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Dumbing Down Chrysler (2001)

Two years ago, when I first heard of the Daimler and Chrysler "merger", I approached it with both optimism and skepticism. The positive side said it was reasonable to believe that Daimler's engineering excellence would play a significant role in Chrysler's nagging quality problems, and Chrysler's boldness and quickness would lend themselves well to bring the Stuttgart crew closer to the edge of automotive styling. My cautious side wondered how soon we should expect $30,000 Neons and $50,000 Chryslers. Vipers? "If you have to ask you can't afford it."

Alas, these visions never materialized. Dodges and Chryslers didn't go through the financial roof. But, so too, has little of Daimler's renowned superiority surfaced in Chrysler products. And that is an unqualified shame.

A shame even more so since the acquisition of Mitsubishi and since learning of Daimler's strong resistance in sharing components fearing such a move would be sacrilegious to all things the three-pointed star represents.

Recently, some future product plans have surfaced. Some indications are that a handful of Mercedes components (transmissions and suspension pieces) will find their way into some Chrysler vehicles. But mostly, DCX has chosen to integrate Chrysler and Mitsubishi products through their developmental cycles. Chrysler's Neon, Stratus and Sebring models are already on the board to be morphed with Mitsubishi's Lancer and Galant. Yet no Mercedes-Benz products will share, or suffer, the same fate.

Without a doubt the international automotive market is currently unstable and constantly changing. The merger frenzy that began with DaimlerChrysler is not over yet. But many of those mergers are yielding quicker, better and more tangible results. Nissan's lineup, led by the hot Xterra, is quickly evolving into a more significant player. Renault's contribution is readily apparent.

Ford has gone even farther, developing both the Lincoln LS/Jaguar S-type from the corporate DEW98 platform and the new X-type Jag from Ford's Mondeo platform. The next generation of Taurus is said to be coming from Volvo's V70. Who wouldn't want press like that, exploiting the Swede's safety fetish into America's bread-and-butter sedan? Even lowly Hyundai from South Korea managed to rebody their own Sonata to insert a mid-size car into Kia's offering with the new Optima.

But still Daimler resists. How long will they cling to their "sacred traditions"? Long enough to allow others to integrate their newly formed companies into stronger and more agile opponents? Long enough to bleed DaimlerChrysler dry until Deustche Bank dumps their holdings? All who know this story know that it's already on the table and the proverbial handwriting is on the wall.

This combination of Daimler and Chrysler and Mitsubishi should be pulling together all the strengths from each entity and creating nearly unmatchable products. Bold Chryslers with superb feel and power at excellent pricing. Mercedes products with sass brought to market quickly and cost-effective without ramp-up glitches or recalls. Mitsubishi, the most recent addition in the game, could expand their North American products and Mercedes, Chrysler and Jeep products would have more significant support in the Asian region.

But nothing indicates that Daimler is contributing any of their expertise to the "family," save for a few nuts and bolts. And perhaps that is a problem in itself. Jurgen Schrempp has repeatedly comforted shareholders that the Mercedes brand will not be diluted, but that's not what anyone expected. What was expected was that Daimler would share technology and help develop new engines, platform and components to be shared be all three companies. So far, it seems the only sharing will be between Japan and the U.S., with Germany hiding behind their heralded status.

This is why I refer to the phrase "Dumbing Down Daimler."

While their protectionistic maneuvers may appease the brand loyalists and the Board, it also robs Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and Mitsubishi of the potential to create their own superior products and improve each other's market share. If Stuttgart would revise their own perspective and come to understand that developing three unique products from one common platform is a greater benefit than liability. That kind of news would inevitably leak into the media which would quickly extol the virtues of Mercedes engineering designed into a new Chrysler.

This improves the Chrysler brand. Not the other way around. If their excellence is so well established, applying it to another make will do nothing, in the public's mind, to erode their own reputation.

Maybe a call to Auburn Hills will uncover somebody who remembers how quickly Chrysler used to respond to the market and teach Daimler a thing or two about agility and responsiveness. Daimler still appears to play a steamship making U-turns compared to Chrysler's jackrabbit abilities. It seems ridiculous to believe that Auburn Hills has nothing to teach Daimler and that all processes and procedures must be done "The Daimler Way".

Take platform sharing, for example....

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