a tough battle ahead for Ram’s branding people. Then again, roots are not Chrysler’s strong point. Recent ads talk about Dodge’s roots in muscle cars and trucks — though the Dodge brothers never made a single muscle car, and only made a small number of trucks.

Ironically, Dodge recently ran the tagline, “Never forget where you come from.”

In a recent interview with Allpar’s Dave Zatz, Ram’s head of exterior design, Greg Howell, stated that the 2016 Ram design was locked in. In the same interview, Howell mentioned that the Rebel and Laramie grille change for 2015 was an experiment with the idea of changing to the “RAM” logo versus the standard Rams head logo and cross hair grille that we are all so familiar with. Take from that what you will, but FCA is playing its cards close to the chest on this.

It is entirely possible that the Rebel and Laramie grilles are unique and were designed to help distinguish those two trim lines away from the more pedestrian trim levels, which could retain a version of the cross hair grille.

Only time will tell, but FCA has been on a roll, even with some of its more controversial styling choices ( Cherokee ) selling well above what many of the pundits would believe possible. While many old school Mopar guys might not like veering away from our beloved styling cues, some change may  be needed to attract new blood to the brand. It seems to be working decently so far.

The U.S. Postal Service’s Request for Information and Prequalification/Sources Sought – Next Generation Delivery Vehicle (NGDV) Acquisition Program is definitely not looking for a minivan.

Ram-ProMaster-136-USPS-Web

The RFI, which actually covers a potential 210,000 vehicles, is really a wish list. It calls for a vehicle larger than the current Grumman LLV to handle the growing volume of package deliveries as the Postal Service tries to compete with FedEx and UPS.

While it’s true the specifications in the current RFI aren’t set in stone, it’s also true that six billion dollars can make a lot of wishes come true.

Based on the specifications in the RFI, the Postal Service is interested in something like one of the mid-size, single-rear-wheel UPS package cars.

Another big factor is improved fuel economy. The Grumman LLV is rated at 17 miles per gallon but in actual daily use, all the stops, starts and idling drop that figure to only about 10 miles per gallon.

The average letter carrier’s route is about 15 miles long. Then travel from the post office to the route and back, usually at speeds no greater than 40-45 miles per hour, has to be added.  Multiply that by the tens of thousands of vehicles in operation, most of them six days a week, and it’s easy to see that even a small improvement in fuel economy will mean a significant amount of money saved over the 20-year service life the USPS wants.

In addition, the successful vehicle will be available in two-wheel drive and either all-wheel drive or four-wheel drive.

While the RFI specs aren’t set in stone, it’s pretty clear the the USPS wants an aluminum, composite or plastic body or some combination of those materials. The weight savings of the desired materials translate directly into money saved at the pump and money made through increased payload.

The Postal Service also wants a body with easily replaceable panels. Body repairs on the Grumman body have proven to be costly. Based on the experiences described in the RFI, an aluminum body with a fiberglass or composite engine cover could be a solution.

The USPS RFI requires the NGDV to have either an alternative fuel or dual-fuel powerplant and it wants the drivetrain to survive 12 years of typical postal use. Proposals must factor in the availability of refueling and/or recharging infrastructure and the cost of any new construction required.

Given a fresh understanding of what the Postal Service wants, it would seem that Ram could propose a van based on the ProMaster 1500 with the four-cylinder diesel and the 136-inch wheelbase. The dimensions work out, except that the truck floor-to-ground height is less than the minimum but FCA could point out that the lowered floor height is actually a benefit, considering the concerns the USPS expressed in the RFI about musculoskeletal injuries .

The one feature lacking on the ProMaster is a tilting steering wheel which is one of the must-haves as letter carriers can run from a small female (5th percentile) to a large male (95th percentile). Other items, such as a rearview camera and LED lighting, are off-the-shelf or off a supplier’s shelf.

Any custom body could incorporate the ProMaster’s three-piece front fascia and its replaceable wheel opening cladding, another item on the wish list.

Actual body component production could be farmed out to a company like Morgan Olson or Utilimaster or it could be done in-house. The ProMaster is built at the Ram van plant in Saltillo, Mexico, so NAFTA sourcing isn’t an issue and frames could be shipped to a U.S. plant for final assembly.

As far as strict U.S. sourcing is concerned, the Postal Service said it “…has not made a determination at this time as to what percentage of the end product will be required to be sourced in the United States.”

Based on anecdotal evidence, the ProMaster diesel already gets better fuel economy than the Grumman LLV and a CNG conversion of the V6 is another option. Hybrids and electrics are limited options due to the cost and the weight, which, especially in the case of a pure-electric vehicle, would take a serious bite out of the payload capacity.

Of course, Ford and General Motors could, and likely would, offer competing solutions: Ford with the Transit and GM with the K2XX platform used for the G-series van. The Transit doesn’t currently have a federalized diesel option but Ford could modify one of its European diesels. General Motors did offer a hybrid for the the previous van platform but it was discontinued after 2013. CNG is an option for Ford and GM, as well.

The Colorado/Canyon platform and the T6 Ranger wouldn’t meet the specs laid out in the RFI because their rear wheel houses aren’t far enough apart.

The chart below lists some of the Postal Service’s desired specs and how the ProMaster 1500 meets them. There aren’t any compliance comparisons for the Performance section because the Postal Service’s requirements could almost be met using sail power. The specs with an “N/A” response are dependent on the body that will be proposed rather than the actual ProMaster body.

USPS NEXT-GENERATION DELIVERY VEHICLE VS. RAM PROMASTER
Specifications USPS NGDV ProMaster 1500* Meets Spec?
Overall Length, Max. (in.) 230 213.1 Yes
Overall Height, Max. (in.) 106 101 Yes
Vehicle Width, Max. (excluding Mirrors) (in.) 85 82.7 Yes
Side Window Still Height, Max. (in.) 44 N/A N/A
Turning Radius, Max. (ft.) 44 40.7 Yes
Rear Door Opening Width, Min. (in.) 48.5 N/A N/A
Rear Door Opening Height, Min. (in.) 72 N/A N/A
Truck Floor to Ground, Min. (in.) 26 21 No
Truck Floor to Ground, Max. (in.) 28 21 No
Interior Ceiling to Floor Height, Min. (in.) 76 76.1 Yes
Width between wheel houses, Min. (in.) 48 56 Yes
Clear Flat Cargo Length, Min. (in.) 108 122.8 Yes
Clear Flat Cargo Width, Min. (in.) 72 73.4 Yes
Cargo Storage Capacity (ft3) 155 406 Yes
Minimum Cargo Payload (lb.) 1,500 3,794 Yes
Performance USPS NGDV
0-15 mph (sec.) 5
0-50 mph (sec.) 22
0-65 mph (sec.) 35
Cruising Speed, Min. (mph) 65
Speed on 20% Grade, loaded to GVW (mph) 45
Maxiumum Grade at GVW (pct.) 20
*Ram ProMaster 1500 with 136″ wheelbase and high roof

The USPS held a supplier meeting last Wednesday. Manufacturer responses are due a week from Friday, on March 6.

Note: If you’re looking for the Ram badging in the picture, it’s not there. The Postal Service does not allow manufacturer markings on the exterior of its carrier route vehicles.

FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne’s voting stake in the carmaker has increased to nearly 1% thanks to a stock grant.

Marchionne-FCAU-Stock-Web

According to a reports from Il Sole 24 Oro and Reuters based on company filings with the Dutch government, the 2.3 million shares he received as the final installment of a 2012 compensation plan brings his total stake to 14.4 million shares.

Marchionne was already one FCA’s largest individual shareholders.

At Thursday’s closing price of $15.47, the latest addition to Marchionne’s nest egg was worth nearly $35.6 million. His total FCA stake is currently valued at $222.8 million.

The new shares also will give Marchionne a larger say in Ferrari as his holdings won’t be diluted when the brand is spun off later this year.

In addition to taking his stock grant, Marchionne also exercised previously granted rights on about 366,000 shares of CNH Industrial, the company formed by the merger of CNH and Fiat Industrial, which includes Iveco trucks. His holdings now total 2.16 million shares, worth nearly $18 million.

Between the two companies, Marchionne’s stock is worth over $247.7 million.

Mopars will start leaving the country through the port of Wilmington, Delaware, instead of Baltimore, Maryland, starting on March 1, 2015.

Port-Delaware-Web

The change affects cars leaving for the Middle East; they will now use Liberty Global Logistics and Hoegh Autoliner ships leaving from the Autopost terminal in Wilmington (not far from the former Chrysler plant in Newark, Delaware).  The company’s head of logistics said the decision was made because of Autoport’s expertise; the port is also closer to the assembly plants.

The first ship to bear Mopars to the Middle East from Wilmington is scheduled to leave “in mid to late March.”

The 6.2L supercharged Hellcat Hemi has set the performance world on fire, but Dodge fans who cannot foot the $60,000+ bill for the 707 hp Challenger or Charger are likely to find the R/T Scat Pack or SRT 392 price tags a bit more palatable.

The fact that the 6.4L makes 222 less horsepower than the Hellcat model might not sit so well with some buyers, but Hot Rod recently talked about a Kenne Bell Performance project that is under way now. When completed, the package is expected to lift the power ratings from 485 to 901.

DSC_6559

The magazine took a 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat to the Kenne Bell Performance to see just how much power the big beast put to the ground. While there, Hot Rod learned that their Hellcat Challenger test car put 620 horsepower to the rear wheels, and talked about Kenne Bell’s interest in the function of the IHI supercharger on the new 6.2L Hemi. Evidently, the well-known supercharger company is working on a twin screw setup for the 6.4L Hemi in the SRT 392 and R/T Scat Pack Challengers, which will be similar in its basic design to the IHI Hellcat unit.

DSC_6471

Where the Hellcat Hemi supercharger is a 2.4L unit, the Kenne Bell blower for the 392 Hemi will have an internal volume of 4.3L and that extra air flow combined with the added engine size of the 6.4L Hemi should be able to produce 901 horsepower.

Unfortunately, that was all of the information that Hot Rod provided, but they did mention that Kenne Bell is planning to have the Challenger Scat Pack making 901 horsepower and the supercharger will only cost around $7,000. Hot Rod did the math and when you add up a car that costs around $40,000 and a supercharger package that costs around $7,000, you get a 901 horsepower car that costs somewhere around $47,000.

DSC_6645

What was not mentioned was what other components come with the package, and whether that $7,000 only includes the supercharger and the items needed to physically install it on the engine — because that won’t be the end of the build.

Realistically, for the 2015 Challenger R/T Scat Pack to make 901 horsepower for more than a few minutes, there will need to be a few crucial items included in the project. Most notably, the connecting rods and pistons of the 6.4L Hemi will need to be replaced with tougher units, and a quick look around the internet revealed that you can get into a set of forged connecting rods for around $700 while a good set of pistons will set you back another $800. Figure another $200 for the various bolt kits and such needed to complete the forged bottom end and you have about $1,700 more invested.

When you add that into the price above, you are sitting just under $49,000, which really isn’t bad for a 901 horsepower Dodge Challenger. Making that kind of power with a supercharger will also add fuel system requirements and a proper engine tune, but it is unclear if any of the fuel system upgrades are included and I’m pretty sure that the $7,000 price of the supercharger would not include an engine tune. Even if you have to drop another $2,000 into the build for the fuel system goodies and a good tune, you have only spent around $51,000 (not including labor for the build itself) for a 901 horsepower car.

DSC_6475

The Hellcat Hemi has a long list of other factory components that have been beefed up to safely handle the force of 707 horsepower and 650lb-ft of torque, so even if you have the 392 cubic inch Hemi in the Challenger Scat Pack making 901hp without damaging the engine, there is a good chance that you will be tearing up other driveline components including the transmission and the rear differential, but that is all part of the fun of having a car with almost a thousand horsepower. (Heat dissipation is a major factor, with the Hellcat showing little or no reduction in power over repeated runs while GM equivalents drop their power to prevent meltdowns.)

900hp supercharged Viper (updated)

Rumors have been floating around for years about a potential supercharged Viper. It appears that it is finally happening, but it is not a factory built package. Instead, it was developed by Arrow Racing, which has Chrysler’s permission to modify the computer programming. It will be sold at the largest Viper dealer in the country, The Viper Exchange a/k/a Tomball Dodge. There are  [...]

Grand Cherokee Hellcat seems closer

Hellcat Grand Cherokee. The term sends shivers of revulsion or anticipation down people’s spines. Revulsion if you are a hardcore Jeep offroad type or any executive at AMG, BMW’s M, or Porsche’s SUV division. Anticipation if you are anyone else with a pulse. Nothing official has been said about a Grand Cherokee coming with the already legendary Hellcat installed, and there is not likely  [...]

2016 Viper ACR: green-lighted

This week, reliable source oh2o wrote that the Viper ACR would start production in July of 2015 as a 2016 model year car.  How much of the concept Viper ACR , which was shown at the 2014 SEMA show, will carry through to production is unknown. We can surmise that the enormous carbon ceramic brakes will make it to production, along with  [...]

2017 minis: too pricey?

Recently, Automotive News’ Larry Vellequette reported that Chrysler planned to boost the price their least expensive minivan to around $26,000. This resulted in an extensive discussion on Allpar’s forums, with some outrage over the high entry price. Going back to 2000, when minivan sales were still thriving and Chrysler was the undisputed king of the North American mini-market, we see the  [...]

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