It has been years since Allpar first reported on the future launch of a new Jeep Wagoneer, and the dropping of the Dodge Caravan.

With Wagoneer on the books, Chrysler planners may have had mixed feelings about the sudden success of the Dodge Durango. They wanted to drop the Durango for a more-profitable Wagoneer (essentially a Durango with the Grand Cherokee suspension design and a higher price); but dropping Durango would annoy customers and pointlessly end a good nameplate.  They can’t just keep it “as is” — Durango would be too close to Wagoneer, and the Jefferson Avenue plant that makes them is already at capacity.

Meanwhile, the old plan to have a single platform for large cars and minivans seems to have been dropped, since the basic large car design was adapted by Maserati and turned into something quite nice indeed — as it no doubt would have been by Chrysler engineers, too, since insiders told us they were thinking of many of the same changes. (We’ll just pretend nobody at Maserati or Alfa Romeo talks to anyone at Chrysler for the moment, to make Harald Wester happy.)

Some rumors have Alfa Romeo adapting the basic Challenger design for their own ends, too. These are likely to be major changes, but some of the costs can be shared with Chrysler if the next generation of large cars are based off those. (It’s not unlike the Pacifica as a “mid-generation” vehicle between two minivans — or how the first-gen “new Challenger” was a sort of transition between first and second generation LX cars.)

Our speculation resulted in the theory that the next generation Dodge Durango will be based on the same platform and most of the same architecture as the next generation Chrysler Town & Country minivan, but coming one or two years later.

The minivan itself may well be loosely based on the current Durango design, with many, many changes:

  • Front wheel drive instead of rear wheel drive (both have AWD options)
  • Provisions for handy minivan things like sliding doors and stowable seats
  • No need for a V8, resulting in a shorter hood
  • No need for heavy towing, resulting in a lighter body

Each of these changes has many implications, and it’s by no means a quick “hey, let’s just shorten the engine bay by a few inches, drop the ride height, swap in the ZF9 instead of the ZF8, put in a lighter duty differential, and call it quits.” It is, in fact, a multi-billion dollar, multi-year operation, if true — but probably easier and cheaper than starting completely fresh with a blank slate.

The Durango could stay rear wheel drive, though it would increase costs and is probably not necessary for most buyers. Building both a rear drive Durango and front drive minivan on the same line would be a challenge.  The competing Ford Explorer is front wheel drive.

Allpar has already been told by a couple of unofficial sources that the “RT” Dodge Caravan will stay in production for a couple of years alongside the “RU” Chrysler Town & Country, while the next generation Caravan replacement is created.

That all brings up what to do with the Caravan name. It is, by far, the #1 minivan in Canada, where Chrysler currently if tenuously enjoys a spot as the best-selling automaker. If Canadians do not cotton to the Chrysler version, a contingency plan may be needed. It could be as simple as keeping lower-level minivans named Dodges and throwing on different front clips in Canada; cheesy, but traditional. Another option would be renaming the Dodge Journey to Dodge Caravan, or doing an extended wheelbase or sliding-door Journey as Caravan. Fortunately, Chrysler did just patent a sliding door design for SUVs and crossovers without the minivans’ patent square sides.

We had assumed that the Durango name would be dropped for Caravan, but Durango is now more desirable, while Caravan’s stint as the low-cost minivan has ended (or cemented the end of) its ability to command a premium price. Since Sergio Marchionne is chasing profits over volume, and that there’s only one minivan plant, and the Durango is commanding better margins, the Caravan name does seem to be endangered in the US.

Jeepers may find that the Grand Cherokee and Wagoneer will get better off-road capability — both because there’s no need to have Durangos on the same basic design (I honestly don’t know if that matters) and, mainly, because customers will pay for nicely loaded Grand Cherokees. It’s no longer so price-sensitive that they need to be cheap with the suspension travel and such. In the short term that’s not needed for sales, but in the long run, Jeep rides off its reputation for off-road capability.

There are some issues with this theory. Danno pointed out, is that every Dodge is supposed to get an SRT version, according to the May five-year plan; and a front wheel drive Durango based on the minivan would be rather hard to “SRT-ize.” Likewise, the Plan demands a Durango refresh in 2017, Journey in 2016, Wagoneer and midsize Chrysler crossover in 2018, and full size Chrysler crossover in 2017. How to reconcile those?

Stay tuned and we’ll give it a shot.

2017 Ram renderingArtist suzq044 has provided an alternative view of what the 2017 Ram may look like. This refresh will counter new F-150s.

The trucks will almost certainly include the V6 engine upgrademight include the rumored 5.7 Hemi V8 upgrade, and are likely to have more high-strength steel and aluminum to cut weight.

The 2017 Ram is also likely to have aerodynamic improvements to increase highway mileage. Lessons learned from the systems approach to cutting parasitic losses on Ram HFE may be spread throughout the line, as well.

Ram might expand their wheelbase, a significant change, to help their  handling and ride. We also suspect a new tailgate setup, based on patent applications, perhaps standard on higher-end models and optional on others, as RamBox is.

The 2017 Ram will have a tougher time of it than the current model, with GM and Ford both having eight and ten speed transmissions by then, and most likely competing with small diesels in Chevy, Ford, and Nissan pickups. It may well be time for Ram to pull a rabbit out of their hat — and the current crop of engineers and leaders might be able to do it.

Ram will finally add the ProMaster City small van to the lineup at the end of this calendar year. So far, we have not heard of any other changes in the entire Ram lineup, including the heavy duty and Ram 1500 pickups, chassis cabs, ProMaster vans, and Ram Cargo Van.

Prices do not include destination charges of $1,195 on heavy duty pickups and chassis cabs, or $995 on ProMaster and Ram C/V. Hawaiians pay $50 extra. 

Ram’s heavy duty lines will start the year with a base price of $30,315 for the rear-drive, regular cab Tradesman Ram 2500; the Ram 3500 version of the same pickup is just about $600 more. Going to the 4×4 adds around $3,000, either way.

The much better equipped SLT model adds around $4,000 to both 2500 and 3500. Going from regular to crew cab adds $4,000 to the Tradesman (the short wheelbase crew cab is slightly cheaper).  The next leap up in space is the Mega Cab; there is no Tradesman version, but Ram 2500 Mega Cab SLT starts at $39,160, with the 3500 version at $40,680.

 

The top Ram 2500 pickup is the Laramie Longhorn 4×4, weighing in  at $54,250; the equivalent Ram 3500 is $55,380.

Chassis cabs start with the 3500 rear wheel drive regular cab ($31,505), and go up to the 5500 4×4 Crew ($43,305). Pricing for models above ST has not yet been released.

Ram ProMaster Cargo Van starts the year at $28,630 for the 1500 version, short wheelbase, and low roof; it tops out at $36,260, for the 159 inch wheelbase, extended high roof version. ProMaster sharply undercuts equivalent size-and-capacity Mercedes Sprinters, and is also sold as a cutaway and chassis cab.

Finally, the Ram C/V Tradesman, a minivan specifically and thoroughly refitted for commercial use, has a single model listing for $22,000.

QNX, a division of Blackberry which supplies software to Chrysler for UConnect, has developed a new system that “reduces engine harmonics below 150 Hz” by using information from the car computer and microphones. It then generates anti-noise signals (equal in magnitude and opposite in phase to the noise) through the car’s existing speakers. While such systems exist in high-end cars today, they generally rely on hardware processing, while this is a (mostly) software solution which taps existing software and signal processors.

qnx noise reduction system

The QNX system was designed to deal with changes in the number of passengers and cargo in the vehicle, seat positions, temperature, and such. It provides automaker with a choice of using a master calibration among many cars, or individually calibrating each car on the assembly line.

The company claims that a three-microphone, three-speaker setup uses under 25K of RAM and can has less than a 22 MHz CPU load while processing an engine order.

While there have been no reports of Chrysler using the technology, it could make its way into high-end Chrysler vehicles such as the 300C and Grand Cherokee, or be used by Alfa Romeo and Maserati, which share Chrysler’s QNX-based UConnect systems.

Thanks, Mike Volkmann.

Sheriff-Sergio-ProfitKillers

Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne is facing what may be some of the most serious challenges of his automotive career.

With Italy slipping back into recession and the entire European Union looking a bit shaky, Marchionne has to look to Chrysler and the NAFTA market for profits. And that means facing down some tough opposition.

Growth is increasingly hard to come by. U.S. market growth rates are declining back to more normal levels (over the past 50 years, the average annual change in the U.S. light vehicle market is about 1.5%).

Chrysler, like most other automakers, is relying on profit-sapping incentives and sub-prime financing to spur sales. This means Marchionne has to look to supply and labor costs to bring more dollars to the bottom line.

In telephone remarks made during the Center for Automotive Research’s Management Briefing Seminars earlier this month, Marchionne said, “I, Richard (Palmer, FCA’s CFO) and the whole management team are grossly dissatisfied with the margin performance of the business today, notwithstanding all of the significant gains that we’ve made in terms of product placement and volume. We’re still far behind where we need to be on margin performance. I think we need to go back to all sources of margin enhancement to try and get this thing leveled off.”

His comments were directed at suppliers, many of whom had reported significantly improved profits.

Despite assurances that he wasn’t looking to take the Cerberus approach, which ruined Chrysler’s supplier relationships, he left no doubt that FCA would be looking to, as he put it, “…participate in their well-being, and perhaps allow them to rub off some of their newfound wealth onto us.”

Not surprisingly, suppliers failed to warm to Marchionne’s plan and have already started to circle the wagons.

While it’s likely that Marchionne will be able to get some concessions, it remains to be seen how much Chrysler can actually save. Suppliers went through the lean times and the survivors are going to be wary of anything that hurts their own recovery.

The larger part of the challenge comes next year when the UAW contracts with the Detroit automakers expire.

Marchionne and the UAW despise the two-tier wage structure currently in place, but for two different reasons.

Marchionne has said he is okay with senior union members remaining at their current scale but wants the lower-tier workers to have a new rate, lower than the $28/hour wage that is the current standard, but higher then the $15-$19 they receive now.

The UAW wants to eliminate the lower-tier scale entirely and bring everybody up to the full union wage plus it wants that wage to increase. UAW members have not had a raise since 2003 and that $28/hour is worth just $21.62 today. Simply adjusting the rate to equivalent purchasing power in current dollars means a raise to $36.27/hour.

In addition, the new union leadership is already under pressure from its membership to get better pay and it needs to be able to come out of the negotiations with a win if it hopes to retain any vestige of its former power.

To say the two sides are miles apart would be an understatement: light years might be a closer approximation to the truth.

The 2015 contract negotiations are complicated for Marchionne by the facts that the “no-strike” clause in the current contract expires next year and that Chrysler is not the likely first target for the union. Both Ford and GM have reported higher profits and Ford’s lavish compensation of Alan Mulally could make it a tantalizing target to set the pattern for negotiations with other automakers.

Marchionne is also missing the ammunition he had in Italy when he got the unions to accept new contracts or see Fiat move production to plants in Poland and elsewhere.

Sergio Marchionne is arguably one of the most capable CEOs in the world and he has overcome tough opposition before. It’s going to be interesting to watch him take on the all the showdowns he has in his future.

The 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT will get a minor power boost to match the Challenger and Charger — going up to 475 hp. So far, there is no Hellcat, and while it was reportedly considered, Allpar finds it unlikely that the 707 horsepower beast will make it into the luxoJeep.

All prices in this article including a $995 destination charge. Hawaii residents have a $1,045 destination charge.

Jeep-GCSRT-Websq

In addition to the power boost, a new Red Vapor Special will be available to Grand Cherokee SRT buyers (and, despite some odd speculation by other publications, yes, the name will remain Grand Cherokee SRT.)  Grand Cherokee Summit buyers will also find un-named “enhancements” to the top of the line model, which will start at $49,590 without all wheel drive. (The base Laredo runs $30,590, in rear wheel drive form. The SRT makes even Summit look inexpensive, with a price tag of $65,390.)

Wrangler has stereo improvements and a new, optional “black steel” 31 inch wheel setup.  It starts at $23,590 for Sport (two-door), and runs up to $36,190 for Rubicon Unlimited. Generally, moving from the two-door to the extended-wheelbase four-door Unlimited adds $4,000 to the price.

2012 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara and 2012 Jeep Wrangler Sahar

All Wranglers now have a 4×4 setup, and mail carriers (and presumably anyone else who likes the steering wheel on the “wrong” side) can opt for a right-hand-drive Sport Unlimited at $36,190. That’s around $5,000 more than the usual Sport Unlimited.

Cherokee adds a backup camera and automatic headlights to Latitude and Trailhawk models. It will start at $23,990 for the Sport FWD and run up to $31,190 for the Limited AWD; AWD adds $2,000 to the price. Trailhawk is the only model with skid plates and is the base model for those who really intend to go off-road, beyond gravel and dirt roads.

Compass and Patriot Latitude gain a navigation system option, but remain otherwise unchanged as they soldier on. The little Jeeps, made in the same plant as the Dodge Dart, start at $17,490 for the Patriot Sport FWD and end at $28,990 for the Compass Limited AWD. Generally, AWD adds $2,000 to the price, and Patriot is  $1,500 to $2,300 cheaper than equivalent-level Compass, though it has more space and looks “more like a Jeep.”

2017 Ram revisioned

Artist suzq044 has provided an alternative view of what the 2017 Ram may look like. This refresh will counter new F-150s. The trucks will almost certainly include the V6 engine upgrade, might include the rumored 5.7 Hemi V8 upgrade, and are likely to have more high-strength steel and aluminum to cut weight....

Challenger back in Trans Am

Dodge and SRT are rejoining the Trans Am Series, with Miller Racing fielding two new Dodge Challengers  at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on August 15 and 16.  Driving will be four-time series champion Tommy Kendall, making his first Trans Am start since 2004 in the TA2 series class....

Is this the 2017 Ram?

Though the Ram 1500 just had major upgrades, another refresh is due in 2017, to deal with the new F-150s and a possible Chevrolet Silverado update. So far not much is known about these trucks, except that they will likely include the Pentastar engine upgrade, might include the rumored 5.7 Hemi V8 upgrade, and are likely to have undergone weight reduction therapy with more high-strength steel and aluminum....

The future Durango and Caravan

It has been years since Allpar first reported on the future launch of a new Jeep Wagoneer, and the dropping of the Dodge Caravan. With Wagoneer on the books, Chrysler planners may have had mixed feelings about the sudden success of the Dodge Durango....

Supercharged Viper? (Updated)

With the supercharged 6.2 Hemi delivering 707 horsepower to the Dodge Charger and Challenger, the Viper boys are reportedly looking for ways to get back on top. While the Viper may be superior on a tight racing course, the straight-line performance of Charger and Challenger, in five-seaters with all the amenities, large trunks, and automatic or manual transmissions, is a challenge for Team Viper — as is the current series of Corvettes....

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