Chrysler, Dodge, and Jeep news from Allpar

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Wrangler: aluminum and/or hybrid?

As government rules get tighter, and to avoid losing customers if/when gas prices rise, automakers are trying to increase gas mileage.

At Chrysler, Ram has been slashing fuel consumption by cutting parasitic losses, using eight-speed automatics, and spreading diesels to the 1500 line. Jeep is busily creating the new Wrangler, with an eye towards saving weight, and Chrysler has been advertising for a senior buyer for large aluminum castings.

2017 Jeep Wrangler

While many Jeepers have called for a diesel in American Wranglers, because they conserve fuel while boosting low-end torque, industry insiders are talking about other Wrangler options. For one, there’s likely to be a lot more aluminum in the rugged Wrangler, perhaps including the body tub (a hydroformed steel frame seems to be likely, too).

There’s been some quiet buzz around the idea of a hybrid Wrangler. This would likely not be an all-out effort like Prius, but a repeat of the Durango/Aspen “drop in hybrid” type of solution. We’ve been told to look for something like the FEV seven-speed dual-clutch full hybrid transmission, whose electric motor smooths the ride by eliminating gaps between shifts.

Hybrids have downsides, including added weight and space requirements. The weight of  hybrid drive systems has fallen, but current systems still add about 100 pounds and the space needed for the battery pack could be a problem, especially in the two-door Wrangler (perhaps it would be an Unlimited option only).

Whether Jeep actually goes forward with an alternative powertrain may well depend on whether fuel prices shoot up over the next few years. The company may be planning something for their “back pocket,” or for sale in countries where fuel is more expensive. An advantage of transmission-based hybrids is they can be used with either diesels or gasoline engines. Wrangler is a prime candidate for change, since it sells very well but has (along with other cars in its class) poor fuel mileage.

Regardless of how they do it, we can probably expect a lighter, and hopefully equally rugged, Wrangler in the next generation. As we noted last week, Jeep Wrangler is the Jeep that controls all other Jeeps; they can’t afford to screw it up.

The ’17 Wrangler’s new suspension

Given rumors that the next-generation Jeep Wrangler will drop its solid-axle suspension, several Allpar members asked consulting engineer Bob Sheaves what Chrysler’s most likely options were. He responded:

1. Hire or contract with Evan Boberg and me to update the Li’l Blue design. This is unlikely and probably would have taken place already, if it were to happen at all.

2. Hire an outside consulting firm with military experience, such as Meritor Defense, AM General, Oshkosh Defense, FEG, or Rod Millen. This is unlikely.

3. Use internal resources and try to adapt the existing Ram truck 4×4 design, or further develop the Li’l Blue design. This is the most likely option.

The challenge for Jeep is making a new Wrangler which is:

  • similar in price to the current model
  • the premier off-road vehicle in its price range
  • more capable and comfortable on-road
  • more fuel efficient.

Many observers have noted that the company could do this by using expensive alternative materials, eight-speed automatics, diesel engines, and such, rumors still target a move from solid axles to reduce unsprung weight, the biggest change since CJ became Wrangler under AMC. The challenge is creating a reliable, sturdy system with at least as much ground clearance as the current solid-axle design — and as much suspension articulation — without going overboard on cost.

Bob Sheaves, Evan Boberg, and Gerry Hentschel addressed these issues with their innovative Li’l Blue mule; Mr. Sheaves suggested another option, the in-between setup of Ram 4×4 pickups. While the Ram independent front suspension may not be optimized to the technical level required by the new Wrangler, the cost penalties of the Li’l Blue suspension may be too high (and current Jeep engineers might not be able to adapt it). The Ram setup would, at least, be rugged.

The days of the easily-modified Wrangler are probably numbered, unless the company keeps making the old model somewhere as a niche option — which seems unlikely at best, despite all those empty buildings in Michigan and Italy, or the precedent of making older models in Russia, India, and China. Whether that matters is a subject for (intense and never-ending) debate.

Jeep can’t afford to blow this one. The success of the Jeep brand is hinged mainly on the off-road prowess of the Wrangler Rubicon. As the company makes seas of front wheel drive Cherokees and Renegades, the badge remains backed by the faith and credit of Wrangler.

Is this the 2016 Chrysler Town & Country minivan?

2016 Chrysler Town & Country minivan

In Windsor, Ontario, workers are no doubt already preparing for the plant’s months-long shutdown and changeover to handle the 2016-model-year minivans, due in the first quarter of 2015. They will have to change quite a few things — Chrysler is finally going to a fully independent suspension, and restoring all wheel drive to the options list. As they did with the Pacifica, the company will also do a crossover version — and, while they ready that, will reportedly keep making the current “RT” Dodge Caravans. That will give Chrysler Canada some time to try to get Canadians to switch from the all-conquering Caravan, which owns nearly the entire Canadian minivan market, to the Town & Country.

We have been told that the Chrysler 200 will provide styling cues for the entire Chrysler lineup, eventually — though the 300, whose sheet metal is largely etched in stone (not the galvanized steel and aluminum you’d normally expect), will have to wait a few years before it matches the brand template. JackRatchett did yeoman’s work in preparing this image of a new minivan with 200 styling cues; note the traditional Chrysler “cross-eyed” windshield wipers, which may clear more of the windshield than conventional “both arms moving the same way” blades.

More on the 2016 Chrysler Town & Country

2015 300C coming late

2015 chrysler 300C

The 2015 Chrysler 300C may be a bit delayed, according to source “Moparian,” who wrote that the final allocations for the 2014 300/300S/300C will be in September, with buildout of the current model year through December.

The 2015 allocation will open in January 2015, according to this source, with production scheduled for February.

Past reports indicated that the new car would be built starting in December. The reason for the delay is unknown, but Chrysler has been working hard at ramping up production of their eight-speed automatic transmissions in Indiana; these are reportedly to become standard across the entire large car line, with Challenger and Charger already announced.

Some questioned why the flagship Chrysler would be the last to get updates; the primary reason is because it does not need them as much as the Dodges. The 300 is still selling relatively well, with some sales losses after it dropped its base trim model. The Challenger was the car most in need of updates, with the eight-speed completely unavailable; the Pentastar V6 provided substantially slower acceleration and lower mileage with the Mercedes five-speed automatic.

First 2016 minivan spy shot? (Update: Sorry!)

2016 Chrysler Town & Country minivan?

Reader “WKLimited” sent in what may well be the first spy shot of a 2016 Chrysler Town & Country minivan.

The taillights are similar to others used by Chrysler in recent years; while the photo is not perfectly clear, one can easily see that the two door handles are next to each other, indicating a sliding door (hence, a minivan). The shape looks fairly wind-cheating, as one would expect.

With production rumored to be starting in February or March 2015, based mostly on the factory shutdown schedule, there will probably be more 2016 minivans to be seen on Detroit-area roads. We do know, though, that the minivans will use a Pentastar V6 with the nine-speed automatic, have all wheel drive as a late-availability option, and be the first Chrysler production hybrids (also late availability).

Update: This photo is actually the 2015 Kia Sedona, despite the Kia’s reverse lights being built into the tail-lights, and having no reason to be seen in camouflage. An Allpar source wrote to tell us that the Chrysler looks rather different.

Direct injection: 2016 or 2017?

Pentastar V6 engines

Direct injection is coming to the Pentastar V6 at last, according to sources — but not until 2016 or 2017.

The later date would allow the engines to take advantage of new cleaner-gasoline rules, fought bitterly by refiners but welcomed by automakers. The reduction of sulfur in particular will reportedly be a boon to high-efficiency gasoline engines.

Pre-production plans for the Pentastar series of V6 engines showed direct injection as a feature of several variants, but it has not yet come to pass. Forced induction was also on the plans, but hasn’t been seen yet, except in a Ferrari-Maserati variant which is only loosely based on the series.

General Motors has adopted direct injection enthusiastically; the technology can provide both power and economy.

The Pentastar engine series is, according to rumor, due for a refresh in two or three years, similar to refreshes of Chrysler’s original V6 engines, the Hemi V8, and the 4.7 V8. The gains may not be quite as dramatic, though.

Jeep Scrambler 1981-85

Challenger prices

Fred Zeder on the original Hemi

Dodge cars, 1914-1966

The stop-start experience

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