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2001 Archive: Allpar Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge, and Plymouth news

January 3

The Dodge full-size van (“B-van”), once the most popular van in the nation, is to be eliminated in 2002. Sales have been low.

2001 Dodge B3500 cargo van

January 4

The Dodge Powerbox concept truck is rated by Chrysler at 25 mpg, with 0-60 in seven seconds, larger inside than the current Durango, and probably the basis for the next-generation Durango.

Chrysler has announced that production of the Jeep Cherokee will end later this year, and that the Cherokee will be replaced by the Liberty.

Chrysler's sales figures show a 15% decline in December sales from last December. The Chrysler Town & Country was the only vehicle to beat last year's sales, most likely on the strength of returning Voyager customers. More temporary factory closings were announced. The news from GM and Ford is expected to be similar. (Thanks, genciu).

RUMOR - "MTS" said a Dodge tech had told him about the new Ram trucks. He said there would be a new powertrain lineup including the 4.7 V8, two Hemi engines (5.1 and 6.0 [315 cid] liters), and a new 6.4 liter (383 cid) Magnum motor as well as a 500 cubic inch V-10. This remains hearsay at the moment.

Bill Cawthon reported that the Mercedes Sprinter would be built in the South Caroline Freightliner plant, and will be sold as a Freightliner in the US. The popular Sprinter van would be a natural replacement for the Dodge full size vans, but Bill notes that Mercedes seems to be following a theme of selling commercial vehicles via Freightliner, and keeping Chrysler and Dodge for passenger vehicles, and Mercedes for luxury. He also said Mercedes seems to have decided against brining any non-luxury Mercedes-badged vehicles into the US, for fear of diluting the brand image.

We mistook some of Bill Cawthon's information. The Mercedes Unimog will be imported from Germany, not produced in Chrysler's van plant. He also commented on our story regarding Chevy Impalas in the New York City Police Department:

NYPD was one of the largest purchasers of Lumina squads as well. The fact that Chevy is ending Lumina production has probably spurred a number of Impala purchases as well. Lower prices and operating costs, small size and maneuverability are more important than speed in most parts of NYC (especially Manhattan). Even back in the old days, NYPD used six-bangers on the theory you couldn't outrun the 2-way radio.

Bill's original reports were:

The New Unimog U400 will be distributed wearing a Freightliner badge. A special fire truck version will be sold through Freightliner subsidiary American LaFrance.

The Mercedes Sprinter van will be built in the U.S. following a redesign in 2002. The U.S. version will carry the Freightliner name and be built in South Carolina.

January 5

General Motors followed Chrysler's factory closings with some of its own, idling 12 plants (25,600 workers) in the coming month. Chrysler is shutting eight plants over the next month.

Though Chrysler sales have languished, the group is still selling more vehicles in the US than Honda, Toyota, or, for that matter, anyone other than GM and Ford. GM sold over 336,000 vehicles in December, Ford sold over 275,000, and Chrysler sold over 167,000. The next best showing was Toyota, which has the best selling car (Toyota Camry), with about 134,000 vehicles. Honda, whose Accord was displaced as the best seller by the Camry, sold 88,000 vehicles for the month. Daewoo and Kia were the smallest mass-market sellers.

January 8

The 2003 Viper was shown today (not a concept but the real thing). It is "lighter, faster, and more powerful," developing over 500 horsepower and 500 lb-ft of torque with a 505 cid engine. The new V-10 is 8.3 liters, rather than 8.0. It remains rear wheel drive, with a six-speed manual and a racing-style chassis with fully independent four-wheel suspension. A new version of the four-wheel antilock brake system, first used in the 2001 model, is being used for 2003. The speedometer is now center-mounted, and the starter is a simple pushbutton. The new Viper has a convertible version, featuring a bi-fold clam shell top with single center latch. The new V-10 seems to be a revised version of the original, based on the old LA series (273/318/360/etc) V-8. The new Viper will be available in late spring, 2002.


Chrysler cut first quarter production by one quarter (26 percent to be precise) to avoid reliance on incentives. GM and Ford have already taken similar, though not as extreme, moves. Cuts include minivans (still the best sellers in their class), Grand Cherokee, and Durango.

Dieter Zetsche told reporters that Chrysler needed to be smaller, and said that the problems with Chrysler were structural in nature (despite the incredible success of Chrysler through the mid-to-late 1990s). He pointed to the reliance on incentives and blunt discounting sales techniques as one major problem, while saying "We have good products." First quarter production plans have already been slashed by a quarter. Zetsche's emphasis on spending cash on advertising rather than incentives may help the Stratus and Sebring sedans to find their place in customers' driveways, though.


The PT Cruiser was named Car of the Year at the Detroit Auto Show.


Some suppliers are telling Chrysler they will not agree to a five percent across-the-board price cut.


The Pontiac Aztec has been terribly received by customers due largely to its horrendous styling, which has been the butt of many jokes. It will be restyled somewhat for its second year, an unusual but intelligent step. Meanwhile, GM will cut the number of models it produces by through reducing the amount of brand engineering (similar cars sold under different marques with different sheet metal and suspension/engine tuning) and ending Oldsmobile.

January 11

Detroit News reported that DaimlerChrysler's cash cushion, most of it from Chrysler Corporation, has been spent on acquiring stakes in Mitsubishi and Hyundai.

According to auto.com, the Viper GTS/R, which "could represent the next-generation Viper," goes from 0 to 60 in 3.75 seconds, and from 0 to 100 (presumably and back to 0) in 13.2 seconds, both improvements over the current model. The chassis is two inches lower, and the vehicle height is four inches lower. After reviewing Motor Trend's comparison of high-end sports cars, we hope they are also improving the Viper's excellent-but-not-the-best brakes as well.

The NHTSA has announced its first rollover ratings, covering about 35 2001 models (80 are expected soon). The Chevrolet Silverado (GMC Sierra) ExCab 4x4 actually received four stars, as did the PT Cruiser and Honda Odyssey (no other minivans were tested except the Mazda MPV). The worst ratings were for the Chevy Blazer / GMC Jimmy/Envoy (one star). Most SUVs, including the Grand Cherokee, managed only two or three stars, while every single passenger car tested got four or five stars. The Ford Expedition, Explorer, Navigator, and Mountaineer all got two stars. Light trucks all received three or four stars (no Dodge trucks or SUVs were tested).

January 13

DCX told analysts that cash flow has gotten even worse, with very limited liquidity thanks to large investments in Mitsubishi and Hyundai. GM and Ford are also having financial problems, though not as severe.

The first Chrysler Prowler will be introduced January 16.

January 14

Bob Lutz, former president of Chrysler and logical choice to succeed Lee Iaccoca (once upon a time), unveiled Cunningham Motor Company's new Cunningham GT, a car build entirely by automotive suppliers. The $250,000 luxury car, represented at the Detroit Auto Show by a mockup model, will be powered by a 600 hp V-12 engine, and should be produced in 2004. The goal of Cunningham is to produce 500 of these vehicles. Lutz and Briggs Cunningham III, son of a 1950s specialty car builder, jointly own Cunningham Motor Company, while Bob Lutz himself is president of battery company Exide.

January 18

Chrysler VP of Design Trevor Creed told journalists that the Hemi 300C Convertible "stands a very good chance" of making it into production, but is "on hold" until the business plan is rewritten (with a deadline of February 26).


Car and Driver has posted a comparison of the Chrysler minivans with all comers in the "standard size" (not long-wheelbase) category. As we would have done, they gave the Chrysler minivans their top rating, followed by the Toyota Sienna. Visit their site to read their comments and to see how the Mazda MPV, Chevy Venture, Nissan Quest, and Mazda MPV scored.

June 7

Chrysler has confirmed the release of a flame package for the PT Cruiser. It will be a "ghost" kit, with the flames actually a similar color as the paint. Made of vinyl, the flames will be covered by the warranty, but the cost is $495 (thanks, Leon Shultz).

Probably due to the Ford Explorer tire issues, the federal government passed a law last year requiring these systems on all new cars sold in the US by 2003. GM has for some time offered tire pressure monitors on many vehicles. Chrysler will start using tire pressure monitors on 2002 models, using sensors built into the wheels to alert the driver if the pressure is too low or too high. The Prowler already used such a system.

Bill Cawthon wrote:

Confirmed: Mr. Source's report that Chrysler will start offering roof-mounted side impact air bags on its full-size trucks and most SUVs except the Jeep Wrangler. Tire pressure monitoring systems will also be offered on some SUVs and passenger cars. The Jeep Grand Cherokee, Chrysler and Dodge minivans, Chrysler 300 and Concorde Limited were specifically mentioned.

DaimlerChrysler will probably not axe quite as many Jeep workers as originally announced. The number is likely to be closer to 1,700 than 2,000 as reported earlier. About 600 are contract jobs and another 650 employees will be offered early retirement. Toledo's mayor is still bent because the remaining employment rolls will be far less than the 4,900 jobs DCAG promised when the city gave them one of the nation's fattest corporate bribe packages a few years back. While he can't do anything about the free land, he is threatening to pull some of the tax breaks that were in the package. [Note that some of these jobs are being lost as Cherokee production is eliminated, and others as Wrangler volume is cut back.]

On the questionable options front, Chrysler will begin offering a vinyl flame package for the PT Cruiser. Four color schemes are available and they will be installed after the car exits the paint shop in Toluca, Mexico. One supposes that as they peel off, they could be used to develop masks for a real flame paint job. Chrysler will also offer a dealer-installed DVD system for their minivans. The system will also allow gaming systems to be connected to the screen. (I know everyone thinks this is "reeeelly cooool" but, as far as I am concerned, it's one more damn thing for the kids to fight over).

Good-bye Cadillac Eldorado and Lincoln Continental. The brands that adorned such beauties as the 1956 Continental Mark II and such excesses as the land-barge Eldos of the 1970s are being put out to pasture. Next year will be the last for both models. The slow-selling Eldorado I can understand, but the Continental actually didn't do that badly. In May, 1,781 Continentals were sold, compared to 614 Eldorados.

Rumors of Jac Nasser's impending demise continue to flourish despite the usual canned denials. There are lots of questions about whether firing Nasser would do anything for Ford's current financial and product problems and there is no question that Nasser is a survivor who could teach those wannabee wimps in the Outback a thing or two. If Edsel and Billy do give Jac his walking papers, rumors say to look for him to re-surface at a German-based competitor.

They forgot the beer and brats: At their annual meeting, VW shareholders gave the board a good scolding about stock price and performance and some institutional shareholders demanded the company restructure itself. However VW shareholders (including the powerful state of Lower Saxony) acted like their counterparts at DCAG and voted overwhelmingly to let the company keep on doing what it has been doing all along. VW is make a nice profit on their operations and has rebuilt itself into the most popular European brand in America with the best sales in over two decades.

Two sources now say that there will be a flame option for the PT Cruiser. (If Chrysler was Ford, we'd think that meant a fuel leak!) And, as long as we're reporting rumors, "D" wrote that the next Neon will be more Mitsubishi-influenced [it is based on the Lancer] while the midsize sedans [based on the Galant] will be much more Chrysler."

Chrysler has enhanced its supplier communication system with a new feature called FastCar which will help it to inform suppliers more quickly of changes in needs - and to learn more quickly of problems in fulfilling those needs.

January 19

Ford settled with blueovalnews.com's webmaster, Robert Lane, in a dispute over secrets published on the web site - including the fact that Mustangs had been sold with less than their rated power. While a judge initially issued an injunction against blueovalnews.com on the grounds that web sites were not given the same protections as print media, that judge's decision was quickly overturned. The settlement involved Robert Lane agreeing not to post entire internal documents, solicit secrets from employees, or violate copyrights owned by Ford (presumably this means not using Ford's logo). We at allpar naturally followed this trial with great interest, though we have never had access to internal Chrysler documents and never used any Chrysler logos.

January 22

Chrysler has cancelled plans to close (temporarily) its Jeep Cherokee and Windsor minivan plants, due to unexpectedly high demand. The Cherokee will soon be discontinued, which may account for some of the demand, while the Windsor plant builds (at least based on historical data) the most reliable Chrysler minivans.

A government study quoted by Detroit News found that adding electronic gadgetry to cars - a focus of both Ford and Microsoft and, to a lesser degree, GM - may greatly increase the probability of accidents. This "duh" conclusion has now been scientifically tested.

Chrysler is soon to launch its rumored 3.5 liter, 230 hp Town and Country Limited. The current Limited has a 210 horsepower 3.8 engine.

January 23

Chrysler may, according to just-auto.com, be moving export minivan production back to North America to make room for extra PT Cruisers. Their Graz, Austria plant, which makes European and right-hand-drive minivans - complete with manual transmissions and diesel engines - could then be dedicated to making more Cruisers, raising production of the smaller cars from 15,000 per year to 45,000 per year. This would allow more Mexican Cruisers to be sold in the US.

Kirk Kerkorian, DCX's third-largest shareholder and plaintiff in a suit against the corporation (for defrauding stockholders by claiming it was a merger when in fact it was a takeover), sold ten million of his DCX shares, reducing his holding from over 3 percent to 2.3 percent of the company. Kerkorian's other business do not seem to be doing too well, and he may have needed the cash - or been forewarned of things to come. The share price has gone up since Kerkorian sold, earlier this month. (Based on reports in the Wall Street Journal and Detroit News).

January 26 (afternoon update)

Chrysler will soon offer a discounted "EX" version of their Town & Country and Grand Caravan, with the 3.8 liter engine, power rear liftgate, and other features, at a price of about $27,000. Similarly equipped vehicles would have cost over $30,000 before, but the Honda Odyssey's relatively low price has forced Chrysler to cut their own retail. This model smacks of Dieter Zetsche's rational dislike of incentives, since rather than selling an expensive minivan with a heavy cash back offer, Chrysler can sell a reasonably priced minivan without incentives. Dealer interest in the EX version has already been strong, with over 5,000 orders placed. By selling a standardized option package, Chrysler can cut their own production costs. (This is a very common practice for Japanese and German vehicles).


Chrysler showed a telematically enhanced vehicle today, according to the Associated Press (quoted in Car and Driver). It includes a voice-activated computer in the dashboard and two touchscreen controlled consoles for the rear passengers, who can play games or use the Internet. Chrysler's concept vehicle was designed to show what could be done, but Chrysler itself has no plans to use extensive consumer computer gadgets in a production car at this time - except for TVs in minivans.


Jorge Espinosa wrote that, this month, the Stratus R/T and Cirrus four-door sedans will be introduced in Mexico, complete with a turbocharged 2.4 liter engine rated at 215 horsepower (more than the V6 sold in the US). The Cirrus is similar to the Chrysler Sebring sedan.


DCX has increased its investment in Hyundai, which increasingly seems to be taking on Plymouth's old role. Hyundai has been very successful in capturing market share in the United States, less so in making profits. While DCX seems more interested in commercial truck ventures with Hyundai, rumors that Hyundai may "lease" Chrysler assembly lines abound. That would allow Hyundai to save its capital, and allow Chrysler to avoid losing factories it may need in the future - not to mention saving jobs.

January 29

Reuters announced that a credible German magazine will soon report that Chrysler and Mitsubishi will divide up their platforms, with some vehicles at each company based on the other's platforms. Likely casualties at Chrysler are the Neon and possibly the brand-new Stratus, while Mitsubishi's loss is harder to discern - possibly a truck or SUV, possibly the Galant.


While cutting one fifth of Chrysler's workforce, Juergen Schrempp said he would not rush Chrysler's turnaround.


The shoe has dropped, one month ahead of schedule. About 20 percent of Chrysler's workforce is to be laid off. Most of the damage will be done to third-shift and South American employees (19,000 of them), though 6,800 white collar workers are also affected. These layoffs and closings will take place over two to three years.

The product development budget has been cut by 10 percent, and 2000 executive bonuses will not be paid until 2002.


Here is a summary of layoffs (many employees are eligible for retirement, so not all will be officially laid off):

Plant changes include:


Chrysler also acted to cut dealer incentives, removing a $50 advertising fee and fuel tank filling fee for each vehicle and reducing profit margins on accessories. Dealers will no longer have a 15 day grace period before paying for delivered vehicles, but will be eligible for sales bonuses of up to $500 per vehicle. (No word on whether customer satisfaction plays any role there).

January 30

About three quarters of Chrysler's layoffs will take place in 2001. The main reason for eliminating third shifts rather than closing plants seems to be anti-closure agreements in the union contract, though this method will also help to keep Chrysler's options open over the long term and save the cost of moving tooling from one factory to another.


The Detroit News indicated that Chrysler is still seeking to increase PT Cruiser production, beyond the already-stated measure of devoting Toluca entirely to the popular vehicles.


The UAW's president said that the union would hold DCX to its contracts, which includes protections against layoffs and factory closings.


Hourly workers at Chrysler will still get profit sharing checks, according to the Detroit News, which also noted that Chrysler's build costs have again risen to be the highest of the Big Three due to the shrinking of the workforce (pensions of retired workers have fewer active workers to be spread across).

February 2001 Chrysler news

February 28

The new Chevy Niva, to be built in Russia and sold for about $8,000, looks remarkably like a Jeep, complete with trademark Jeep grille. Based on the Lada Niva, it incorporates new GM technology. It will not be sold in the US.

The United States Supreme Court upheld automotive clean air rules in Michigan. By a 7-0 vote, they concluded that the costs of environmental legislation (in this case, the Clean Air Act) could not be counted against the health benefits.

People are reporting a large Honda presence at Chrysler sites. Rumors are spinning around a Honda buyout of the PT Cruiser, which we find highly unlikely. Mitsubishi employees were also reported to be measuring the dimensions of the Neon plant and studying it very closely (not surprising since when the Neon ceases production its replacement will be designed by Mitsubishi).

February 26

Detroit News noted that Chrysler will "jointly develop" its Stratus and Sebring with Mitsubishi. We read that to mean that the Stratus/Sebring will be phased out and replaced with the Mitsubishi Galant, presumably with some facelifts. The article confirmed what we already knew regarding the phase-out of the Neon. Mitsubishi will give up its luxury Prodia/Dignity, and we'd expect the Diamonte to also end, though no mention has been made of it [Diamonte did end].

Chrysler employees' profit sharing comes to about $375 per union employee. Nonunion employees are also eligible for profit sharing. This highlights the fact, missed in most of the press reporting, that Chrysler actually was profitable for the year 2000 overall.

Feburary 23

Rich Hutchinson pointed us to a Forbes article which heavily criticizes the closure of Plymouth, noting that the brand could easily have been revived, that closing a division rarely gains anything, and that due to the slowdown, Chrysler must cheapen its own vehicles rather than using Plymouth to best advantage.

Reuters reported that Mitsubishi Motors Corp (MMC) will close a single plant and cut its payroll by 10 percent. Though MMC is in far worse shape than Chrysler, with scandals following long coverups of defects, it seems to be undergoing much less of a cutback - but, then, it's a smaller company. Closing a single plant (in Nagoya) eliminates one fifth of its domestic production. Mitsubishi will also cut the number of passenger cars from 24 to about 12, shifting to mainly small and medium sized cars while leaving the large car segments to Chrysler and Mercedes. Like Chrysler, Mitsubishi is currently run by a Mercedes executive. No word is expected this week on the fate of the Australian facilities, which were purchased from Chrysler around twenty years ago.

Dan Minick reported: "The first leak of the restructuring plan: Mitsubishi will end production of its luxo big cars, the Proudia and Dignity (front wheel drive V8 or V6 4 door and extended wheelbase. versions). Not sure how this affects its sister cars the Hyundai Dynasty and Equus. Also, the statement just read, stop manufacturing... am I assuming too much by thinking that it might mean marketing of it would still go on, but manufacturing would be done by someone else (with excess capacity?)"

February 21

DCX will form a special committee to oversee automotive operations. Juergen Schrempp will head this committee, which will essentially be in charge of Mercedes (whose chief will be second in command of the committee), Chrysler, and Mitsubishi. Schrempp will be more directly involved in day to day operations at Chrysler. Analysts believe there will be more consolidation of Mitsubishi and Chrysler at the small car level. Other reports indicate that Mercedes engines may be used in some Chrysler cars in the future to enhance their snob appeal. The next generation of the LH series is already scheduled to use Mercedes differentials and transmissions.

A Forbes article claims that some of Chrysler's problems are due to Juergen Schrempp's desire to increase short-term profits. The article reports that James Holden, then Chrysler president, had warned DCX that the company would only deliver $2.5 billion in profits because it was gearing up for new models, and because the economy was expected to slow. Schrempp reportedly ordered Chrysler to save the second quarter's profits "at all costs," with the company building many more vehicles than the dealers could sell. Keeping incentives low helped profitability, but only in the second quarter. The article also noted that Mitsubishi and Freightliner are both struggling, putting Chrysler into more perspective.

Ford's global marketing manager, Jim Schroer, was hired by DCX. Schroer did an excellent job at Ford, and will probably be a welcome change from Chrysler's often-ineffectual marketers. Bill Cawthon also noted:

DaimlerChrysler also forced two more executives into early retirement. One of them was Arthur "Bud" Liebler, head of global brand marketing and the guy who cut True North, the agency that produced the good Chrysler and Jeep ads. He installed Omnicom/BBDO into Chrysler Group's captive ad agency. Liebler will be replaced by George Murphy, formerly general marketing manager at Ford.

Gary Dilts will replace M. John MacDonald as Chrysler's senior VP of sales and field services. MacDonald also "accepted" early retirement.

February 20

Discounts appear to be raising Chrysler sales back to normal levels.

DCX is buying another 1 percent of Hyundai despite severe cash flow problems. DCX stock rose somewhat on the news that the Emirate of Kuwait, one of DCX's largest stockholders, had bought stock from Kirk Kerkorian.

While the former Daewoo CEO evades police and union members, 34 former Daewoo execs have been indicted for accounting fraud. Daewoo was started as a joint venture by General Motors and a local industrial firm. GM and Ford both recently declined to buy Daewoo, but GM and Fiat are still interested if the price falls. Fiat, an independent company with strong sales in Europe, is already partnering with General Motors. Daewoo workers have held a sitdown strike to protest large job cuts, leading to 76 arrests by police.

February 19

We've heard more rumors that the Cummins diesel will indeed be in the 2003 Rams, with a quieter setup and Allison transmission that should provide needed durability.

The New York Times Autos section featured the Chrysler Sebring, noting its history and expressing disappointment that it was not the killer the original Neon, Intrepid, and Ram were. The article did not really say much about the cars except to criticize some of the plastic bits inside and briefly go over some specs.

February 16

Mitsubishi recalled a large number of cars this week, including Sebring/Avenger models sold under the Chrysler and Dodge names. Mitsubishi has recently admitted to systematically hiding driver complaints and covering up safety issues.

Jeep has objected to the Hummer H2 grille, which strongly resembles the trademark Jeep grille. GM has, however, won a trademark (not contested by Chrysler) for the Hummer grille, leaving the outcome of Chrysler's challenge in doubt. Jeep argued that the Hummer grille is designed to confuse customers. AM General was part of AMC before AMC was purchased by Renault, however, and presumably had the same rights to the graphic elements on the H1. The H2 is a modified Chevrolet SUV.

February 14

Mike Bergin pointed out that the retirement package is not being offered at all plants.

We have separate sections on the new Hemi truck engine and the new Ram pickup.

The last Reliant three-wheeled car was produced yesterday. The English company which has produced Reliants since 1935 will now import French microcars instead.

Mitsubishi Australia presented a new business plan to Mitsubishi's German leaders, suggesting that increasing production and sales - including possibly Chrysler models, not made in Australia since Chrysler Australia was sold to Mitsubishi - was the best way to make profits in Australia. The new assembly facility can produce more than one model on the same line at the same time.

February 13

According to Automotive News, nearly three quarters of Chrysler's suppliers have refused to cut their prices by 5 percent, and Bob Eaton said that he really did envision DCX as a merger of equals but would not comment on later developments.

"MTS" wrote that based on people he has been in touch with, the 2003 Ram pickups will feature a 5.8 liter, 354 cid Hemi engine at 280 hp / 375 lb-ft of torque, replacing the 360. A 383 cid Magnum is also predicted, with over 300 hp and over 400 lb-ft of torque. The V-10 is generally assumed to be staying, but with larger displacement to match the Viper V-10 - MTS suggested 504 cid, 350 hp, 500 lb-ft of torque.

Chrysler will show a profit by the end of 2002, according to a DCX business plan.

As Chrysler employees are losing their jobs, Mercedes employees are getting record profit-sharing checks. Though DCX says Mercedes should not suffer due to Chrysler's problems, we'd point out that at least some of Mercedes' prosperity is due to the funneling of funds away from Chrysler.

Chrysler has increased incentives, including cash-back deals and low-interest loans, as customers have lost some faith in the company's ability to survive. We suspect the increasing publicity around Chrysler's German owners will also hurt Ram sales, as pickup owners historically have tended to buy American.

February 8

Dieter Zetsche said that Chrysler would not delay any new products, and indeed would rely on new products to get the company out of its slump. That does not include the full-size SUV, which has definitely been canned. He said he likes 80 percent of what he sees in the pipeline, and that the remainder can be "fixed." Most engineering and product development jobs will be spared from the cuts, though 610 people will be lost. Zetsche also said he would soon make a decision on how to produce more PT Cruisers.

Bill Cawthon contributed a piece which describes our thoughts:

Apparently tired of reporting that Toyota is not buying DaimlerChrysler, the media is now reporting that GM is not buying Jeep. This is not really surprising since DaimlerChrysler has not announced any intention of selling one of its most popular brands and GM has just sunk billions into developing its new TrailBlazer, Envoy, Yukon and Escalade models. To save time in the future, it should also be noted that GM is also not buying Ford, Toyota, Volkswagen, BMW or Honda and is still hesitant about buying Daewoo.

The source of these news stories seem to be financial analysts' desperate desire for a one-time shot in the arm to make the bottom line look better in the short term. The fact that selling off bits and pieces is counter-productive and could damage Chrysler's long-term survivability does not seem to have occurred to them at this time.

February 6

Mitsubishi and Chrysler will work together to develop an engine for their new "world car," a subcompact. This seems to indicate that the 1.4/1.6 liter engine developed by Chrysler and Rover will be used only in the Mini Cooper, which was developed by Rover but was kept by BMW when BMW gave Rover away. Hyundai is also developing a world car separately from MMC and Chrysler.

Chrysler's 5 percent price cut, imposed on suppliers just after the Mercedes executive takeover, has met with a great deal of resistance. Some suppliers actually stopped delivery, and many have been able to negotiate smaller cuts.

A Detroit News article on Chrysler's new #2 man, Wolfgang Bernhard (imported from Mercedes, of course) said that Chrysler execs (presumably the Mercedes contingent) seriously considered eliminating the Jeep Wrangler so they could shut down the plant it is made in; that the choice of plant closings had nothing to do with union contracts; and that Bernhard himself likes the Sebring/Stratus and Durango. He had been the CEO of Mercedes-AMG, a high performance tuning company, for two years. AMG employees 470 employees, a bit fewer than Chrysler's 128,000.

As Chrysler shuts down factories, Toyota is building a new V8 engine plant in Alabama to supply the Tundra pickup. Mazda's board is cutting their own pay to show solidarity with their employees.

February 2

Sales for Mercedes vehicles dropped ten percent in January. Toyota sales fell, while Lexus dropped. Most automakers, in fact, posted sales drops, with the notable exception of Honda, Mitsubishi, and Hyundai. In all, it appears that the highest and lowest priced autos are selling best, while the midrange is taking a hit. We note that, had Plymouth remained true to its origins - in which case it would be competing with Hyundai - Chrysler would probably be weathering the storm a bit more easily.

Bill Cawthon reported:

  • Chrysler maintained its leadership in the minivan market with the Dodge Caravan being the top-selling model, but minivan sales tanked pretty much across the board. Total minivan sales for DaimlerChrysler, Ford and GM came to 55,425, a number DaimlerChrysler came close to hitting by itself last January. The Ford Windstar, which took second place behind the Caravan, was the only other minivan to break the 10,000 mark in monthly sales.
  • The Dodge Ram pickup moved past the Ford Explorer, thanks mostly to the steep drop in Explorer sales. Barring any real surprises, the Ram is #4, behind the Ford F-Series, Chevy Silverado and Honda Accord.
  • Not a single Chrysler-badged car [PT Cruiser is officially a truck] broke the 10,000 sales mark in January. The Dodge Neon was the best-selling model, followed by the Intrepid.
  • Chrysler's bright spot continues to be the PT Cruiser. Over 13,000 were sold in January. Now if they had only planned to make a few more...
  • Genciu added: "Chrysler sales are down 16% for the month of January (from last January). GM was down 5.1% and Ford was down 11%. The only good news was PT Cruiser sold 13, 475 and a few models were up from a year ago including Plymouth Neon +9% [!], Chrysler Voyager +14%, Town & Country +20% and Dodge Neon was up 29%...everything else was down. "

Rich Hutchinson noted: "Current losses stem largely from Chrysler introducing many new models, and the ill-advised and ill-timed spurt in 2000 minivan production immediately before the new 2001 models were released. The safety net built up by Chrysler to stave off hardship during a downturn was milked away by Daimler." We'd add that costs related to the takeover were also a factor, as people flew back and forth, Chrysler paid for Mercedes "consulting time," vehicles had to be redesigned to handle Mercedes components, etc.

February 1

Chrysler's new minivans may soon be "re-introduced" due to disappointing sales.

Bogota had its second "car-free" day, banning the use of cars.

Bill Cawthon contributed the following items:

  • Despite rumors saying the CS crossover vehicle was being moved up to make a debut in 2001, sources close to Chrysler report it is actually being pushed back to a possible 2003 introduction. The reason cited is the cost of launching the new vehicle. While working on reducing costs of current production models, Chrysler Group engineers are said to be looking at some of the parts that would go into the CS to see where any costs could be shaved.
  • Is we or isn't we? While Dieter Zetsche was telling CNBC that DaimlerChrysler was considering hostile takeover defenses, German DCAG spokesman Christoph Walther was telling Bloomberg News that no such strategy was in the works.

March 2001 Chrysler news

March 29

All production of Galant-based vehicles will be moved to the United States Diamond-Star plant by 2003. This includes the Mitsubishi Galant and Eclipse and the Dodge Stratus/Chrysler Sebring coupes. The current Galant plant in Japan will make the Mitsubishi Z-car (with engines up to 1.5 liters), reportedly to be sold as a Dodge and possibly a Hyundai as well as a Mitsubishi. (Thanks, Dan Minick).

Delphi, the world's largest auto parts supplier, will cut 11,500 jobs.

Detroit News reported that the 2002 Jeep Liberty (its replacement for the Cherokee - except in Europe, where the Liberty will be called the Cherokee - and in China where we understand the Cherokee will live on) will sell for $17,620, around $2,000 less than the Jeep Cherokee. Jeep sales have been falling as competition has heated up, and the Cherokee has increasingly been seen as outdated by car reviewers.

Chrysler is cutting 200 jobs in U.S. sales offices, according to Reuters. The sales offices will be reorganized into five regional centers which will set incentives and tune marketing for their regions. The current system of 25 zone offices will continue, with fewer staff. There are about 1,000 employees in field sales, making this a 20% cut, exactly reflecting Chrysler's round-number overall cuts.

The studio has long been a source of popular and excellent designs, including a large number of Chrysler vehicles in the 1950s (Plymouth XX-500, Chrysler SS, Dodge Firewarrow, DeSoto Adventurer, Norseman, Plymouth XNR). Even after the Chrysler program was discontinued, Ghia produced its own designs with Chrysler components. The Volkswagen Karmann-Ghia was based on an early Ghia design turned down by Chrysler (!). Ford bought the company in 1973 to develop show cars and sport versions (such as the Ghia Focus and StreetKa). One reason for the reduction is a switch to computer-generated designs, which will be translated into models and prototypes at Ford design studios in England and Germany. (Thanks, Bill Cawthon).

March 23

The new Dodge Stratus/Chrysler Sebring sedan moved from the worst IIHS crashworthiness category to the best with the new redesign (from poor to good).

Bill Cawthon wrote: Ford says it faces more than $10 billion in claims in lawsuits relating to safety issues, including rollovers in the Explorer. Besides the lawsuits filed by accident victims or their families, Ford also is being sued by stockholders who claim Ford defrauded them by improperly handling the entire Explorer-Firestone problem and failing to inform stockholders of the liabilities involved...Other lawsuits center around the Bronco, asbestos, and defective seat belts....and the EPA may force Ford to pay to clean up hazardous waste sites. A civil enforcement action has already been filed by the Federal government over a site in Texas. The EPA may also force Ford to recall about 6 million 1997-1998 vehicles because the vapor leak systems installed were inadequate.

March 22

A Detroit News article describes where $5 billion of Chrysler money went - mainly into marketing costs, plant modernization, and lost profits, all because of reduced sales (particularly on trucks). One major problem was James Holden's decision to make 2000 minivans at the same time as 2001 models, a decision hailed by analysts at the time, which resulted in rebates up to $4,000 per van. At the same time, DCX spent $2 billion on Mitsubishi, $470 million on Hyundai, $423 million on Detroit Diesel, and $450 million on Western Star Holdings. The end result was moving from $11 billion in cash to $1 billion a year later for DCX as a whole, or moving from $7.5 billion to $2.5 billion for Chrysler alone.

March 21

Chrysler's new marketing chief, James Schroer, is shaking up the company's legendary bad advertising. Edward Herman will be joining "Dodge Different" in the dustbin, and both Dodge and Chrysler will get new ad campaigns. Launch ads for Dodge Rams will focus on the capabilities of the heavy-duty vehicles. Together with Dieter Zetsche's focus on pricing cars appropriately rather than relying on incentives, and building brands to allow for higher prices without discounts, these moves bode well.

March 20

Hondas and Toyotas continue to be favorites of auto thieves, according to Detroit News, with various years of Accord and Camry topping the stolen car lists, followed by domestic pickups and SUVs. To be fair, the Accord, Camry, and domestic pickups are also the best selling vehicles. For reasons we cannot imagine, the 1995 Neon is on the list (#22). Why not the 1998-99 model with updated parts?

The former CEO of very-troubled Daewoo is reportedly hiding out in Europe and contemplating suicide. Meanwhile, GM seems unwilling to buy the company they helped to start, and Hyundai reportedly is not willing to run it, either.

General Motors recalled three quarters of a million cars due to electrical fires, while NHTSA is investigating 164 complaints of non-deploying airbags on Chrysler minivans.

March 19

In response to our note about "Pentastar Service Equipment" on paper floor mats, we received this posting: "Pentasar Service Equipment is Daimlerchrysler's dealership equipment supplier (ie: hoists, shop compressors, A/C recycling machines ). They also supply dealerships with items such as the paper floormats, steering wheel covers ect. The items are produced by other companies, but because DC has a dealer body of almost 3000 dealerships they are usually able to offer these items at a reduced price-and make some money too. Hope this clears up the confusion MOPAR is still our parts brand. "

March 16

Chrysler has decided not to produce a 3.5 liter minivan this year. The 250 horsepower engine would have been a clear class leader, at a time when most reviewers say the Honda Odyssey has drawn pretty close to the Grand Caravan. Eric Berger, who sent us this information, noted: "I guess DCX thinks that they can shrink to greatness.".

March 15

An additional 500 blue collar jobs will be cut at Chrysler.

March 14

Cars.com (quoted by savechrysler.com) confirmed that the Chrysler Sebring, though fairly highly rated by reviewers and brand new in design, will be moved to the Mitsubishi Galant platform along with the Neon. This means that Chrysler will make three cars - the LH series, the Prowler, and the Viper - only one of which is mass produced. The end result will be, as some have predicted, that Mercedes will build premium cars; Chrysler will build trucks; and Mitsubishi will build mass-produced cars, albeit often under the Chrysler name.

March 13

Chrysler is set to lay off about 2,700 management and professional staff at the end of the month, on the assumption that the best road to growth and profitability is firing people and shutting plants. One analyst said, “We distrust any downsizing where a percentage is announced first, and they figure out who to cut second.” Chrysler is reportedly using performance appraisals and analyses of needs to decide who will be layed off.

Drew pointed out that Motor Trend has compared the Sebring and Toyota Solara convertibles, and rated the Sebring as being superior - with better structural integrity, comfort, and top raising/lowering.

March 8

GM is rewarding its chief financial officer with a bonus of $1.5 million with an identical or larger bonus guaranteed in 2001, according to SEC documents. This is happening at the same time that GM is laying off employees, showing the level to which they care about plant workers and customers. (Bill Cawthon provided the news).

March 6

Chrysler's state of the art facility in Brazil is due to stop producing Dakotas in April.

Bill also wrote:

March 5 (late)

The LX will use Mercedes electronics systems, and will be designed for maximum compatibility with Mercedes E-series components. The E-series is, like the LX, due in 2004 or 2005 (the LX seems to be under a substantial delay while it waits for Mercedes refitting). The common underlying electronics architecture will let them use the same engines and transmissions - which they will [definitely transmissions, probably engines] - not to mention supplier-designed products such as traction controls, antilock brakes, and navigation systems. It will allow Chrysler and Mercedes to save money through quantity discounts, and will give Chrysler access to electronic stability systems (which are used, not made, by Mercedes).

Reengineering Chrysler products to use Mercedes components may add to their costs, as well as to the time it takes to design them [our notes]. The article points out the cost issue, but we have noticed that the introduction of new Chrysler models seems to be taking longer than originally planned in many cases - that is, cases where Mercedes is involved.

March 5

About 2,700 salaried employees at Chrysler will be laid off, since only about 2,300 have accepted buyout offers. This is part of Chrysler's plan to grow by shrinking. Meanwhile, no expansion of the PT Cruiser line seems imminent, leading us to question how Chrysler can return to profitability with increasingly shrinking revenues, especially after all the "economy of scale" hype fed to us during the takeover.

Bill Cawthon provided several news bulletins:

March 2

Chrysler sales were up in February (over January), but behind last year's record February sales. Minivan sales are down 31%, possibly because Chrysler flooded the market last quarter, and more likely because of competition from the Honda Odyssey and small SUVs. The Sebring/Stratus coupes are doing well compared to the Avenger/Sebring last year, and the Sebring convertible is up 12% over last year. Chrysler market share is down about ten percent since last year, and over thirteen percent so far this year. GM and Ford market share has also declined by about ten percent each, with foreign automakers such as Honda taking up the slack. Hyundai posted the greatest gain in market share (where are you, Plymouth?) followed by BMW, Porsche, and Kia (looking at this February compared with last February). Ford's luxury brands also dropped - Volvo and Jaguar both lost market share despite new models.

Ford may need to recall nearly one million Contour/Mystique/Cougars due to dashboard overheating, which have resulted in 93 reports of fire and over 700 reports that the defroster was knocked out. At this point, NHTSA is simply investigating the problem. We have observed that Ford seems to be resistant to recalls, and also tends to have a lot of fire related issues.

Bill Cawthon reported that FedEx will buy and use in the US 1,900 Mercedes Sprinter vans, which are already used in Europe by FedEx and UPS. The new vans will be built in South Carolina by Freightliner, whose name will be used instead of Mercedes. The Sprinter is replacing the Dodge B-series van, which was scheduled for cancellation before the takeover.

March 1

BridgeNews reported that Chrysler has stopped all product development beyond 2003, based on supplier sources. We have no verification of this story, which contradicts statements by Chrysler lead Dieter Zetsche (which were admittedly made before Juergen Schrempp took direct charge of the DCX auto groups). The article claims that the full-size LX series (LH replacement) will be delayed by one year, as well. Our take: some suppliers are probably being phased out, hence their being told to expect no product development in the future, and the LX will be delayed while it is refitted for Mercedes engines.

While the Smart division of DCX is still losing money, no layoffs or cost cutting measures are planned. Breakeven is forecast for 2004, two years after Chrysler's breakeven (Chrysler has been profitable every year since DCX was created, including in 2000, but has forecast losses for 2001). While current Smarts are two-seaters, a four-seater is being designed in conjunction with Mitsubishi for sale in 2004.

April 2001 Chrysler news

4-26-01

About 11,000 Chrysler and Dodge minivans made between March 22 and April 21 are being recalled by Chrysler. (The date of assembly is printed on the edge of the driver's door sticker. Customers can also find out if their vehicle is being recalled by calling 800 853 1403 - they need to know the vehicle ID number [VIN] when they call). A bolt on the lower control arm could break. Six complaints have been received by Chrysler, with no accidents so far. If your vehicle is affected, Chrysler requests that you not drive it until it is fixed. Dealers will tow the minivan for you, and provide a loaner at their cost. The problem appears to be a batch of defective bolts from a supplier, and a fix is already set up.

April 25

Also from Bill Cawthon: "The Chrysler PT Cruiser was named "Car of the Year for 2001" at the Leipzig Auto Show. The Cruiser received over 175,000 votes from Europeans who liked the design and called it the most attractive new product of the year." ... and:

The mayor of Toledo, Ohio is very upset with DaimlerChrysler. After receiving $275 million in construction aid from the city and state four years ago, the company announced will trim its workforce there to well below the number promised to government officials in a contract signed on November 12, 1998.

DaimlerChrysler says it will trim about 2,035 jobs from its Jeep plants in Toledo, some through retirement and attrition, some through layoffs.

Mayor Carlton Finkbeiner is additionally upset because it was he who defended Chrysler when consumer advocate Ralph Nader sued over the generous corporate welfare package.

Finkbeiner feels that DC's announced $300 million investment in Toluca, coming on the same day as the bad news for his town is a slap in the face.

Chrysler spokesperson Jodi Tinson said the company does not feel it is violating either the terms or spirit of the contract, citing the change in the market and company's economic condition. Tinson said the layoff announcements were old news, but as recently as February 26, company officials indicated the Toledo plants faced only a line speed reduction and the jobs that will be cut when Cherokee production ends.

April 24

Bryan Nesbitt, designer of the PT Cruiser, is going to General Motors to head up Chevy's styling. In order to give a much-needed boost to the bowtie's (and other divisions') bland styling, GM has hired 100 new designers over the past year. (Thanks, Bill Cawthon).

John Daigle pointed out that the Chrysler web site still lists Plymouth Neons with Chrysler Voyagers and Chrysler Prowlers, making it possible that the Chrysler Neon reported in the US is either a "gray market" car, a test case, or the first of its kind appearing in advance of a Web site update.

April 23

PT Cruiser production will finally be increased, according to CNNfn. The company is spending $300 million to raise worldwide capacity by 35 percent, or to 310,000 units per year. The company decided to boost production at the Toluca plant by 80,000 vehicles per year, starting next year.

Drew wrote: "Late last year, I talked to a friend of mine who works in the Belvidere Neon plant. He said that he'd heard that Neons would be badged as Chryslers starting sometime in '01 so that Chrysler-(former) Plymouth dealers could still have a Neon to sell after the Plymouth brand was completely discontinued...I just called a friend of mine at our local Chrysler dealer and he says that there is a Chrysler-badged Neon on their lot right now (with leather!). He also said that he's not sure how much longer they will even have Neons; it might become a Dodge-only model in the next year or two... " -- an interesting thought. Chrysler Neons are made for all but the American market (with leather) so it would not require much to make Chrysler Neons for the US. On the other hand, it could be a misunderstanding by the dealer (possibly receiving an export Neon) coupled with a plant rumor.

The Chrysler LHS will reportedly be phased out next year, instead of being dropped at the end of the current generation of LH. The car has never been especially popular, but its sales seem to have slumped with the current generation.

Key auto suppliers are posting losses for the first quarter, reflecting lower sales combined with lower margins.

April 19

AutoExtremist.com, pointing to a report that Chrysler's ad folks are considering an ad campaign around the theme of "We're not dead yet," suggested that DCX officially kill off Chrysler, which might increase sales a la Oldsmobile - then bring the company back "by popular demand." (We suggested bringing Plymouth back that way when Plymouth swept the J.D. Power awards).

April 18

DaimlerChrysler Products won 3 of the eighteen categories of the Automobile Magazine Readers Choice All-Star Awards, coming in third overall. GM won the most awards with five (four of them for different versions of the same basic truck chassis), followed by BMW with four. Ford, Mazda, Porsche and Volkswagen won a single award apiece.

A number of Chrysler products topped the Canadian Auto Association's survey of dream cars. When asked "what is the vehicle of your dreams?", the most common choices of Canadian respondents included (#1) the Jeep Grand Cherokee as well as (in the top ten) the Dodge Durango, Chrysler PT Cruiser, Dodge Caravan, and Dodge Ram.

DCX officially said that the next-generation LH series would use Mercedes transmissions, axles, and steering gear - which we reported months ago. The 2004 model year rear-drive LH vehicles [possibly reclassified as LX], including an Intrepid, 300N, and Concorde, will be released in late 2003. Dieter Zetsche said the reason was to cut costs and increase quality, though the LH series has had high quality components in each of these areas except transmissions - and we can't believe Mercedes parts will cost less. (Thanks, Bill Cawthon)

Jeep may have abandoned its high-end Overland suspension on the forthcoming Jeep Grand Cherokee.

Mitsubishi will decide by June whether to keep the Adelaide, Australia plant.

DCX denied reports (based on statements by Mitsubishi's chief operating officer) that DCX will abandon a commercial truck alliance with Hyundai.

April 13

Rollover risk ratings for another 17 vehicles were released Friday by the US government. The Chrysler Sebring/Dodge Stratus sedans got the highest five-star rating, while the Ford Ranger/Mazda B-series pickup and Toyota Tacoma pickup (in 4x4/extended cab trim) and Toyota 4Runner 4x2 were given two stars. The Neon received four stars, and the Durango (two wheel drive) and Ram extended cab got three stars. The ratings are based on a formula which uses center of gravity and vehicle width. That formula is being criticized and NHTSA may start testing cars under laboratory conditions next year.

April 12

Juergen Schrempp was lambasted at the stockholders meeting for his relentless but unproductive empire-building, but no action was taken to change the way DCX is run. The meeting reportedly cost $10 million, including free beer and brats; 20% of Chrysler's hourly employees, and abut 10% of Mitsubishi's, will be losing their jobs soon.

Dodge will reportedly be advertising its new Viper as 500-500-500, which is (abut) the horsepower, torque, and engine size in cubic inches. (Horsepower is actually slightly higher). Its success in its first round of LeMans races will be challenged by the new Saleen, which seems to be faster than the current factory-sponsored Corvettes (as was the Viper). The Viper's first year of racing should be interesting.

April 11

Detroit News reviewed minivans and found the Grand Caravan to be tops for passengers, the Odyssey to be better for cargo.

DCX said its first quarter loss would come to about $890 million due largely to Mitsubishi and Chrysler losses. Schrempp, as expected, defended himself against charges of mismanagement, placing the blame for losses on Chrysler and taking credit for implementing a recovery plan which he says is going well. (All that new product in the pipeline was apparently irrelevant compared with simply announcing layoffs of 20% of the company).

April 10

Chris White said it looked as though construction at the Pillette Road plant is continuing, though the plant is supposed to stop construction of vans in two years, and no other models are publicly slated for it. Possible implications are (a) they need to finish up construction for safety reasons, (b) they want to sell the plant when they are done with it, (c) they really will be building something new there and are just trying to fool competitors, (d) they will add PT Cruiser capacity there alongside full size vans, and (e) it will eventually be used by Mitsubishi, Freightliner, or another DCX concern.

April 9

Chrysler Controller James Donlon, one of the few high-ranking executives to work on the merger, reported that Chrysler's financial situation is not as bad as in the crises of 1980 and 1990. The company still has some $18 billion of credit available. Donlon said that Chrysler is staying away from money-losing leases and incentives. - Thanks, Bill Cawthon

Michael A. Cole wrote that "dropping Plymouth has had an interesting side affect. In Canada the Dodge Caravan has taken over top spot as the best selling vehicle of any kind. I'm sure this had been true in the past for combined Dodge/Plymouth sales. The problem is that it's a clearer statement to make against a single vehicle. A fact which hasn't been lost in the advertising."

Monday's Automotive News is reporting that Pillette assembly will remain open until July 2003 building full-size vans. This is quite a reversal. [The vans are not expected to be updated, though. AutoNews says the reason is because the full-size Ram-based SUV, which was to use that factory, will not be produced.] - Thanks, genciu

April 4

Although Chrysler's sales bounced back somewhat, market share is still declining, and is down about 10 percent in March. GM and Ford have also been losing market share - particularly Ford, whose loss is about the same as Chrysler's - while Hyundai, Kia, and Daewoo have had strong increases in market share (on the territory once owned by Plymouth, long ago). Ford-owned Mazda has been posting healthy gains, and GM-owned Saab has greatly increased its rather small market share as well.

April 3

Chrysler sales rebounded somewhat for March, with overall sales down ten percent from last year's record month but up dramatically from January. The Chrysler Town & Country minivan shot up 32 percent from the same time last year (though this year it does not have competition from the Plymouth Grand Voyager), and the Cherokee and Grand Cherokee both increased slightly in sales. Minivan and mid-size sedans are creeping back up in sales (thanks, genciu).

May 2001 Chrysler news

May 30

Mitsubishi will call the next-generation Mirage a Lancer in the United States. The name has been used globally, but in the US, it conflicted with the Dodge Lancer, a name used on-and-off by Chrysler. The next generation will only be sold as a sedan, and will have a "Dodge version." It will be larger than the current version, and even in base trim will come with standard air, power locks, mirrors, and windows, 100 watt CD stereo, tilt steering, tachometer, and other features. The price range is expected to start at $14,000, rather high for the segment.

The Lancer's 1.5 liter engine will be upgraded to 2 liters for the US market, with a four-speed automatic instead of the continuously variable transmission used in Japan (because the extra power [120 hp] would likely result in reliability issues for the variable transmission). A rear stabilizer bar will increase handling. The Evolution III will not be exported, because of the cost of modifying and testing it for American emissions and safety standards. (The Evo is seen as a niche vehicle with too small a market to justify this cost.)

May 29

2000 and 2001 Neons are being recalled to replace a brake booster hose which can weaken over time. While no accidents or injuries have occurred, Chrysler discovered the problem through a routine analysis of returned parts. The problem apparently does not result in complete loss of brakes, but it can lead to loss of power brakes (i.e. the power boost would not be present so much more effort would be required to stop the car).

May 24

Chrysler union employees, holding a protest in front of Chrysler headquarters, said that laid-off workers had been replaced by contractors and other non-union personnel, a violation of the contract.

GM will make its oil replacement indicator standard across its lines. The system, already used in many GM vehicles, can help to extend the life of engine oil from 3,000 miles (where many people change it) to 10,000 or even 15,000 miles, by analyzing conditions and indicating to the customer when it needs to be changed in a somewhat more scientific method than "every 3,000 miles." The company also announced that it will build new four and five cylinder engines, based on the rather impressive new in-line six, at new engine plants in New York and Flint, Michigan. The in-line six is used in the new Trailblazer, and features the power of an eight.

May 22

Word is that the Neon's replacement is now (as we believed months ago) a "done deal." The replacement will be Mitsubishi's new-for-2002 Lancer (a name only used outside the US and Canada to avoid conflicts with the Dodge Lancer). While the current schedule has the Neon being dropped in 2004, it could be replaced in the 2003 model year if sales do not improve. Without a serious performance version, decent ad campaign, decent gas mileage, etc., we suspect the Neon may be retired early.

May 18

A reliable source claims that a new Chrysler or Dodge squad car will be fielded at the next Michigan State Police tests. Based on the LH platform, with a V-8 and five-speed automatic transmission, this would be a full AHB package rather than the stock Intrepids used by many forces. Past reports have also supported Chrysler's re-entry into the police car arena, where the rear wheel drive LH replacement could easily best Ford's Interceptor and GM's Impala.

May 3

Bill Cawthon wrote:

Jeffrey Bell, from Ford, will be the new Chrysler vice president for marketing communications. This is a new position intended to assure consistency in messages across product lines as well as develop new marketing programs.

Another new hire from Ford is Julie Roehm, the new director of marketing communications. While at Ford, she led the launch of the Ford Focus.

Frank Sklarsky is actually coming back to Chrysler after two years with Dell. He started with Chrysler Corp. as an analyst in 1983 and rose to the position of vice president for financial activities before leaving in 1999. Now he will be vice president for finance and assistant controller for product quality cost management and procurement (hope they got him some oversized business cards). When he left Chrysler, he was v-p for corporate financial activities.

May 2

Bill Cawthon provided this report:

With all the major players reporting, foreign-badged passenger cars outsold American brands in April. No Chrysler passenger car broke the 10,000 mark in April as Chrysler dealers punished the automaker for the new compensation program. The Dodge Intrepid was Chrysler's best-seller at 9,825.

11,630 people bought PT Cruisers in April.

When total light vehicle sales, cars, pickups, vans and SUVs, are considered, the American companies still command the market with a combined 62.24%. GM's market share is 26.05%, Ford's is 22.36% and Chrysler Group's is 13.83%. My numbers vary from others you may see because I subtract the heavy and strictly commercial vehicle sales from Ford and GM. They don't appear in the other's numbers and I don't think it's fair to add medium trucks, cutaways and chassis-cabs to just two of the automakers.

May 1

Genciu wrote: "Sales from a year ago are down 18% for the month of April. Some sunshine though, minivans are finally up, 6%. Sebring coupe is up 17%; PT Cruiser is up 40% (11,630); Town & Country is up 76% (11,589); Caravan is up 3% and Ram Wagon is up 16%. Also, Stratus coupe outsold the Avenger by quite a margin." [Note-the sales decline is explained, to a degree, below]

The Liberty entered production yesterday.

Chrysler's current strategy seems to be lumping Chrysler and Jeep together, using Jeep both to replace Plymouth and to enhance the status of Chrysler, and keeping Dodge as a nameplate in the US for both cars and trucks. This provides both divisions with SUVs and cars, and defines the brands a little more in terms of status and cost.

June 2001 Chrysler news

June 1

Genciu wrote: Sales are up 7% from April, but compared to May of last year, they are down 8%. Dealers have orders for more than 50,000 Liberty models. Town & Country is up 149% from last year [when it competed with Grand Voyager]. Sebring coupe is up 56%, convertible +21%, Intrepid +1%, Caravan +13%. Minivans as a group are up 20%...finally seem to be catching on. PT Cruiser sold 10,323 and the Liberty sold 1,602. Viper was also up, Ram wagon was up and the Stratus Coupe outsold the Avenger. Unfortunately, everything else was down....but this is better than a few months ago when everything was down.

Bill Cawthon provided the following news:

Chrysler is going to fix door latches on about 136,000 minivans after the side doors opened and slid back during crash testing. The models affected are those without the keyless entry system. Chrysler minivans did reasonably well, garnering 4- and 5-star ratings in all tests, but both the Ford Windstar and Honda Odyssey scored five stars in all tests. In the Reuters report on the recall was the following statement:

"Chrysler officials have said they may have misjudged how important the crash tests have become and should have designed the minivans to garner five stars."

(An interesting concept. Chrysler might want to work on that while they're deciding if build quality might be important, too. In the same paragraph, Reuters noted that Chrysler engineers claimed conflicting U.S. and European crash standards caused design problems. As far as I know, the doors are supposed to stay closed in both sets of tests. I guess one of the first groups let go at Chrysler were those people who wouldn't make stupid statements to reporters.)

In other Chrysler news, a judge has decided the Jeep vs. Hummer grille lawsuit will be heard in Indiana, not far from the AM General plant where the Hummer is built. GM filed their lawsuit in Indiana twelve minutes before Chrysler filed their suit in Ohio. (Of course, it is extremely important to spend wads of money on attorneys over whether a grille has seven slots when your company is losing money and market share.)

June 2

[Modified 6/6 to fix errors] MTS wrote that the new 5.7 liter Hemi engine will be out in late fall [most believe this engine will be sold first in the 2003 Ram 2500, due in 2002]. The engine, revolutionary in some of its retro design elements, reportedly had "a few block problems and compression leaks." Other sources suggested that getting the new engine's emissions down was a major hurdle. That engine was needed to bring Chrysler's truck powerplant line to date.

June 4

Detroit News reported that Chrysler has pushed back the CS (Pacifica) until 2003, when it will be a latecomer to the tall wagon segment. Other product introductions will also be slowed. A major redesign on the PT Cruiser is being delayed, most likely until 2006. Ford is likely to be the leader now in delaying revisions, with a projected Wrangler competitor possibly cancelled, and many renovations - including the Explorer, Ranger, and Super Duty F-series - delayed by a matter of years.

Tests of large pickups resulted in a big win for the Toyota Tacoma, whose dummy-driver had the least injuries of the Big Four pickups. The Chevrolet Silverado also did well in the tests - better than the Dodge Ram. The Ford F-150 dummy-driver had the most serious injuries.

Sales figures...(courtesy Bill Cawthon)

The numbers are in. As genciu noted, Chrysler's numbers were up. And the smaller inventory is really good news.

When all is said and done, it was a very good May for most imports, okay for Chrysler and GM, not so good news for Ford.

Overall, Dodge Ram and Caravan were the best Chrysler performers, coming in at #9 and #12. Jeep's Grand Cherokee took a tumble in the the ranks, dropping out of the top 20 to #23, right behind the Ford Expedition. Dodge car sales were up a bit, but the Volkswagen Jetta outsold every DaimlerChrysler passenger car as did the Nissan Altima. The Dodge Neon had the best showing, followed by the Intrepid. Sibling Mercedes also had a good month, coming in third in the luxury segment behind Lexus and BMW. Only 556 sales separated the top three and Lexus beat the Bimmers by just 50 sales.

[Editorial comment - if Chrysler can't beat the Altima, something is very wrong in Auburn Hills!]

In total sales, with all the major players and 1,622,670 sales counted, Chrysler came up with a 12.79 percent market share. GM's share has declined to 27.46 percent, Ford is at 21.83 percent. Toyota was the leading import with 10.30 percent of the market.

Import passenger cars did indeed outsell domestic brands, this month by a wider margin than last month with a 51.69 percent share.

Not a boost for Chrysler, but it looks like more people are discovering the new Chevrolet and GMC pickups are as good as everyone has been saying. Ford's F-150 is still the overall best-selling vehicle, but the Silverado only 5,628 trucks behind, thanks to a major jump in sales. That's the narrowest gap I've seen in the three years I've been tracking these sales.

Dodge Dakota was just behind the full-size Chevy Suburban. Durango was right behind the PT Cruiser. Here are Chrysler's best-sellers (all broke the 10,000 unit sales mark in May):

Dodge Ram pickup 28,256 (#9) Dodge Caravan 25,275 (#12) Jeep Grand Cherokee 15,503 (#23) Dodge Dakota 14,584 (#28) Dodge Neon 13,002 (#33) Chrysler Town & Country 12,822 (#35) Dodge Intrepid 12,712 (#36) Chrysler PT Cruiser 10,323 (#47) Dodge Durango 10,250 (#48)

Incidentally, the Chrysler Voyager came in at #99 with 4,232 sales. There were no Plymouth Voyager sales.

...More:

High gasoline prices apparently haven't slowed the American appetite for truck-based land barges. Four of the top 20 vehicles in May sales were full-size pickups or SUVs and the Ford Expedition came in at #22. At the other end of the economy spectrum, sales of the Toyota Prius and Honda Insight hybrids have become almost noticeable. If you add them together, they just beat the Cadillac Seville.

GM's sales were up about one percent while Chrysler's recovered a bit from a disastrous April. Over 50,000 orders have been received for the new Jeep Liberty and Chrysler's unsold inventory is actually smaller than it was last May when they were going gangbusters. Ford, on the other hand, dropped more than ten percent. Over in Import-Land, most everyone was happy as a clam. Toyota reported the best month they have ever had in 44 years in the American market. Honda set a new May sales record, as did their luxury division, Acura. May records were also set by Mitsubishi, Hyundai, Volvo and others.

The imports now have about a 51.7 percent share of the total passenger car market.... Hot on Chrysler's heels is Toyota with 10.3 percent. Toyota's full-size trucks and GM-like range of SUVs are making a major difference. (I drop the commercial vehicles out of the GM and Ford tallies. Nobody else is adding cutaways, commercial chassis and medium trucks to their numbers and I want to keep the playing field even.)

When I re-grouped the sales by brand ownership instead of foreign or domestic (American Ford owns Jaguar, Land Rover and Volvo; American GM owns Saab; German DaimlerChrysler owns Chrysler, etc.), I discovered something very interesting. Even though Ford and GM are the only truly American-owned companies and derive the majority of their own sales from trucks, they controlled a bare majority of all passenger car sales in May. Incidentally, this doesn't include partial controls, like GM and Suzuki, Ford and Mazda or DaimlerChrysler and Mitsubishi. Just ownership.

Chrysler's bright spot was the minivan market where they maintained their sales lead. The Dodge Ram pickup and Caravan were the only DaimlerChrysler products to make the top 20 in May. Neon and Intrepid were the top performers on the car side. Jeep's Grand Cherokee took a major hit and dropped out of the top 20 altogether.

It's still true that more cars are sold than light trucks (including SUVs and minivans). The margin is slim, just over 51.35 percent, but it's worth noting that this is entirely due to the imports. Chrysler, Ford and GM get the majority of their sales from trucks.

Ted D. commented in the news forum: "The Neon is [Chrysler's] fifth best selling vehicle, their best selling passenger car, yet they are planning on killing it's six-year old brand and look, to be replaced with an inferior."

June 12

Chrysler will add side airbags to its options list for all 2002 sport-utility vehicles and full-size pickups, except the removable-door Wrangler. As previously reported, tire pressure monitors will also be optional, on the 2002 Grand Cherokee, minivans, 300M, and Concorde Limited. In the minivans, low pressure will activate a warning light; in other vehicles, there will be an actual tire pressure readout on the instrument panel, one-upping GM, which has tire pressure monitors on many vehicles already (often as standard equipment). The monitors will be mandatory by 2004.

Layoffs are expected at money-losing DCX subsidiary (via acquisition) Freightliner, while DCX continues to extend its commercial truck empire with a reported joint venture in China.

Daewoo is still on track to be acquired by GM.

June 17

Chrysler may sell some of its parts units to cut costs, according to Chief Operating Officer Wolfgang Bernhard.

Chrysler Group head Dieter Zetsche has been on the speaking trail lately, telling everyone that Chrysler is on track and performing well, despite terrible sales figures, the impending loss of two existing carlines (at a time when Korean automakers are adding lines), and the loss of a full marque. He said Chrysler was lucky to be able to rely on the resources of Daimler-Benz instead of having to run to the bank - conveniently forgetting the multi-billion dollar war chest, or the massive drain of cash from having to support Daimler-Benz's bloated operations and constant demands. A Car Connection article said that Chrysler quickly ate through their cash reserves, though in truth those reserves were spent by Daimler on stakes in Mitsubishi, Hyundai, and others - not to mention losses at Freightliner and Smart. Zetsche also said supplier relations were very good. [begin editorial] We are still waiting for concrete positive actions from Zetsche, rather than just job and car cuts. So far, Zetsche has, in his actions rather than his words, continued to evince a total lack of respect for Chrysler's past and present, an attitude which cannot help its future. So, unless he's got a lot of secret actions up his sleeve - which we doubt - the future of Chrysler remains as a re-badger of Mitsubishis and a supplier of Jeeps and trucks.

Boris wrote about our note on production of the Mitsubishi Galant at the Sterling Heights Chrysler plant, pointing out that having the coupe and sedan on the same platform would reduce confusion. He also noted that the next generation convertible would most likely also move to the Galant platform (which supports the Eclipse Spyder), since it would be the sole remaining Chrysler-designed mid-size car. The Sebring Convertible is currently the most popular convertible in the United States, but since Chrysler is planning to discontinue its most popular car (the Neon), this move would not be out of place.

Mitsubishi will be selling a new crossover vehicle, the Airtrek, starting on June 20 in Japan. The Aitrek is a car-based SUV with five seats and four wheel drive.

The Lincoln Blackwood will set a new standard for luxury SUV styling by maintaining a Lincoln look in both front and rear. Whether the world needs yet another luxury SUV is another question.

Important note. Though Reuters reported an investment cut, Reuters has proven to be less than choosy about their reports in the past, and they may simply be passing along hearsay. Likewise, while more credible reports tell us that the Neon and Sebring sedan are going away, only Daimler-Benz knows what is in Chrysler's future. It is easy to speculate, and when we do, we sure come up with bad things in the future. On the other hand, it could be that Chrysler is trying to throw off the competition with a surprise comeback. (Given that suppliers are an integral part of the design process, it would be a real surprise if they could keep it secret that long).

According to Reuters, Daimler-Benz said that it may cut investments in Chrysler Group by 40 percent over five years. This is not unlikely given the fact that the company's cars are being phased out, with the small and mid-size vehicles (including convertible) being cancelled, the Jeep Grand Cherokee moved over to Mercedes, and the LH series becoming a Mercedes/Chrysler hybrid. Yesterday, we also noted that Chrysler may sell some of its parts units (big surprise there) to raise cash for Daimler-Benz's quest for global domination in the commercial truck market.

GM has delayed the launch of new "tall wagons" (car-based SUVs) and moved their branding from GMC, which is a truck-only brand, to the more appropriate Saturn and Buick. The new vehicles are now due in 2005.

June 19

Clarification - when we say the Neon and Sebring/Stratus sedans will be end-of-lifed or discontinued around 2004-05, we mean the Chrysler cars that currently go by those names will be ended, as most credible sources have reported. However, it is likely that the names will live on, moving to Mitsubishi-platformed vehicles. Whether these Mitsubishi/Chryslers have equal engineering input from both companies' engineers is an open question - as is the extent to which Chrysler engineers will be able to modify the Mitsubishi platforms.

The investment cut reported by Reuters (based on a Financial Times article), as we expected, was somewhat overstated. Daimler-Benz said that they may re-examine their investment in Chrysler but had no definite changes at this time. Continued losses at Freightliner, Mitsubishi, and Smart may be draining the conglomerate's cash supply.

Even as GM promises to increase fuel economy by 25 percent, it has taken a stand against fuel economy regulations. Meanwhile, Dick Cheney said that George Bush would not change 25 year old fuel economy standards, favoring instead increased drilling and cuts in air and water protection, along with a massive number of new coal, gas, and nuclear power plants.

Congressional investigators said that Ford's replacement tires may be failing more often than the Firestones which the company blamed for Ford Explorer tire failures.

June 23, 2001: Chrysler responds

Two weeks ago, we put up a small survey of questions to ask Chrysler. Ann Smith, communications manager for the small car platforms (Neon, PT Cruiser, and coupes), responded. She said that the Neon platform is up in the air, but it seems likely that Mitsubishi will take the lead on development - though with Chrysler having input on their own cars. She said the details were still under discussion. She confirmed that the PT Cruiser would see derivative versions, once supply met demand. She also implied that there would be some changes to the 2002 Neon, though she did not comment on what those would be. (A four-speed automatic has been rumored, but she did not comment on the possibilities).

Ms. Smith also said that the Belvedere plant would certainly be kept active, and made more flexible as time went on - though, again, what exactly would be made there is a matter for conjecture. In all, she seemed to be very positive and upbeat about the future of Chrysler and its products, and we got the impression there would be more coming down the pike than we anticipated.

June 23, 2001: Cherokee ends, gets low rollover rating

In the same week that the Jeep Cherokee finally went out of production, NHTSA released its rollover ratings - two stars, about average for its vehicle class (Detroit News headlined its story "second lowest rating," which is true but somewhat misleading).

June 23, 2001: Gas mileage rules in controversy

CAFE, the corporate average fuel economy rules, have been under fire almost since they were first implemented.

The rules have remained frozen rather than rising each year to match technological advances as originally intended, and automakers have been able to violate the rules without real penalty. GM, Ford, and Chrysler are opposed to the rules because they lose money on cars, but make money on their larger, less efficient trucks. GM and Ford have both pledged dramatic increases in gas mileage, but still oppose regulations which would hold them to their word. The automakers claim that CAFE has been ineffective, because gas mileage is decreasing and dependence on foreign oil is increasing - though that is largely because automakers have resisted strongly any attempts to close the "SUV loophole" which allows trucks, minivans, and crossovers to get an average of 20.7 mpg as opposed to cars, which must have an average of 27.5 mpg. (Another loophole allows very large, inefficient trucks to be exempt even if they are driven as commuter vehicles). The current administration seems unlikely to close the loophole or raise the standards.

June 25, 2001: Chrysler to get new styling?

According to Automotive News, Chrysler head Dieter Zetsche has decided that the cab-forward look is out of date, and that the company will change the look of its new vehicles.

The next generation of the LH series has already departed from cab forward, and with Mitsubishi designing the next generation of every other Chrysler car, retaining cab forward would be costly.

June 25, 2001: Design vs Engineering (notes)

The new formula describing Chrysler is "designed by Chrysler, engineered by Mitsubishi." While we don't know exactly what this will mean in practice, it does seem to imply that some Chrysler drivetrains will be going away, and that "sheet metal engineering" may be the wave of the future. While we applaud the fact that Chrysler may be able to fund new body styles because they are not pouring all their money into platform engineering, what exactly is a Mitsubishi which has been converted by Chrysler?

Fortunately, at the moment, the extent to which Mitsubishi will "engineer," and the degree of Chrysler's involvement, is still up in the air. We hope we will be able to recognize the next vehicles as Chryslers, and that moving from a Neon to a Lancer will be far different than moving from an Avenger into an Eclipse.

June 26, 2001: Briefs

Though Dieter Zetsche is opposed to incentives - one reason for trimming Chrysler's workforce and output - the company announced rebates of up to $3,000 (or financing as low as .9%) through July 3.

The Neon R/T was not invited to Car and Driver's "pocket rocket" comparison, though it carries a similar price sticker as some of the contestants.

June 27, 2001: Future Jeeps may not meet Rubicon "gold standard"

Dieter Zetsche said that Jeep would not hold itself to the Rubicon trail standard in future models, in order to leverage the name and increase overall sales (according to the Toledo Blade).

The Liberty actually did pass the tough Rubicon course, but most SUV buyers don't actually go off-road. The Jeep cachet, on the other hand, comes from actually being able to handle tough off-road courses, the Rubicon being Jeep's traditional standard.

Being able to handle the Rubicon adds weight to the vehicle, and may interfere with ride, wind noise, handling, acceleration, and fuel efficiency. It also adds to the price.

Zetsche noted that it would most likely take years to bring out a "non-Rubicon" Jeep, and that such a vehicle would still be able to go off-road.

Zetsche also said it was "unlikely" that Chrysler would invest in bringing the current Wrangler plant up to code (paint shop standards will rise in 2004), but that another option is to expand the new Toledo North plant, or use other facilities.

June 27, 2001: Last Plymouth to be built tomorrow

The last Plymouth will roll off the Belvedere assembly line tomorrow, according to James Benjaminson of the Plymouth Owners' Club.

Plymouth: June 14, 1928 - June 28, 2001

Plymouth was created to provide high quality, well engineered affordable cars. Some say that Walter Chrysler bought Dodge largely to get factory space for building Plymouths. Originally rebadged Maxwells, Plymouth ironically ended up as rebadged Dodges, due to a long series of brand-destroying decisions. Also ironically, Plymouth is ending as entry-level brands are booming.

See our editorials for opinions and history on why Plymouth was ended.

June 28, 2001: Diagnostic time cut (with qualifications)

A posting on the news and rumors board noted that Chrysler is no longer paying diagnostic time. A quick check with John, a dealer mechanic, yielded this response:

Chrysler did cut out "given" diagnosis reimbursement . What I mean by given, is the added time in the warranty manual that was given as diag time. For instance , an oxygen sensor pays .3 replacement and gave you .9 for diag. Now instead of giving you automatic diag time, there are certain parameters that must be met in order to be paid for diagnostics.

In brief, this seems to be a justifiable cost-cutting move.

June 28, 2001: Bridgestone closes Firestone plant

Bridgestone has closed the Decatur, Illinois plant where the Firestone tires which failed on Explorers were made. According to Bridgestone, the Firestone tires in question had a good record on every vehicle except the Ford Explorer.

June 28, 2001: New image in works for Dodge

According to a Detroit News article, new Dodge marketing communications head Julie Roehm, who is all of 31 years old, is set to rebuild the brand's tarnished image.

Dodge rose to become the third most popular nameplate in America (a place once held by Plymouth), but was recently displaced as Toyota grabbed that spot. Dodge sales are down across the board, for every model, even though it no longer shares with Plymouth.

Roehm sees the Dodge Ram as being her first major challenge, since it did not generate much excitement at car shows.

Roehm appears to be the force behind Dodge's sponsorship of Aerosmith's nationwide tour.

June 28, 2001: Dodge and Aerosmith

Rich Hutchinson wrote:

I think you'll find a lot of Dodge advertising at Aerosmith shows. Maybe a traveling vehicle. Maybe music in the commercials (the most obvious use).

Aerosmith is a distinctly *American* band; an *American* rock icon. I bet they were thinking "What a perfect association for this *American* brand". It's an attempt to get beyond who owns Dodge; and to say 'We're an American brand' (sung to "American Band" - wrong group but I couldn't resist :) )

I think it's a lot more inspired than the 'Different' theme.

June 28, 2001: End of the road for Plymouth

From genciu: According to the Automotive News article, the last Plymouth has been sold to Darrell Davis, Chrysler's vice president of parts and service. He sent a note to Jim Holden right after he heard the brand was being discontinued and asked to buy the car [a silver Neon - fitting though sad that the last Plymouth should be identical to a Dodge].

June 29, 2001: Zetsche says turnaround OK; Freightliner cuts

Dieter Zetsche said the turnaround was on track, in financial terms, though market share continues to be disappointing. Meanwhile, Freightliner will cut another thousand jobs in late summer and Fall, and Mitsubishi's restructuring (downsizing) continues to sap DCX's reserves.

June 29, 2001: Chrysler's new vehicles - mostly trucks

Automotive News provided updates to its new vehicle plans, based on statements by Dieter Zetsche. For the most part, the division is out of the car business, acting instead as a "reskinner" of Mitsubishi and Mercedes vehicles and a builder of trucks. If Rams don't sell well, we expect they won't be building trucks, either.

Chrysler's formerly highly-praised system of development will be dismantled and replaced with one created by Mercedes.

Two years ago today, Chrysler was hailed as a paragon of design, engineering, and efficiency. Today, folks, there ain't much left.

July 2, 2001: Briefs

GM may bring a version of its next-generation Opel Astra sedan to the US, where it would join the Opel-engineered Cadillac Catera and Saturn LS.

A Lamborghini dealer won a $2.6 million lawsuit against Chrysler for promising to expand the company's lineup with a new model, then chickening out without telling the dealer, who had expanded his facilities. Chrysler later sold the money-losing company to an Indonesian group which passed it along to Volkswagen AG. VW plans to bring out a lower-cost, higher-production Lamborghini.

Ford recalled over 166,000 vans to replace their fuel tanks (1996-2000 E-series), while BMW recalled 22,000 cars for bad thermostats and 17,000 for side airbags.

July 2, 2001: 300C axed? More budget cuts?

According to a Detroit Free Press article, Dieter Zetsche has axed the popular 300 Hemi C convertible. The same article noted a Financial Times report that capital expenditures will be cut $18 billion over five years (Chrysler has denied that report). - thanks, Mr. Source.

July 2, 2001: Seat belt recall - 1999 models

1999 Dodge, Chrysler and Jeep vehicles (Dakota, Durango, Ram, LH series, minivans, Grand Cherokee) are being recalled for an updated front seat belt retractor. There have been no reports of failure so far.

July 3, 2001: Ford's turn

Even as its European luxury acquisitions record record sales, Ford has found itself under the spotlight.

States are asking the company to replace mercury switches while its vehicles are visiting dealers for tire recalls; quality concerns have been the subject of countless news stories; and new vehicle introductions have been botched so badly you'd think Ford was owned by Chrysler, which has actually been getting much better in that regard.

Meanwhile, journalists who actually have a memory have started to realize that the company which struts its newfound environmentalism is also lobbying against environmental regulations, even when its own voluntary commitments are more stringent than proposed government rules.

July 3, 2001: Sales figures are in! (Thanks, Bill Cawthon)

Almost all the major players have reported their June sales. Best news for Chrysler is the fact that both the Dodge Ram and Dodge Caravan made the overall Top Ten. Jeep Grand Cherokee squeaked into the Top Twenty. Chrysler Town & Country hit #32. This is out of all 242 vehicle models surveyed.

When we turn to passenger cars, Chrysler's best finish was the Dodge Intrepid at #12 (out of 150 car models reporting sales), followed by the Neon at #20. Best finish for a Chrysler badge was the Sebring convertible at #46.

In the SUV rankings, Jeep's Grand Cherokee was #4 behind the Explorer, Tahoe and S/T Blazer. The Dodge Durango was #9 and new Liberty came in #11. The Cherokee was #12 and the Wrangler was #15. This is out of 55 SUV models on the market.

Dodge came in behind Ford and Chevy in full-size vans following a drop in sales from May to June.

King of the hill remains the Ford F-Series. The Ford moved a best-ever 91,481 F-Series trucks in June. This is the best monthly number for any vehicle that I can find back to 1990.

The Ford Taurus reclaimed the top spot in passenger car sales in June. It was followed by the Accord and Camry. The Honda Civic and Chevy Cavalier rounded out the top five.

BMW was the best-selling luxury brand again. Lexus came in second, Mercedes came in third. Cadillac passed Lincoln to take fourth place, but fourth and fifth are the best results the American luxury brands have had in a few months.

Here's a bit of a surprise, Volkswagen-Audi passed Nissan-Infiniti in passenger car sales in June.

As has happened since April, the majority of passenger car sales in June went to foreign brands, but the June margin was very small. Just over 4,900 sales separated the locals from the foreigners.

While Chrysler sales rose 1.4 percent over last June, Ford's US-division sales plummeted by about eight percent - the amount of Chrysler's sales decline last month. Oddly, Explorer sales continued to rise.

GM saw passenger car sales fall 13 percent, though the more profitable light truck sales increased 9 percent.

Chrysler's good sales news was partly driven by strong Liberty sales - which were matched by Cherokee sales (the Cherokee just went out of production). Chrysler passenger cars reported a 12 percent rise over last June.

The most dramatic gains were from BMW (+32%), Subaru (+24%), and Audi (+35%). Troubled Daewoo, which was to be acquired first by Ford and then by GM, saw sales plummet 31 percent.

July 4, 2001: Strategic Vision study results

Toyota swept the Strategic Vision owner satisfaction surveys, but Chrysler was the most improved brand.

Several Chrysler models topped their categories, including the PT Cruiser (compact car), Chrysler LHS (larger car), Town and Country (minivan), and compact pickup (Dakota).

Toyota won honors for the LS 430, RX 300, Sequoia, and Tundra. The next best brand was Volkswagen, tying for mid-size car (Passat), and winning the small car and small specialty coupe segments. Chrysler was the only American (?) automaker to top their vehicle segment. No Mercedes topped any segments. Hyundai's Santa Fe actually won a top rating (small SUV).

The Strategic Vision survey covers the first six months or so of ownership, and are based on total satisfaction - not just repairs.

July 5, 2001: Grand Cherokee transmissions investigated

NHTSA, responding to 48 complaints, including some injuries, has opened an investigation into whether 1995-99 Jeep Grand Cherokees are slipping from Park into Reverse, with the engine either on or off. Dakotas were recalled for the same issue, and have a similar transmission. Current models have different transmissions.

July 5, 2001: Liberty to face competition from Saturn

The newly introduced Jeep Liberty, hitting that sweet spot of the under-$20,000 SUV, will soon face competition from the Saturn VUE - which, unlike the Liberty, will be supported by a massive ad blitz and friendly dealerships.

July 6, 2001: Briefs

Ford is recalling Explorers in Japan due to faulty suspension parts.

Ford is offering discounts on its most profitable and oversized vehicles, in a reaction to GM's strong lead in the largest SUVs and recent capture of the next-largest SUVs throne.

July 9, 2001: 300(hp)M

From the Great White North come some tidbits about the upcoming 300 hp M. We hear that the exhaust sound is "unlike anything in decades" from a Chrysler badged car. The ride is definitely tilted toward good handling over a cushy ride. Fuel octane required is to be determined. The 4spd auto is a modified unit, helping acceleration. A more efficient tranny would definitely help the motor get the power to the road. Hopefully the improvements will be spread out to the versions in other vehicles. Midrange response is reported to be much better than the 3.5 in the motor at present.

July 9, 2001: Chrysler focuses on Quality

It seems we hear this every year, but according to the Detroit News, Chrysler is refocusing on Quality.

The chart they provide puts the Concorde in the Large class, but the Intrepid in Premium Midsize, despite the two being twins under the skin. Both are near the top of their class in reliability. DCX this year averages 154 problems per 100 vehicles; down from 2000's 167. The industry average in '01 is 147; it was 154 a year ago. The top spot belongs to Toyota; with 115 problems per 100 this year. VW and GM made the biggest strides forward; 30 and 18 fewer problems per vehicle, respectively. VW still trails DCX.

Note - "Ford", "DCX" et. al. includes all subsidiary brands.

Ex Toyota man Don Dees, new VP of Quality, said he found vehicle quality higher than he expected, and cited the biggest issue as being an overabundance of overlapping components. Two dozen unique steering columns were used as an example.

July 14, 2001: Chrysler to speed production, design

Chrysler plans to speed up production and design of new models. The new plans call for product decisions to be made by a committee of seven execs, headed by Deiter Zetsche. There will be five teams that will develop the vehicles, and another that will be dealt the task of developing the engines. All of the above will work closely with the parts sourcing and development teams, and this is where synergies with Mitsubishi and Mercedes hope to be found. Zetsche has said that the system will be completely in place by the 2004 model year.

July 17, 2001: Minivans leak gas in crash tests

Chrysler, already suffering from one competitor's much-tauted five star safety ratings, has been dealt yet another blow to its flagship minivans. In an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety test, a Dodge Grand Caravan's fuel tank leaked a small amount of fuel.

While a DCX spokesman called the incident a "freak," saying the vehicles are safe, Chrysler changed the fuel systems on July 7. That means 2002 models should react differently.

Fuel leakage is important because of the risk of fire. The Insurance Institute has only seen fuel leakage in one other vehicle, an Isuzu which was recalled because of it.

Chrysler was unable to replicate the leak, caused by a cracked fuel pump mount, despite 50 tests. However, the Insurance Institute still gave the 2001 Grand Caravan (not the 2002) a safety rating of "poor" because of the incident.

July 17, 2001: PT Cruisers made in Austria now

Austrian PT Cruiser production started this week, on the same assembly line that makes Voyagers. While the vehicle is, for the moment, similar to US models - with exceptions in areas such as headlights, turn signals, and a right hand drive option - a diesel engine is expected later, to increase gas mileage. Demand for the Cruiser is reportedly soft, possibly because Europe is already flooded with small minivans, and because the Cruiser has relatively poor gas mileage. The diesel should change the equation - if not [speculation alert!], European Cruisers may find themselves shipped to Australia, Africa, and South America. If all else fails, the plant - which can very quickly switch vehicle types - can go back to Voyagers.

July 18, 2001: Briefs: Ford loses money, CAFE, more

In the second quarter, Ford lost $551 million (Chrysler is expected to lose $200 million). Analysts blamed tire recalls as well as the declining market for American cars. Ford will reportedly continue to make cars rather than slapping Ford badges onto Mazdas.

A draft National Academy of Sciences report leaked to the press concluded that fuel economy standards could rise (8-10 mpg on SUVs, pickups, and minivans!) with few cost or safety consequences. The Academy's reaction to the leak suggested that they may change their message. If so, we must question whether their decision is based on science or politics.

There are just two more weeks before Chrysler announces its 2002 models, so expect rumors to fly.

July 19, 2001: DCX profitable

Despite losses at Mitsubishi and other divisions, DCX managed to gain a profit of $337 million in the second quarter, according to Reuters. That includes a one-time $3 billion Chrysler restructuring charge, a $400 million loss at Mitsubishi, and a $200 million loss at Chrysler. (It is interesting to see the focus still on Chrysler despite Mitsubishi's losses). Details are expected on Friday.

July 20, 2001: Chrysler news briefs

As recently predicted by Detroit News, Chrysler lost $125 million in the second quarter. This is better news than most analysts expected. Last year, Chrysler made $1 billion in the second quarter. However, market share continues to fall even as incentives and marketing increase.

Chrysler's Brazil plant is seeking 583 voluntary layoffs, out of about 10,000 workers - the employees would get partial salaries. Most automakers in Brazil seem to be hit by a slowing economy there.

July 20, 2001: Dieter Zetsche speaks again

Thanks to John Harmon for pointing out this article.

In an interview on printed by the Detroit Free Press on July 19 (with Lawrence Ulrich), Dieter Zetsche noted recent high points - a 40 percent market share on minivans, a good Liberty launch, and the upcoming Ram's styling, cab size, and refinement.

As we expected, the main difference in the two Ram generations is in refinement - lower noise and vibration. This is also the key difference between the Liberty and Cherokee, and to a degree between the new and old Neons. (Unfortunately, that usually also means more weight).

Zetsche said that there is no law that said imports must rule the market, though Chrysler itself is turning to imports for the mechanicals of the Neon and Sebring, according to most reports.

He also said that quality is still an issue, though he felt Chrysler is ahead of GM and Ford in that area, and that the company is gaining ground. He also said that Chrysler is looking at a certified used car program, which would increase the brand's reputation for quality by avoiding used-car lemons.

Zetsche also denied that the Hemi C was dead, but hedged by noting that the more successes Chrysler had, the more money they would have for new products.

Based on this interview and other information, we suspect Chrysler will back away from its relatively recent strategy of producing few platform variants (e.g. only two PLs, only two JAs - convertible and sedan - and only three LHs - LHS, 300M, Concorde/Intrepid), and start making more limited-production versions.

July 23, 2001: Kia's new minivan

More bad news for Chrysler: Kia will be bringing out its Sedona minivan this summer. While probably not as reliable or comfortable as the Dodge, it will start at $19,000 with a 3.5 liter V6 producing 195 horsepower - more than Dodge minivans of similar cost - using regular gas, unlike the Odyssey. The many features include standard air, dual sliding doors, standard eight-way power driver's seat, reclining removable second-row and third-row seats, and a very good 10 year-100,000 mile warranty (5/60 basic, 10/100 powertrain).

July 23, 2001: New Ram details

As we expected (based on the Cherokee-Liberty, Neon I-II, Stratus I-II, etc. changes), the focus of the new Dodge Ram redesign appears to have been ride and handling (we suspect reliability was also key, but it doesn't show up in car reviews!). Automotive News reported that the new Ram has a stiffer chassis with a hydroformed frame to reduce vibration, rack and pinion steering, an independent front suspension on four wheel drive models, and large four-wheel disc brakes.

There will be four different grilles, one for each body style, with the most muscular being the Ram Sport.

The new 3.7 ltier V6, based on the 4.7 V8, gets 215 hp, 40 hp more than the old 318-based 3.9.

The Ram 1500 is currently in production. Its heavy-duty siblings will go into production next year.

July 25, 2001: 2002 Ram production started

The first 2002 Dodge Ram 1500 was produced yesterday in St. Louis, a "flexible" manufacturing plant. As in Graz, prototypes - in this case, over 700 of them - were built directly on the line to prevent quality glitches in early models. The plant can build 150,000 trucks per year with two shifts, including regular and quad cabs, all trim versions, with all three engines of the 1500. The first all-new 2002 Dodge Ram Truck rolled off the assembly line yesterday at Chrysler's St. Louis North Assembly Plant (SLNAP), marking the beginning of a three-plant production ramp-up that will create the capacity to build more than 400,000 trucks annually - including each variety of the 1500.

Each vehicle is inspected at various points in the line. If one process starts to fail to meet quality standards, it will be stopped automatically. Vehicles are also tested on an evaluation course at the end of assembly.

More details on the 2002 Rams.

July 26, 2001: Briefs

After denying reports of a management shakeup, Ford has shaken up its management. Bill Ford will have more power.

Congress may require automakers to include low tire pressure warning systems on all vehicles made after November 2003. This may not have helped Explorer owners, since (according to Firestone) Ford officially recommended pressures which could be considered underinflation.

Detroit News featured a note that automakers can no longer make inaccurate performance claims. Blueovalnews.com's exposure of Mustang "under-horsepower" gave Ford a black eye (and gave blueovalnews.com a lawsuit), and Nissan and Ford both compensated owners for inaccurate claims (the 2001 Miata was sold as having 155 hp but really only had 142 hp). The latest "offender" is Nissan's Infiniti Q45, whose 0-60 times apparently may be about a second longer than company claims (Nissan explained that the Q45 used in testing was lighter than the ones supplied to journalists, was tested by light people, and was run under the best possible weather and altitude conditions).

The same issue had the inevitable "Ram makes or breaks the company" article.

July 27, 2001: Woodies coming soon? - and more

Mr. Source wrote that we would see factory-produced "Woody" PT Cruisers in the 2002 model year.

We have updated our 2002 model predictions and substantially added to our 2002 Ram 1500 section.

July 30, 2001: PT variants may come sooner...

As PT excitement fades and the Cruiser becomes "just another car," as feared by Chrysler execs, it seems that some variants may be on the way earlier than expected. First to have been reported is the Woodie kit, as a factory option, probably because it's the easiest to do. Down the road, the next up may be the convertible - though most people would probably rather have a turbo version.

July 31, 2001: Oops! White House backpedals

A key report on gas mileage was released yesterday. Vice President Dick Cheney had said that he was waiting for the National Academy of Science report to set Administration policy. However, when the report came out in favor of greater fuel economy - concluding that the gains far outweigh the costs - he said the White House could not review the report until NHTSA had done so. NHTSA, however, was barred by the Republican Congress from reviewing gas mileage standards at all, until the next fiscal year starts in September.

The report says that U.S. automakers could increase the gas mileage of their fleets by up to 30 percent over the next 10 to 13 years without dire consequences.

Despite pledges to increase gas mileage more than most proposed Federal requirements, Ford and GM have vigorously fought against fuel economy regulations.

August 1, 2001: Briefs for August 1

DCX is partnering with Union Pacific (railroad) to form a new Web-based vehicle tracking system. This is intended to speed deliveries of vehicles to customers from 12 to 9 days, while saving an estimated $280 million over the next six years. GM and Ford have already taken similar steps.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that mid-sized SUVs generally have fragile and expensive bumpers. They tested seven models and only one scored high marks. Their crash tests, conducted at five miles per hour, resulted in a range of damage to the test vehicles, ranging from $6,000 on the Suzuki Grand Vitara [basis for the Chevrolet Tracker] to $1,800 on the Acura MDX. Other vehicles tested were the Buick Rendezvous (similar to the Aztek), with $5,600 in damage, the Aztek itself, the TrailBlazer, Isuzu Axiom, and Toyota Highlander.

August 1, 2001: Dodge truck airbag recall

216,100 Dodge Rams, Dakotas, and Durangos are being recalled because sound insulation in the steering wheel may come loose and disable the airbag (lighting the warning lamp on the instrument panel). The recall affects Dakotas and Durangos made 1997-2000, Rams from 1997-2001. because a problem in the steering wheel could disable the driver's side air bag. As far as we know, no injuries have been reported.

August 1, 2001: Close vote on CAFE loophole expected

The House is set to vote on whether to close a loophole in corporate fuel economy regulations which allows minivans, pickups, and SUVs to get a "free ride." If they approve the amendment, cars and trucks will be required to achieve a combined 27.5 miles per gallon, rather than 27.5 for cars and 20.7 for "light trucks." This would presumably provide incentives for automakers to produce more efficient cars and light trucks, probably spurring more diesel and manual transmission production and leading Dodge to make a version of Mitsubishi's small pickup. Opponents claim the bill would cost many jobs, since Detroit is geared for mammoth SUVs with exceedingly poor mileage.

The new rules would take effect in 2007, allowing plenty of time to ramp up diesel, hybrid, and manual-transmission production. (GM's Silverado diesels and Chrysler's Ram diesels both achieve roughly 8-10 mpg more than comparable gasoline engines - while more expensive, they are also more reliable, and part of the added cost may be offset by higher production). Diesels are extremely common outside the US, while hybrid trucks are planned by GM, Ford, and Chrysler. The cost of making gas-electric hybrids is also expected to plummet as volume increases.

August 2, 2001: Congress kills gas mileage law

Congress did not pass an amendment which would have eliminated the SUV/minivan loophole and required automakers to achieve 27.5 mpg by 2007 across their product lines. The vote was 269-160.

August 2, 2001: BOB LUTZ HIRED BY GENERAL MOTORS

Former Chrysler president and (according to some) architect of Chrysler's cultural and vehicle development change programs Bob Lutz has been hired as GM's vice chairman in charge of product development.

This is a very positive move by General Motors, as Lutz has been credited with pushing aggressive, yet appealing, vehicles such as the Viper, first-generation Intrepid, and first-generation Neon.

Lutz had been president of battery maker Exide. He was vice chairman of Chrysler when the company was acquired, and left before the acquisition was completed. Most likely, if he had been given a voice in the decision, Chrysler would still be independent - and have more financial resources than it does.

Before working with Chrysler, Bob Lutz worked with Ford, BMW, and, yes, General Motors.

August 3, 2001: Bob Lutz's position at GM

According to Detroit News, Bob Lutz had three demands before he would join GM - he would keep his majority ownership of Cunningham, could stay on at Exide, and, most important, would have real power at GM. Thus, he is now a vice chairman at General Motors, third in charge along with GM's CFO.

Given his philosophies - make cars people love or hate, empower individuals, and treat others with respect - he should be just what GM (and Chrysler!) needs.

August 3, 2001: Chrysler sales

Bill Cawthon reported:

Overall, [in June,] Chrysler sales were down 3 percent from a year ago. But compared to last month, with few exceptions, the figures look like they'd been gut shot. That's about right; July is not one of the best sales months in the auto industry.

Among the exceptions: The PT Cruiser and the Ram Pickup. The PT Cruiser is still selling briskly and was down only 34 units from last year. I guess maybe dealers with extra Cruisers have a problem that has nothing to do with the product.

Not one Chrysler-badged passenger car broke the 10,000 sales mark in July.

Incidentally, Chrysler dealers are still keeping a short supply of vehicles. It's down to a 59-day supply as opposed to a 74-day supply last July.

For those of you with lingering doubts about the effects of poor car-truck sales balance on CAFE fines, Chrysler sold 151,244 light trucks, minivans and SUVs compared to 34,354 passenger cars. This is going to be a continuing problem for Chrysler until they improve their car sales or truck mileage.

There were some softer numbers on the import side, Nissan was down, Mitsubishi was down. On the other hand, Honda is happy, as are Toyota, Subaru, Mercedes, Volvo, Porsche, Volkswagen and of course, BMW.

In terms of passenger car sales, all three Detroit-area companies took it on the chin in July. GM and Chrysler are going to be paying some huge CAFE fines next year if they don't get some balance back.

In trucks, of course, it's another story. Believe it or not, the Dodge Ram pickup took the Number Three Spot overall, ahead of the Ford Explorer. The Ford F-150 was king of the hill (surprise) followed by the Chevy Silverado and the even sillier Avalanche (both GM and I combined the Avalanche with the Silverado). Jeep Grand Cherokee was No. 11, followed by the Dodge Caravan. Top car was the Honda Accord at No. 5 overall. Top American car was the Ford Taurus at No. 7. Best finish for a Chrysler car was the Dodge Neon at No. 65. The PT Cruiser [officially a truck] came in at No. 36 and the Liberty made it to No. 38.

By the way, more people bought Plymouth Neons in July than bought all three Daewoo models. Goes to show they're not crazy.

It looks like the Buick Rendezvous may have been the ticket. Its sales are up while the Aztek's nosedived.

August 6, 2001: 95-99 Grand Cherokee transmission safety problems?

NHTSA has expanded its investigation into 1995-99 Jeep Grand Cherokees which, when idling in Park, may have gone into reverse without warning, with predictable and possibly fatal consequences. DCX has settled at least four cases, one of which involved a fatal accident.

Chrysler officials first thought the problem was caused by driver error. However, plaintiffs' engineers say that the transmission may appear to be in park when in reality it is between gears, and can then slip into reverse.

The problem can, in most cases, be prevented through common sense: shutting the engine and setting the emergency brake, two practices which (not to blame the victims) should be standard operating procedure - especially using the emergency brake.

August 6, 2001: Plymouth Club has new site

The Plymouth Owners club has a new Web site - http://www.plymouthbulletin.com. The POC is a surprisingly active organization dedicated to classic Plymouths, with coverage from the early days of modified Maxwells to the Valiant efforts of the 1970s.

August 8, 2001: Dodge gets new slogan

Dropping the ill-advised "Dodge. Different." campaign, which was a mere echo of Apple's own, ill-advised "Think DIfferent," Dodge has launched a new slogan: "Grab life by the horns." The kickoff started this morning with giveaways at radio stations.

The new slogan ties in with the Dodge ram logo, and is more evocative than "different," a slogan which replaced "breaking all the rules."

August 8, 2001: AT&T to help with telematics

AT&T has been chosen as DCX's telematics (communication systems) partner. While GM's OnStar (also used by Lexus) is currently leading the market, AT&T, Microsoft, and others are competing to build the next-generation systems. The long, detailed press release, however, only mentioned potential use on Mercedes vehicles.

August 8, 2001: Ram prices adjusted

To avoid having to offer incentives on the new Ram, Dodge is lowering prices across the board. The lowest cost Ram will be $17,670, including the destination fee, $120 less than earlier. All models also include over $800 worth of formerly-optional items, such as air conditioning, all-wheel disc brakes, and larger wheels. On top of that, a typically-equipped Ram standard cab ST two-wheel-drive will be $18,865 - $925 less than the 2001 model. This is part of Dieter Zetsche's plan to raise Chrysler's reputation partly by avoiding "fire sale" incentives - something which we have railed against in years past.

August 8, 2001: PT Cruiser quality very high - J.D. Power

A USA Today article notes that J.D. Power's review of six Mexican plants ranks Toluca as best in quality, beating plants owned by Nissan, Volkswagen, Ford, GM, and DCX itself. The Toluca factory was rated the second best plant, worldwide, for DaimlerChrysler, beating most Mercedes plants. The PT Cruiser is one of the five highest quality "premium compact" cars, though it is a new model.

The article also covers the production story of the PT Cruiser. When the vehicle was first put into production, it took about a day to make each one, because getting the engine in was too difficult - there was only a .6 inch tolerance, one third of previous vehicles. However, by practicing and drilling, the workers - without outside help - got that time down, within a month, to about two minutes.

August 9, 2001: Chrysler getting specialty vehicles team

Making the best-performing production car in the world is nice, but it doesn't make Neons or Stratuses seem any faster. Now, Chrysler is creating a specialty vehicles team which they liken to Mercedes' AMG (Chrysler can't seem to do anything without giving credit to Mercedes, which never seems to reciprocate).

The team will be assembled by the end of the year, using Chrysler talent rather than hired guns from other automakers. It is seen as a way to develop internal leaders as well as boost profits and the company's reputation. The team will be charged with overseeing the Viper, Prowler, and future vehicles.

While we applaud this decision, we note that Chrysler has not had any problem developing specialty vehicles on a shoestring budget. We hope that the team will, like Ford's SVT, BMW's M, and GM's outsourced SS series, also make some high-performance versions of standard Chrysler and Dodge vehicles. Turbocharged Neons, anyone? Please?

August 12, 2001: Chryslers to get telematics

Taking a page from the GM book of making OnStar available on Chevies as well as Cadillacs, Chrysler and Freightliner will be allowed to share Mercedes' telematics technology (actually developed by or with AT&T). Pilot testing on Chryslers will begin this year. Mercedes has had in-car phone and geographical positioning since 1999, though GM has been a leader in the field with its class-leading OnStar.

August 13, 2001: Dodge enters Busch series

Dodge entered NASCAR's Busch series recently. The team is scheduled to run five Busch races this season, and has mentioned Christian, Dave Blaney, Sterling Marlin, Cal Snyder and Dale Shaw as possible drivers. (Thanks, Doug Hetrick).

August 17, 2001: Intrepid squads built

Five Intrepid squad cars have reportedly been built, presumably for testing in the annual Michigan State Police tests. Last year, a preliminary version had a fairly good showing for a first-year, not-final model. If the squad does well, it will be good news for plant workers, who have had regular, constant temporary layoffs due to low demand for the current LH series.

August 17, 2001: Briefs, August 17

Ford is laying off roughly 4,000 of about 5,000 salaried employees.

Toyota plans to reduce prices on the 2002 Camry, as competition heats up.

Volkswagen's new Eurovan minivan, with a $5,000 price cut and the VR6 2.8 liter engine, still seems to fall short, according to a Detroit News review. Good news for Chrysler, since the last thing they need is one more good entry. The review cited lack of power (low torque), poor rear air conditioning, and problems with the interior setup. However, for another $3,000, you can get the optional Weekender package which turns it into a camper. (Or you can get a used tent trailer).

August 19, 2001: Viper GTS-R Coupe

The next-generation Viper GTS-R coupe, a racing version of the Viper, will be made years ahead of the "stock" coupe version. The Competition Coupe will be priced at below $100,000, far less than many lower-performing racing cars.

Racing enhancements, including cage, window net, fire suppression system, six-point restraints, racing slicks, differential cooler and ducted brakes, ensure that the Dodge Viper Competition Coupe is track-ready as delivered. The Dodge Viper Competition Coupe cannot be titled for highway use.

More details will be posted this week.

August 20, 2001: Honda minivan woes?

Doug Miske reports two issues we have heard from other sources - some Honda Odyssey buyers are concerned over its relatively poor air conditioning, and Odyssey engines are reportedly having problems dealing with the regular gas some customers are using, against factory recommendations. Toyota may be having similar issues on the Sienna. American-made minivans take regular gas, but many customers were turned off by short-lived four-speed automatics in Chrysler and Ford vans.

August 20, 2001: Sterling Marlin wins NASCAR race for Dodge

In a surprise victory - a surprise because NASCAR's selective enforcement of rules generally lets it choose who wins and who loses - Sterling Marlin won one for Dodge. Dodge's best driver, Marlin has not won since 1996, though he has come close several times this year. Three other Intrepids finished in the top ten.

August 20, 2001: Chrysler slashes prices to eliminate rebates

Dieter Zetsche has, as far as we can tell, made two major contributions to Chrysler (the other one you'll have to wait for) - and one of them is more important than it may seem. Chrysler's 2002 price list essentially takes rebates and applies them to list prices, so that Chrysler vehicles are not on a permanent "fire sale," and are not overpriced in magazine tests. The base Grand Cherokee MSRP drops $2,000, the Neon drops $1,700. Overall, three quarters of the company's models will have price cuts.

August 20, 2001: New Jeep plant more efficient

A Detroit News article describes the new Jeep plant in Toledo as being far, far more efficient than the ancient factory that makes Wranglers. James V. Higgins, after dinging Mercedes efficiency, pointed to the new plant's good balance of robotics and humans, notes its "an obsession with quality," and compares it favorably with the state of the art - Toyota. The plant makes only one vehicle, the Liberty, which comes with a single engine but a choice of transmissions, transfer cases, and left- or right-hand drive (both domestic and export versions are made in Ohio).

August 21, 2001: Maybach to rejoin DCX lineup

While there is no money to build a third-generation Neon or Stratus/Sebring sedan, DCX has found enough cash to restart the Maybach brand, making it the Mercedes equivalent of Imperial. The luxury marque will return in Fall 2002 with custom-made, bi-turbo V-12 powered sedans. Production is now estimated at up to 1,500 per year.

August 21, 2001: Platform reduction for Chrysler

Chrysler will be changing the makeup of their platform teams as they try to reach a stated goal of downsizing from 14 platforms to 9. For reference, and thanks to Dan Minick, the current platforms are:

So what will go? The Neon, B series van, and Sebring/Stratus sedan/convertible have already been earmarked for removal. The Prowler would not be missed as much as most of the others. That leaves one more platform...our bet is on the Wrangler, though if you consider the next generation Grand Cherokee to be a Mercedes - since it is being codeveloped with the Mercedes SUV - then you can consider it to be "not a Chrysler platform," resulting in a paper reduction to nine.

Meanwhile, the Mitsubishi line is very crowded...we wonder what kind of trimming will be applied there, considering that DCX only owns about a third of Mitsubishi.

August 24, 2001: 300M Special Edition

Early rumors say the 300M Special Edition will not produce 300 horsepower, as rumored, but will instead produce about five extra horsepower, with an acceleration-biased gearset that can push 0-60 times below 7 seconds.

August 24, 2001: LATCH seat belt anchors

The latest enhancement to child safety is the LATCH system, which uses anchors in the seat to firmly attach infant and child seats. Far safer than the usual seat belt attachments (even with tether straps), the LATCH system is in our opinion long overdue. It is mandated for cars produced after September 2002, but many current models already have the system installed. Unfortunately, our research turned up only two car seats that take advantage of the system - one by Fisher-Price, the other by Cosco.

August 27, 2001: More Chrysler execs to leave soon?

Under the terms of the buyout, a number of remaining Chrysler executives may leave the company to collecting huge bonuses. Included in this group are Chrysler's sole remaining members on the board (also the only Americans, despite Freightliner and Detroit Diesel). DCX may offer them contract extensions, but no word has reached the media yet.

August 27, 2001: Project teams changed

Chrysler is changing around its product teams, ostensibly to allow new niche vehicles a better chance. The plan also aims to cut development time to 18 months while cutting costs and increasing quality - though exactly how they will do this has not been explained. (Reduced development time on some vehicles will be easy to reach, since they will be remodeling Mitsubishis rather than actually creating new cars.)

A small vehicle team replaces the small car platform team, though the vehicles it handles seem to be the same (Neon, PT Cruiser, Sebring Coupe). A family vehicle team will include minivans and derivatives. An activity vehicle team includes Jeep. A truck team encompasses all body on frame vehicles - pickups and truck-based SUVs, in other words. The car platform is renamed the premium product team and given the responsibility for creating an LX-based crossover.

Chrysler will still need to use Mitsubishi and Mercedes platforms. Mitsubishi will design small cars, which Chrysler will restyle for Dodge. However, Chrysler will "lead" the design of midsize cars - perversely, using the Mitsubishi Galant platform. It should be interesting to see how the engineers take ownership of someone else's designs.

DCX claims the result will be clearly different cars that have the same underlying architecture, saving lots of cash by cutting Chrysler's platforms from 14 to 9. Yes, that's right, they're cutting Chrysler's platforms back by a third.

August 27, 2001: New minivan models?

Chrysler is reportedly set to introduce four new minivan models later today, and to announce what we already knew was coming - a 3.5 liter van with the highest horsepower of any minivan. (We suspect the 3.8 will be phased out - one more engine to knock out of Schrempp's "too many engines" chart.)

We don't know if these new models will simply be stripes-and-seats packages or really different in some meaningful way, e.g. all wheel drive.

August 28, 2001: Chrysler brings out four new minivans

Chrysler has finally woken up and realized that it needs to do something other than offer rebates to fight the Odyssey. The result is two new minivan options packages (billed as four new models, though they really are not) - the Voyager/Caravan eC, and the Town & Country/Grand Caravan eL. Despite the InterCap names, the models have a formula similar to the EX - namely, instead of having a high prices that is discounted through rebates, they will have a lower price to start, and no rebates.

The eL comes with air conditioning, captain's chairs, split rollout seats, storage trays under both first and second row seats, power windows and locks, remote keyless entry, trip computer, three-zone automatic climate control, antilock brakes, and heated/dimming exterior mirrors - at a stunning $24,175. That's an amazing amount of equipment even on a car. Chrysler's base minivans can be purchased for under $15,000 with a four-cylinder (150 hp), making them considerably cheaper than the new Kia Sedona, as well as optioned-out economy cars like the Toyota Corolla LE and Honda Civic EX.

August 28, 2001: Details on the eC and eL minivans

Taken from Chrysler's press releases:

2002 Chrysler Voyager eC and Dodge Caravan eC

Starting at $16,995 (which includes destination charges), the Chrysler Voyager eC and Dodge Caravan eC will be the most affordable minivans in the market. They will be the strippers with 150 hp four cylinder engines and two rows of seats for five passengers. Options include the third row (for seven passenger seating), rear defroster, adjustable pedals, power locks, and side airbags.

2002 eL minivans (extended wheelbase)

Targeting the Honda Odyssey LX, these will include the old reliable (yet peppy) 3.3 engine, quad seats, split roller seats, and first and second row storage trays. Optional equipment includes a roof rack, right power sliding door, side airbags and adjustable pedals. The Chrysler's list price is $360 less than the comparable Odyssey, or $24,330, while the Dodge's list is $515 less than the Odyssey ($24,175), presumably on the assumption that the Chrysler name still has positive connotations of some sort.

eX models (long wheelbase)

The eX models, which oddly enough target the Odyssey EX but with InterCaps to differentiate the names, go after buyers who like lots of options. They feature the power liftgate, power center console, split roller seats, three zone temperature control, four-wheel disc brakes, traction control, a 215 horsepower 3.8-liter V6 engine with superior torque, passenger side power door, second row bucket seats, and 16- inch tires and aluminum wheels. List price on the Chrysler is $26,830 - beating Honda by only $360 - while the Dodge goes for $26,725, beating the Honda by $465.

/rant mode on/ Will these price advantages be enough to lure people away from Honda dealerships? We think Chrysler is underestimating the draw of Honda's "quality driven" reputation, which entices people to buy otherwise overpriced Accords and Civics. /rant mode off/

August 31, 2001: Official 2002 model info - details coming tomorrow

The headlines says it all. Stay tuned to our 2002 models page or just visit our main page at www.allpar.com.

September 1, 2001: 2002 model info out

The little still-embargoed information on the 2002 models has been posted. Some highlights: a four-speed automatic and 60,000 mile warranty on Neons, the replacement of the 3.2 engine with detuned versions of the 3.5, and a five-speed V6 on American-designed Stratus/Sebring sedans and Sebring convertibles.

September 2, 2001: Correction

Our 2002 models page summary listed a Neon R/T with a V6. As many of you probably already assumed, this was an error. It was supposed to read "STRATUS R/T with V-6 and 5-speed transmission."

September 3, 2001: Ward Burton gets Dodge's second NASCAR win

Despite NASCAR's "handicap Dodge to let Ford have a chance" attitude, Ward Burton won the Southern 500 at Darlington, on the heels of a Sterling Marlin win last week.

September 4, 2001: New Camaro under development

According to various reports, including a very good Blue Oval News analysis, GM will be creating a new generation of Camaros and (probably) Firebirds after the F-bodies disappear next year. Expected around 2004-5, these would be based on one of GM's existing rear wheel drive platforms - much as the original Camaro shared major components with existing vehicles, which is outlasted, much to GM's financial detriment. The most likely candidate is the Sigma platform, used on the second-generation Catera (now named CTS). By sharing major components with the Holden Commodores, CTS, and other rear-drive vehicles, GM could produce a brand-new Camaro with potentially better handling (thanks to an independent rear suspension) and almost certainly superior styling.

September 5, 2001: Brand new plant to be closed

The Campo Largo plant in Brazil, designed to produce Dodge Dakotas, was built using government subsidies and heavy input from suppliers. The paint shop was to be run by PPG, for example, and suppliers located new plants nearby to keep the Campo Largo plant happily humming.

Three short years after it was first opened, Campo Largo is to be closed. Production stopped in April, but plant workers were still paid. The government of Brazil may bill Chrysler for $47 million as a result of the closure, since the plant was subsidized based on a longer time scale.

According to Reuters, energy rationing and high interest rates led ten of eleven automakers to close their Brazil plants in July and August. Mercedes A-class and commercial vehicles are still made in Brazil.

September 5, 2001: Chrysler market share, August 2001

Despite a fairly new lineup of cars - the Neon dates to 2000, the Sebring and Stratus to 2001, and the Intrepid to 1998 - Chrysler's market share is a depressing 5%, lower than GM, Ford, Honda, Toyota, or even niche seller Volkswagen (to be fair, each of those automakers makes more varieties of cars - Dodge and Chrysler are lacking in diesels, station wagons, hatchbacks, and, except for one, coupes).

In trucks and minivans, as one might expect, Chrysler does better, deserving its title as one of the Big Three. However, many may be surprised to learn that Chrysler, Dodge, and Jeep together (both cars and trucks) have only an 11% share - about half of Ford, and far below GM's 27%. (GM commands 25% of the passenger car market, while Ford's 14% is nearly three times Dodge's share).

Another surprise is how many familiar names are bit players in the car market, at least in terms of the number of units shipped. BMW, Kia, Mercedes, Mazda, Lexus, and Daewoo all have a two percent or under share. Even Mitsubishi's car sales are only a 2.7% share.

In terms of the best selling vehicles, Americans still favor trucks by a large margin (of course, this is biased because trucks go under fewer names - e.g. there is only one Ford F-series pickup, but there are three LH series cars). The Chevy/GMC pickups finally bested the Ford F-series, selling 76,586 units (Ford sold 75,038 F-series). The Explorer, however, with 38,000 sales, was the best SUV by far. Honda's Accord and Civic took their place as best-selling cars, followed by the Camry (about to be replaced), fleet-favorite Taurus, Focus, and Corolla (also about to be replaced). The Ram was #7 overall, handily beating any foreign pickup by substantial margin, but selling only about half as well as the GM and Ford models. To be fair, the new Rams haven't been felt yet.

It is hard to believe, but the worthy Dodge Neon was outsold by a huge number of cars, including the Cadillac DeVille, Mazda Protoge, BMW 3-series, and the antiquated Mercury Grand Marquis along with its Japanese clone, the Toyota Avalon. The 300M, despite its tremendous value and appeal, fell way down to #134, below even the Lincoln Navigator, Camaro, and, yes, the Dodge B-series van. It was even outsold by the Saab 9-5.

Thanks to Bill Cawthon for this information. We hope next month will be less depressing, as the 2002 models appear and lower prices take effect.

September 6, 2001: Reasons for Chrysler's sales drop

Chrysler's Christine Cortez explained part of Chrysler's sales drop (compared to the same time last year) by noting that, least year, the company was having a minivan fire sale, with record numbers of vans moving out the door as the new generation was produced. In addition, many people know that the new Ram is just around the corner, and the existing Ram does match the Silverado in power, gas mileage, and braking. The new Ram will be available soon, reportedly with best-in-class brakes, a new five-speed automatic with the base V-6 and V-8 engines, and improved ergonomics. (We will review it in November). Unfortunately, many have noted that the new Ram still does not match GM's Silverado series of full size pickups in power or economy. On the lighter side, thanks to new brakes and entry-level engines, the 1500 should be more than competitive with the strong-selling Ford F-150. If the Ram took a mere 5% of the F-150's sales, it would raise the Ram's sales by a sizable 12%!

September 6, 2001: Drive=love=new ads

The new Chrysler campaign is ... interesting. The new motto appears to be "drive=love." We think we know where they're coming from, but combined with the Mayor of Truckville, we suspect that maybe Chrysler should simply put its advertising budget into produce development instead. Hopefully, someday, we will see ads which actually tell us why we should buy a Dodge or Chrysler - or which equal the cachet-building Jeep campaigns of years past.

September 7, 2001: More Ford recalls

Keeping their crown as the recall kings, Ford is recalling 778,000 1999-2001 Windstar minivans - marketed primarily on the basis of safety ratings - after ten reports of fires caused by the windshield wiper motor. 525,000 of those Windstars will also be repaired for potential fires in the rear seat air conditioning/heating system, which caused a recall of Contours, Mystiques, and Cougars with similar systems after 27 fires. Ford is now in last place among American automakers on a J.D. Power quality survey - which may reflect issues with the survey as much as problems with the cars.

September 7, 2001: Viper Competition Coupe

From Dodge:

After 18 months of waiting, Dodge Viper afficionados have gotten what they have been yearning to see: the Viper Competition Coupe. ... Armed with over 500 horsepower and a voracious V10 engine, the 2003 Viper RT-10 is .... based on the Viper GTS/R concept car ... the Viper will make its presence known at ... the Skip Thomas Viper Racing League, the Grand American Cup, and the Speedvision World Challenge.

September 9, 2001: Viper racing cars a true bargain

In under one year, Chrysler will be selling its successor to the race-ready Viper GTS-R, according to John Fernandez of Chrysler Performance Vehicle Operations (CPVO?). As with the past generation, they will cost far less than less competitive vehicles - under $100,000, to be exact. (ORECA currently charges $325,000 for a LeMans type Viper, the most successful vehicle in its class despite its own relatively low price.)

Based on the 2003 Viper R/T 10, it will have a lower ride height, dynamic dampers, adjustable race springs, and bigger wheels and tires, as well as 520 horsepower and 540 lb-ft of torque (a bit more than the stock version due to minor tuning changes).

September 11, 2001: Editorial note

For the benefit of readers who could not keep up with the information any other way, we provided reporting of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and deleted it later in the day, when news organizations' web sites recovered.

September 11, 2001: Rumors...

First, we pulled our note on the expansion of the M factory. While it is certainly possible that the Grand Cherokee will move there, since it makes sense to produce it near the similar next-generation M-class, it is probably premature to second-guess Mercedes' expansion. They are also planning a new Mercedes SUV which would be produced in the same plant, and may assume that the second-generation M-class may sell much better due to its borrowed-from-Jeep off-road abilities.

On another front, there has been much speculation regarding the Chrysler Sportswagon. Is the six-month delay, quite long for today's vehicles, really just for crash protection, or is something else going on? Several theories have been proposed, but we naturally like ours: perhaps the new wagon is undergoing a weight reduction program, so it will not be seen as underpowered and overweight, like so many newer Chryslers.

September 11, 2001: Gas rebates for your Dodge

Chrysler and Shell have gotten together to offer a new type of rebate to Northwestern car buyers: a $3,000 free Shell gasoline card (also good for convenience store items). The rebate, for Washington, Idaho, and Oregon Dodge Durango buyers, may help compensate for the Durango's propensity for drinking. The program is most likely a pilot, since it only applies to Dodge Durangos in three states. It provides an opportunity for Shell to build brand loyalty while providing a more subtle than usual discount on Durangos. Since the rebate almost certainly costs Chrysler less than $3,000, it also is a way to give customers a real rebate while not having to lose all that cash. (Courtesy Doug Hetrick)

September 12, 2001: Smart coming to America?

Bill Cawthon wrote:

DaimlerChrysler will make an important announcement at the Frankfurt IAA, but it's already certain the Smart will be coming to the United States. EMotion Mobility of Atlanta, Georgia has agreed to buy 15,000 Smarts over a three-year period. These will be converted to electric power and rented to consumers for short trips.

The Smart has been suggested as a way for DaimlerChrysler to come back into compliance with CAFE standards, avoiding the millions of dollars in fines the company had to pay the U.S. government this year. The Smart was introduced to the European market three years ago and yet to make an operating profit, although sales have increased steadily. Since the Smart is technically neither a Mercedes nor a Chrysler, DaimlerChrysler's big decision may be how to handle distribution in the United States.

September 13, 2001: Why there's no 300 horsepower 300M

[speculation] Two sources have now suggested that the reason why the 300M Special Edition is more of a luxury package than a performance boost is because the issues of torque steer were hard to overcome, and the power and configuration may have burned out transmissions too quickly. Transmission strength and efficiency has often been pointed out as a Chrysler weak spot, a far cry from the days of the bulletproof, efficient TorqueFlite 727.

September 13, 2001: The new Jeep...not a Jeep? [speculation]

Dieter Zetsche has already announced that he planned to have another Jeep positioned below the Liberty, at a lower price. Responding to car-truck buzz rumors that this might be a Mitsubishi, Dan Minick pointed out that Mitsubishi makes some capable off-road vehicles, and has a small SUV in the appropriate size: the Pajero IO. (Thanks for the link, Dan). We're not in favor of doing anything that might dilute Jeep - the crown jewel of the former Chrysler - but the rumor seems credible.

On the lighter side, again, we must say that it seems Chrysler will have a major role in designing the next-generation Sebring/Stratus/Galant, and that it will not be a simple matter of "reskinning" a Mitsubishi. We're still hoping for more details on the fate of the Lancer-Neon.

September 14, 2001: DCX donates

DaimlerChrysler is donating $10 million to support children who lost parents in Tuesday’s terrorist attacks - roughly double the donation of Microsoft. After the attacks, Juergen Schrempp immediately made a statement of solidarity with the United States. Chrysler, GM, and Ford all closed their plants in a symbolic gesture.

September 14, 2001: Mitsubishi's turn

Those who felt Chrysler was being unfairly beancountered by Mercedes may have mixed feelings when looking at Mitsubishi, which has been wracked by scandal and losses. In addition to losing control over the Galant platform (which has been ceded to Chrysler) and not getting a version of the Dakota, Dan Minick sent us a quote from Japan's veh-tech news, which essentially said that:

On the whole, it sounds like Mercedes is very serious about cost reduction through platform sharing across the board, and has not singled out Chrysler. Instead, Mercedes seems to be making tough (we won't comment on intelligence) decisions on where to cut development so there is little duplication of effort between Chrysler and Mitsubishi. Of course, Mercedes remains above any cost reduction efforts (aside from the M) - indeed, on the DCX media site, even Maybach shows up above Chrysler, and Dodge and Jeep are not given separate listings in the sidebar (as though Maybach is somehow more of a separate brand than Jeep).

We still wonder about Chrysler's small engines - the 1.4/1.6 used in the Mini, and the 2.0/2.4. Time will tell. In the meantime - thanks for the info and perspective, Dan.

September 14, 2001: GM to mass market fuel cell cars

After taking the lead in selling electric cars, GM said it would market fuel-cell cars in volume by 2010.

Toyota makes the most practical and popular alternative-technology vehicles - the Prius and a Japan-only hybrid minivan - and Honda currently makes a CRX-like hybrid and plans to add a hybrid powertrain to the Civic. GM, Ford, and Chrysler all plan to sell hybrid-electric trucks within two years.

Fuel cells have the potential to burn much more cleanly than gasoline or hybrid powerplants. Before the buyout, Chrysler was experimenting with a unique approach - using gasoline to create the hydrogen needed for fuel-cell type combustion. This approach would solve the problem of where to find fuel as well as avoid the need for storing large amounts of hydrogen. We're not sure if that line of research has been continued - early reports noted that Mercedes would take over fuel cell research, but we do not know whether they incorporated Chrysler's efforts, or whether those efforts continued under Mercedes "guidance."

September 14, 2001: 300M Special - power understated?

More than one source has now come forward to suggest that the 300M Special's power ratings are understated - that it is actually more powerful than the published figures show. While we don't know what motivation Chrysler could have, it wouldn't be the first time the company has apparently revised horsepower and torque downwards.

The 42LE transmission, while much improved in quality through the years, still seems to bring in parasitic losses, justifying the use of Mercedes' new five-speed automatic in the next generation.

September 14, 2001: Inventories up

Genciu wrote: "If we were wondering about sales being down at Chrysler because of depleted inventory, the wait is over. The news is not good. Total days supply (in dealers lots and being shipped) went up from 58 days on August 1st to 74 days on September 1st. Some specific examples: 300M (102 days); Sebring coupe (180 days); T and C (91 days); PT Cruiser (62 days); Neon (52 days); Ram Pickup (54 days); Cherokee (25 days); and Liberty (62 days). The industry considers about 50 days normal."

This is pretty bad - the Liberty is still pretty hot, and seems far better than any similarly-priced competitors. The 300M is, likewise, a great value. The PT Cruiser is a great little mini-minivan. If Chrysler could get people to test drive these things, they could sell them. Perhaps a standard five year warranty - you know, almost as good as Hyundai's?

September 21, 2001: GM buys most of Daewoo

GM is buying four plants and most of the company's international sales operations from Daewoo, forming a joint venture (with majority ownership) which also includes the South Korean government. This move will rescue Daewoo from bankruptcy and give GM a stake in the Korean auto industry, which, in the form of Hyundai/Kia, has been growing rapidly as American companies contract.

September 21, 2001: Hyundai may use Mercedes plant

Though DCX just closed a brand new Dodge plant in Brazil, it looks as though a Mercedes plant in the same country may be spared. Hyundai, which is partly owned by Daimler, may use the plant to build small cars, saving DCX hundreds of millions of dollars in closure costs, taxes, and fees.

September 24, 2001: Chrysler, Dodge, and Jeep stores combined

Chrysler has reversed a long policy and is now not only allowing Chrysler, Dodge, and Jeep to be sold in a single store, but is encouraging dealers to consolidate. "Project Alpha" is designed to boost sales by adding locations with all three Chrysler brands. Possibly the company believes that, when the new models arrive, they will be differentiated enough that buyers will not be able to immediately say, "Hey, that Dodge and Chrysler are the same!" Or maybe they have decided that buyers already know that a Chrysler is a Dodge with optional leather. In any case, the company is moving fast, with the first of the newly combined Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep dealerships to be opened by the end of the year.

September 24, 2001: Grand Cherokee arrives in China

The Jeep Grand Cherokee has just started production in Beijing, China, at a joint venture factory which already makes variations of the Wrangler and Cherokee. The assembly line was imported from the United States.

September 24, 2001: Analysis: Consolidated Dealers

One brief note on the dealers consolidation plan: If Chrysler were serious about "up-marketing" Chrysler, to make the brand more comparable to Cadillac than to Chevrolet, one way to do this would be to cluster Dodge and Jeep in the same showroom. That move would allow the company to completely eliminate the Voyager, low-end Town & Country, and Sebring, leaving only the Concorde (which will be upgraded in 2004), 300M/N, Sportwagon, and PT Cruiser. The Cruiser is the oddball in the mix, since it can't be eliminated and brand-shifting would be awkward at this point - unless Plymouth was brought back, and that would in itself be a little hard to manage with all the other changes. (Again, we note that since there is little Plymouth brand recognition outside of once-loyal owners, the brand may actually have a better chance than the tarnished Chrysler). Jeep would attract more high-end buyers to the showrooms, as well, and there would be some savings as cars would only need to have two sets of body panels - one for Dodge and one for Mitsubishi.

September 24, 2001: More cutbacks and setbacks at Ford

The remnants of America's auto industry are continuing their downward spiral, as Ford prepares heavy cutbacks, possibly including another tenth of their white collar workforce (one tenth has already been "downsized.") At the moment, Ford is using the terrorist attacks as an excuse, though plans for large cuts had already been afoot. Meanwhile, a jury decided on an $18 million penalty for Ford, to be given (after legal expenses) to a girl paralyzed in an Econoline van rollover. At fault was an improperly installed tire valve and passengers not wearing seat belts.

September 24, 2001: New Jeep ads play up American origin

DCX will pay about half a billion dollars to promote Jeep overseats, playing up the brand's World War II heritage. Analysts expressed concern in a Detroit News article that the ads may be seen as tasteless, coming so soon after the terrorist attacks. According to the article, DCX has pulled a commercial showing the Liberty easily driving through natural disasters, and is airbrushing the twin Towers from another ad.

September 25, 2001: Mitsubishi-DCX small engine plant to open

DCX will soon site a new engine plant for a small car to be produced with Mitsubishi, according to the AP. It will be located in either eastern Germany or Hungary. The $224 million plant will operate starting in 2003, providing engines for small cars to be built at the Netherlands plant once used by a Volvo/Mitsubishi joint venture. We suspect this is the "four passenger Smart" but could be wrong. The engines will, we think, likely be around 1 liter. (Chrysler owns part of a joint venture with BMW which produces 1.4 and 1.6 liter engines used in the Mini).

September 25, 2001: Chrysler to match zero-interest car loans

As the Big Three trip over one another in an attempt to get sales no matter what the cost, Chrysler is expected to announce zero-interest loans, no doubt prompting a massive, hucksterish ad campaign which, while it will move product this month, will cheapen the brands' image even further.

September 26, 2001: Camaro, Firebird officially ended

Camaro and Firebird production will officially be stopped, and the factory in Quebec closed, in 2002. However, rumors abound about a new Camaro using another GM platform. Since the Caprice/Roadmaster was eliminated, the Camaro and Firebird have been on a unique platform.

September 26, 2001: Chrysler to miss financial goals

Not surprisingly, given the downturn in the US market and Chrysler's plummeting sales and market share, Chrysler will most likely miss its financial goals for the year.

September 27, 2001: Schrempp to stay a while

The DCX board has voted to extend DCX CEO Juergen Schrempp's contract, along with that of the head of Mercedes-Benz, through to 2005, preferring continuity of leadership to competence of leadership.

September 28, 2001: More chefs thrown into the kitchen

DaimlerChrysler has set up a chairman's council to review the corporate strategy and restructuring. The members will be non-executive directors, including the chairs of Mitsubishi, Novartis, and IBM. It will of course be headed by Juergen Schrempp.

September 30, 2001: Crossfire to be built by Karmann, Mercedes

Chrysler announced that the two-seater Crossfire would, like the Mercedes CLK, be built by Karmann in Germany, and use many Mercedes components. It will go on sale in 2003.

October 1, 2001: Crossfire seems like Mercedes under the skin

The upcoming Chrysler Crossfire will share many parts with the Mercedes CLK and be built by the same company (Karmann). Among the parts are the engine, transmission, axles, some electrical equipment, and suspension parts. Volume is expected to be low.

October 1, 2001: NHTSA to consider antiquated headlight rules

In a long-overdue move, the U.S. government will be looking into revising the country's ancient headlight rules, largely due to the popularity of blue-tinted high-intensity headlights (and badly-made blue-tinted imitation bulbs). Headlight technology has advanced dramatically since the American rules were created. European standards are designed to have a better focus in front of the driver, with less glare to oncoming traffic. The high placement of SUV headlights may also come under scrutiny - again, when the rules were written, pickups and SUVs were relatively rare.

October 1, 2001: Bad times for Mitsubishi

An article in Automotive News points out that Mitsubishi's sales in Japan have fallen by 10-25 percent in ten months out of the past year, following scandals involving a twenty-year policy of falsifying quality reports to the government. Mitsubishi may greatly miss its turnaround targets, especially since the crossover Airtrek is currently selling at about one quarter of expected volume. It is expected to do much better when it hits the United States.

Not surprisingly, part of Mitsubishi's turnaround plan is installing Mercedes methods and management.

October 2, 2001: Chrysler does well in customer surveys

Mr. Source quoted a Chrysler release:

Chrysler ranked among the top three in five different vehicle categories in the J.D. Power & Associates 2001 Automotive Performance, The Chrysler Town & Country was rated ``Most Appealing'' in the Compact Van category. The Chrysler PT Cruiser, Chrysler Concorde, Dodge Stratus Coupe and Dodge Dakota also ranked in the top three in their categories.

The APEAL study gauges which features and attributes make car and truck models stand out to their owners. The study surveys vehicle purchasers and lessees after the first 90 days of ownership. More than 100 attributes are organized into categories such as ride and handling, engine/transmission, comfort and convenience.

Results of the APEAL study continue the Chrysler Group's strong showing in consumer surveys. In the 2001 J.D. Power & Associates 2001 Initial Quality Study released in May, the Chrysler Concorde was rated the best Full-Size Car, and ratings for the Jeep(TM) brand improved overall by approximately 20 percent.

The Chrysler Group also had the highest domestic rating in six categories, with its Chrysler Concorde, Chrysler LHS, Chrysler Voyager, Dodge Intrepid, Jeep Grand Cherokee and Jeep Wrangler.

October 2, 2001: Chrysler sales continue to fall

Sales were down 28% for September 2001, compared to last September. The high notes were increased sales of the redesigned Sebring / Stratus sedans (going up 178% and 29% respectively - the Stratus still outsells the Sebring), the redesigned Sebring convertible (up 148% at 3,103 sold), Neon (up 6% with about 8,600 sold), and Sebring/Stratus coupes (Sebring coupe up 1%, Stratus up 26%, with combined sales of only 2,358). The Town & Country had a slight rise in sales to 9,442 units, but that reflects more of a redistribution of sales.

More neutral news was a slight slip in the PT Cruiser - still going fairly strong at 10,420 units - and the new Liberty outsold last year's Cherokee by nearly a thousand units.

Now for the bad news - the LH series of cars are plummeting, with about half as many sold as last year (Intrepid, Concorde, and LHS). There was a 41% drop in minivan sales, partly due to last year's deep discounting, but the Honda Odyssey is also hurting. Deep cuts in Ram pickup sales - 39% - are largely due to the new model changeover.

In reaction, Chrysler will cut production at Pillette Road, Canada (full-size vans), Windsor, Ontario (minivans), St. Louis (minivans), Jefferson North, Ohio (Grand Cherokee), and Newark, Delaware (Durango).

GM sales were down only 3%... with cars dropping 14% and trucks up 10%. Ford sales were down 9.9%. All information provided by genciu.

October 2, 2001: More on September sales

Bill Cawthon noted that GM has several new trucks and their cars have been dropping for a while. Cadillac made huge advances in September, advancing all the way to #1 in luxury car sales, followed by BMW and Mercedes-Benz.

The Dodge Ram pickup was the only DC brand to make the Top Ten, coming in at #9. Next best finish was the Grand Cherokee at #17. Dodge Caravan was #21. Highest finish for a Chrysler car was the Dodge Neon at #45. The [rather more expensive] Volkswagen Jetta sold better.

Chrysler's numbers are bad because Chrysler's car numbers [are bad]. Chrysler cars are not bringing people into the showroom. New Jeeps and Rams are dandy until it comes time to tally up the CAFE fines, but without some interesting cars, Chrysler has a real problem.

Reuters noted that Chrysler's September sales fell 28 percent overall - down 22 percent with cars and 30 percent with trucks, compared to the record-setting September 2000.

October 3, 2001: News from Brampton

Spicolli wrote:

[On Monday,] Dr. Wolfgang Bernard, Chrysler Group Chief Operating Officer, toured the Brampton [LH] plant and then addressed the workers for about 30 minutes followed by questions from the floor for about 10-15minutes.

The guy impressed everyone I spoke to, myself included. He's young, intelligent and charismatic. He didn't have a lot of positive news to share with us and yet still managed to impart a sense of optomism. If there's more like him in the head office I feel better about the company's future.

He told us that the company's cost cutting efforts were right on track but that on the revenue side, things had been weak to neutral until Sept.11, since then revenues had taken a very serious beating. He wouldn't say crippling though, saying it was just too soon to tell how this was going to play out. He indicated that right now the production planning horizon regarding layoffs,etc. is about 3 weeks. Further than that, they just don't know. Sobering stuff.

He then went on to a general outline of what the company plans to do to sell more cars and better cars, including some supplier strategies, new marketing initiatives, improved dealer relations and a continued push for ever higher quality from us, the workers. He stressed the need for quality very strongly.

Regarding future product, he admitted that our plant had a bit of a long difficult stretch ahead with no new product till the LX in 2004 1/2, but tried to encourage us with some tidbits about the new cars. He confirmed that they will be RWD with many shared Mercedes components including front and rear axles (his words), steering column, and entire electrical systems (no mention of transmissions). He went on to say that he had recently driven a test mule with a 300M body and was very impressed with vehicle dynamics and noise levels, as were some members of the public that were shown the vehicle to gauge their reactions. Sorry no more specifics about the test mule.

So there you have it, a PR visit?, a get acquainted visit?, I don't know, but it did lift our spirits for a while. Today was our first day back from a 2 week shut-down for "inventory balancing." We need people to start buying Intrepids.

There is also soon going to be another special edition Intrepid, I think a "Motorsports Edition", no word on content.

I hope this long winded post is of interest, save a way of life, buy a car!

October 3, 2001: Neon in Detroit News Top Ten Under $15K

The headline says it all - the Neon was listed as the second vehicle in Detroit News' Top Ten Cars Under $15,000. (The first car was the Saturn SCi). The Neon's picture graced the header for the article. They pointed to a good combination of style and performance, and mentioned the R/T version as well as the horsepower rating. That's a good thing for the Neon - it's one of those cars where more interest will usually yield more sales. The Civic and Corolla also made the list, along with the Chevy S-10. The writers restrained themselves by keeping all cars on the list not just below $15,000, but below $14,000 (most were between $12,000 and $13,000).

October 4, 2001: Mitsubishi sells transmission unit

Mitsubishi has traded its transmission unit for a chunk (about one fifth) of Jatco, which was itself once Nissan's transmission unit (it is now a separate company mainly owned by Nissan). Jatco makes automatic and continuously variable transmissions.

October 4, 2001: Alternative energy

Dan Minick pointed out: "BMW has had a hydrogen powered 7-series on sale in Germany now in limited numbers. While I don't know all the details of fuel-cell technology and hydrogen power, I think it will take a major PR campaign for public acceptance.

"The last luxury German hydrogen cruiser that I recall seemed to have somewhat of an overheating problem."

October 8, 2001: DCX to blow millions on corporate ads

Astute observers may have noticed that Chrysler sales have taken some real lumps over the past year or two, starting with the cancellation of the Plymouth brand, and continuing as Chrysler has been replaced by DaimlerChrysler in ads, literature, even company addresses. Thus, it will probably come as no surprise that DCX leaders are, according to the Wall Street Journal, planning to spend roughly $90 million on ads emphasizing the many brands that make up DaimlerChrysler.

October 8, 2001: Feds rule against Firestone

The Federal government has ordered Firestone to recall about 3.5 million tires, apparently agreeing with Ford that the tires are defective - not the Explorers they were attached to. However, this conclusion should not be taken as indication of total truth, as there may be a political component - Ford is an American company, Firestone is owned by Bridgestone of Japan.

October 8, 2001: Dodge wins again!

Sterling Marlin, driving the Number 40 Dodge "Intrepid" at NASCAR, won his second race in a row. In addition, as we have come to expect, Dodge Rams dominated the NASCAR truck race, despite several flat tires, in the lead during 97% of the race.

October 8, 2001: The future revisited again

Dan Minick wrote:

Automobile has a good article on Zetsche and Eckrodt this month. Goals are to achieve 20% market share in North America [currently in the low teens]. Crunch time for DC is 2002-2005, as that is when DC's stamp on products will start to appear. Mitsubishi will lose 6 out of 12 platforms!!

Wards Auto has a good article on the C (lancer/neon) and D (galant/stratus/sebring/eclipse) segment platforms. Mitsubishi will do engineering on C (neon/lancer) and Chrysler will do engineering on D (g/s/s/e). Each division will do their OWN interiors and sheet metal. Neon and Lancer will have 'exclusive' sheet metal.

The reason we keep hearing about Mitsubishi doing some engineering on the D-car is that Mitsu has already put 2 years into engineering of the next galant. They are too far along to retool to fit Chrysler's platform, so some Mitsu models won't be rolled into the program until next go around. Right now components are out for bid to see if there is a savings case to combine the D-cars.

PT Cruiser will remain on its own platform.

October 9, 2001: Briefs

In a move to let everyone know that they are finally redesigning the base Saturns, GM has set a new name for the vehicle - Ion. Saturn Ion. At least that should differentiate the SL from the LS.

Freightliner employees have agreed to take a pay cut, support the troubled company, which has been buffeted by mismanagement (surprising for a Daimler-Benz company!) and a slow commercial truck market.

October 10, 2001: 300M Special Edition power ratings

Several sources have raised speculation that the 300M's power ratings are being under-reported by Chrysler, for unknown reasons. The current ratings of 255hp and 258lb-ft are only a little above the 300M's original power ratings, and the extent of the modifications would seem to indicate that the actual power is more like 270 horsepower. No definitive word is ever likely, but test results on the track will likely provide some indication of reality.

October 10, 2001: Chrysler de Mexico interview at just-auto

Just-Auto secured an exclusive interview with the president of DaimlerChrysler de Mexico will in, when tariff walls fall in 2003, face an onslaught of competition from European and Japanese brands. South America and (to a lesser degree) Mexico have often been given vehicles no longer sold in the United States or Europe, for example Valiants through 1982. However, Japanese and some European makers will most likely be selling fresher designs.

More than one in ten Chrysler vehicles (over 13%) are assembled in Mexico, including the PT Cruiser - Chrysler is more reliant on Mexico than GM or Ford. The reduced tariff will also allow more exports to Europe and Asia from Mexico, allowing for example for Rams to be exported from Mexico to Europe.

You'll have to read the interview for most details - it would not be fair to print them here - but some interesting tidbits include quality - the PT Cruiser and Ram plants are the highest quality in North America, within their "product categories," partly due to high quality suppliers.

October 10, 2001: More Crossfire details

Dan Minick noted that Ward's Auto had more info on the Crossfire. It will be built on a "new platform" known as CH24 in-house, using a Mercedes C-class suspension, central exhaust, and large wheels. They have not decided on an engine, with Chrysler naturally preferring their own 2.7 liter but facing the Mercedes 3.2 V6.

October 10, 2001: Canadian options decreasing?

Vision wrote: "DaimlerChrysler Canada has finally updated their website (well, mostly, as there are some glaring errors/hangovers from 2001). There is no Chrysler Voyager anymore for Canada...the positioning becomes Dodge (Grand) Caravan for everything except top-end luxury minivans, at which point the Chrysler Town & Country steps in. It actually makes sense. The Caravan has always been a far better seller than the Voyager...the Dodge Caravan has been the #1 selling vehicle (not "car") in Canada for some time now.

"I also note that there are only two engine choices for the Caravan in Canada: the 3.3 and the 3.8. No 2.4L 4-cylinder. The T&C only comes with the 3.8. It looks like "consolidation" is taking place in many ways."

No word yet on whether this is simply an inaccurate Web site, but we find it does fit in with DCX's new consolidation strategy, a strategy eerily reminiscent of Lee Iaccoca's early cost-cutting measures.

October 11, 2001: Pro stock Hemi Dodge Neon breaks record!

Mark Osborne's Hemi-powered Neon R/T became the first NHRA Pro Stock car to break 204 mph barrier. Osborne flew down the Maple Grove Raceway quarter-mile, reaching 204.35 mph - the new national speed record - and doing it in 6.754 seconds, the second quickest time in NHRA history. Osborne had just run the second-fast quarter mile in NHRA Pro Stock history, reaching 203.7 mph. Osborne credited the Hemi engine and the Mopar team's work with the new Neon.

Dodge Parts teammate Darrell Alderman, a three-time Winston Pro Stock World Champion, ran the quarter in 6.788 seconds, their first sub-6.8 second pass. Osborne actually broke Alderman's record, set recently in the Hemi Neon R/T - 202.64 mph. (Thanks for the heads up, Doug Hedrick!)

October 11, 2001: DCX briefs

Freightliner is expected to make a major announcement tomorrow, most likely involving massive layoffs, reorganizations, and product changes. Meanwhile, DCX has been fined by the EU for price-fixing on Mercedes cars.

October 12, 2001: Ford matches Hyundai warranty on Focus

Just as Chrysler boosted the Neon's warranty to five years or 50,000 miles (albeit as an option), Ford is now offering a 5 year/100,000 mile powertrain warranty on the Focus. Both are likely reactions to Hyundai and Kia's extended warranties, the best in the business, and the positive customer reactions to them - Focus sales have fallen about 10 percent while Hyundai and Kia sales have flown upwards every month.

October 12, 2001: Freightliner: Daimler-Benz drops the other shoe

Dan Minick wrote: "Three plant closings. School bus plant in Ontario (I'm assuming a Thomas plant), a parts plant in Oregon, and the Western Star plant in Kelowna. Nothing said about the Sprinter, or DC Vans. As for WestStar, I thought one facet of the acquisition was to gain manufacturing in Canada and Western Star's Canadian military contracts. Will the Canadian government continue to buy Western Stars if they are not Canadian sourced? Also a move to 3 heavy duty truck platforms from the current 6."

October 12, 2001: DCX - good for working mothers

DaimlerChrysler was named as one of the 100 best companies for working mothers by WorkingMother Magazine. This is the fifth consecutive year that Chrysler or DCX has been listed among the magazine's "100 Best Companies for Working Mothers."

October 12, 2001: Competition Viper can now be ordered

Dodge has opened the ordering process for its limited-production (about 25 per year), racing-only 2003 Dodge Viper Competition Coupe. Applications are being accepted from experienced racers only, who must show evidence of intent to actually race the car, have racing licenses, and provide a certified deposit of $20,000.

The Competition Coupe is not street legal, despite its relatively affordable price of under $100,000. Based on the 2003 Viper convertible, it is not intended to replace the three-time Le Mans GTS Class-winning Viper GTS-R, to be a "grassroots-level race car."

The coupe will have a single-seat cockpit with Recaro Pro Racer competition seat, Motec instrumentation and data acquisition system, and driver-adjustable front anti-roll bar. Power comes from a 520 horsepower (est.), 540 lb.-ft. of torque (est.), 505 cu. in. aluminum V-10 engine with six-speed transmission. Performance estimates put 0-60 mph acceleration times at 3.8 seconds, 0-100 mph at 9.2 seconds, quarter mile at 11.8 seconds (123 mph), top speed at 192 mph, 60-0 braking at 90 feet, and lateral acceleration at 1.25 g.

Dodge Viper Competition Coupes are being sold to participants in the SCCA Speedvision World Challenge, Grand American Grand-Am Cup Class and the Skip Thomas Viper Racing League. Production begins in the fourth quarter of 2002.

October 13, 2001: Dodge racing news

From Dodge: "With this past Sunday's victory at the UAW-GM Quality 500, Dodge is making waves in the Winston Cup Series. While this is only the 3rd victory out of 29 races, the cause to celebrate is the return of Dodge as a serious contender in the racing world- a step closer to a return to the glory days of Dodge Winston Cup racing. Sunday's victory came at the hands of Sterling Marlin, who also earned Dodge's first win of the season at the Pepsi 400. Ward Burton earned the 2nd Dodge victory at the Mountain Dew Southern 500.

"What is more notable about the recent victories is that they come after a 16 year hiatus from the Winston Cup Series. Dodge's return and success in the racing world has once again brought them into the radar screens of their competitors. Dodge's success in addition to race victories include many spots sitting on the pole and a driver (Marlin) in the top 5 on the leaderboard of points for the Series. These facts go to show that Dodge has a formula for success in the works."

October 15, 2001: Briefs - Rams to use Cummins, used cars, more

Chrysler is testing a certified used car program in the Detroit area. Vehicles must be five model years old, or less, with under 65,000 miles. They will come with an 8 year/80,000 mile powertrain warranty as well as whatever is left of the original new car warranties. The cost to dealers will be $395 per vehicle, but if they certify ten or more, they will be paid $1,000 (at most) for advertising. At this time, the program is available to all dealers in the test area, not just Five Star certified dealers.

GM is boosting Duramax (joint Isuzu/GM) diesel engine production by 25% in an effort to capture more diesel-truck market share. Used in vehicles such as the Silverado 2500 pickup as well as medium-duty trucks, the Duramax is powerful yet quiet, with good fuel efficiency and gas engine-like acceleration. GM's old diesel engine was abandoned after the 1998 model year. Dodge will bring out a new Cummins diesel, but only when the Ram 2500 and 3500 are available next year.

Mitsubishi will be slowing its adoption of its own direct-injection system, which has substantial benefits in gas mileage and pollution control - but which cannot be used in places, like California, where there is sulfur in the gasoline.

October 16, 2001: Dodge to produce police cars again

As we noted nearly a year ago, Dodge is re-entering the police car market with a version of the Intrepid R/T (242 horsepower). The Auburn Hills police department, which has been field-testing the prototypes, has ordered 16 of them already, according to the Associate Press - which noted Chrysler's pre-1990s dominance of the squad car market, while calling Car 54 a "Dodge DeSoto." The new squads, to go on sale in January 2002, should provide a needed boost to the beleaguered workers of the Bramalea factory that produces the LH models.

When the Michigan State Police tests the new squads (last year, they tested the prototype), we will carry a summary of their results.

October 17, 2001: Ford announces substantial loss

Ford reported a $692 million loss for its third quarter.

October 17, 2001: Dodge Intrepid police package details

See this page.

October 19, 2001: Briefs

DCX's CFO said Chrysler was on target to meet its financial goals, despite recent downturns and a drop in fleet sales. GM's third-quarter earnings are down 54%, while Nissan, controlled by Renault, is earning record profits. Ford's Jacques Nasser is reputed to be on his way out, despite strong sales in most categories and the strong success of Ford's acquisitions.

October 22, 2001: New Ram gets 0% financing; good $ news

In a surprise move, Chrysler announced that the brand new Dodge Ram pickup will come with 0% financing - perhaps reflecting less than sparkling sales. While hailed as very driver-friendly and refined, the new Ram has also been criticized for the relatively low efficiency and power of its top engine, the old 360, when compared with the GM Silverado.

Meanwhile, Chrysler is expected to post a third quarter operating loss of under $300 million, better than previously expected. However, that counts all produced cars as being sold - and inventories are high for most models. To be fair, some have attributed at least part of Chrysler's losses to the transfer of money to Mercedes-Benz.

October 24, 2001: Dodge pushes the Intrepid police package

Dodge has been unusually assertive in publicizing its new Intrepid police package (in sharp contrast to the almost-ignored R/T models, for example). Press packets were mailed out, apparently to all journalists on file, and, according to Curtis Redgap, a full page ad was placed in the "influential and far flung" American Police Beat. Curtis wrote: "The ad places the picture of the new Intrepid about left center with the wording placed far left and above stating: 'Don't just select a police vehicle.' Then at the right and bottom is a picture of a team of engineers around a desk with a computer on it with the larger, darker type above stating: 'Select a backup team.'

"In the body of the ad it starts by saying 'More horsepower. Higher top speed. More usable trunk space. Tighter turning radius. More amperage.' Then it goes on to mention the superlative warranty, service, and engineering. It has a web site: www.fleet.chrysler.com."

October 25, 2001: Willys2 concept car

Willys2 Concept Car.

October 25, 2001: Chrysler telematics

Chrysler is set to develop their own version [well, anyway, their own version of Mercedes' own version] of GM's OnStar "telematics" system. The hands-free system will include voice recognition, and will work both inside and outside the vehicle, thanks to its ability to use the customer's cell-phone. Some benefits include being able to use current carriers and phone numbers, a cafeteria-style system (choosing only desired services), allowing up to five phones to work with the same car's system, English, French, and Spanish support, and multiple-voice recognition.

It will be available as an aftermarket package in Spring 2002, with factory installation available in early 2003.

Like GM's OnStar, Mercedes' Tele Aid can notify police of an emergency, offer roadside assistance, track a stolen vehicle, and provide concierge services.

Given that this service is more appropriate for Mercedes users, we suspect having Chrysler handle development is a way to keep Mercedes' paper profits high, while providing excuses to pare Chrysler back even further. However, the good news is that Chrysler will finally have a system that competes with those in comparably priced GM vehicles.

October 25, 2001: Chrysler snags another Ford marketer

Chrysler and Ford seem to like swapping employees, from Virgil Exner to Lee Iaccoca to the late flood of Chrysler refugees and Ford marketing execs. Now, Ford's Mark Norman will move to Chrysler marketing. This can only be good, since Chrysler's marketing has not been especially good in recent memory, and Ford's has always been good. In other news, Christine Cortez was promoted to senior vice president of service and parts, replacing retiring Darrell Davis. We hope she can help...

October 29, 2001: 300M Special officially announced

Chrysler officially introduced the 300M Special today. Here are excerpts from their press release:

Chrysler will build a limited run of its new 2002 300M Special starting November 5. A total of 8,500 Chrysler 300M Specials will be built, with a manufacturer's suggested retail price (MSRP) of $32,595, which includes $655 for destination.

Similar to European "tuners," Chrysler 300M Special features ground effects that surround the vehicle's lower body while ride height is lowered one-half inch. The car has a more assertive stance and even lower aerodynamic drag than the stock Chrysler 300M.

Chrysler 300M Special's aerodynamic refinements are complemented with large 18-inch wheels and P245/45ZR18 uni-directional Michelin Pilot performance tires which improve handling. Additional features include a unique, higher performance brake system, a performance-tuned suspension, firm strut damping, tall rear jounce bumpers, and 17:1 ratio firm-feel steering gear which enhances on-center response characteristics.

The Chrysler 300M Special produces 255 horsepower at 6500 rpm and 258 ft.-lb. of torque at 3900 rpm, making it the most powerful version of the company's 3.5-liter SOHC V-6 engine. Chrysler 300M Special also features twin exhaust pipes integrated into the lower rear fascia, performance-tuned AutoStick(r) with a 3.89 overall top gear ratio, a 150-mph speedometer and Chrysler 300M Special badging. Headlamps are high intensity discharge (HID) which are 2.5 times brighter than standard halogen lamps.

Inside Chrysler 300M Special, the instrument panel and doors have a carbon fiber appearance for a sporty yet contemporary feel. Special door sill plates are brushed aluminum. Unique leather "waterfall style" seats are available in a monochromatic Deep Slate Gray or a Light Taupe/Deep Slate interior two-tone. Exterior color choices on the 300M Special are Black, Deep Sapphire Blue and Bright Silver. All three colors are paired with a lower exterior color of Neutral Gray Metallic for the lower sills.

Additional standard features on the 2002 Chrysler 300M Special include a tire pressure monitoring system, Electronic Brake Distribution to the ABS system, the child seat "LATCH" system, and a top of the line 360-watt Infinity II 11-speaker spatial imaging sound system with in-dash four disc compact disc (CD) changer.

More than 3,000 Chrysler 300Ms are produced every month [Allpar note: this means that 8,500 "Specials" will be about one quarter of total production!]. The Chrysler 300M Special is produced at DaimlerChrysler's Brampton, Ontario assembly plant alongside the 2002 Chrysler Concorde and Dodge Intrepid.

The surprising news about this is not so much the enhanced performance as the "cosmetic" package, including HID headlights, which seems to show a Zetsche touch. We're enthusiastic and hope it will get more attention for the 300M, which went from being the press' darling to a has-been in very short time. The 300M, in our opinion, offers tremendous value even in its very crowded segment, and we hope more people will give it a chance.

October 30, 2001: Ford fires Nasser

Ford replaced Jacques Nasser, its chief executive officer, with William Clay Ford, Jr. Nasser had been assailed for pushing diversity too hard in Ford's remarkably undiverse management ranks, but the primary excuse for his dismissal was the rampant quality issues that have been publicized so heavily lately.

Nasser's reign was beneficial for Ford's new acquisitions, prizes gained for a pittance - Jaguar, Volvo cars, Mazda - which were maintained as prize possessions, and valued for their strengths. Volvo and Jaguar both made comebacks, Jaguar putting classical styles over Ford vehicles with great success, Volvo modifying their boxiness and power to gain a sporty image and many new buyers. Indeed, under Nasser, acquisition became something good for the companies being acquired, with little of the destruction and waste we've come to expect from, say, Daimler-Benz. Ford's cars tend to be among the most popular in their class, and, while Ford trucks are generally not nearly as good as their competitors at GM and (in some cases) Dodge, they still manage to sell extremely well. Even Mercury is poised for a comeback.

Perhaps the most famous fired Ford executive was Lee Iaccoca.

Nick Scheele, one of the architects of Jaguar's revival, will take over Ford's auto operations in North America. His place will be taken by another Jaguar revivalist, Jim Padilla.

October 31, 2001: Finally, something definite on Chrysler's future

"ChrisStapMopar" summarized an interview with Chrysler head Dieter Zetsche and Mitsubishi head Eckrodt:

  1. Mitsubishi-Chrysler is the begining. Hyundai and yes, Mercedes will be fully intergrated into DCX. Mercedes' independent, tower on the hill days are numbered.
  2. Charger and 300 Hemi, Dead. But new platforms based on the new RWD (He talks as if this is a done deal) platform.
  3. Mitsubishi will take over the small car program including its direct injection engines. ALL NEW 4 CYLINDERS WILL COME FROM JAPAN. New sixes and eights from America.
  4. New Neon styling not nailed down yet.
  5. PT around for a while with variants considered. Expect any new 4 to be Mitsu.
  6. All three American Chrysler brands appear to be hanging around for the foreseeable future.
  7. Rubicon trail thing is gone for Jeep. Liberty, Wrangler, and new GC will be heavy off roaders, soft roaders will join them, especially a low cost model. Currently will remain separate from Mitsu.
  8. The big cars will apparently get the Mercedes Diesels along with trannies and suspensions.
  9. Two new crossovers, one off minivans, one off Galant.
  10. Chrysler to be DCX's heavy hitter in America. They will "concentrate on the domestic market"
  11. Mitsubishi will cut models, no mention of this from Chrysler (I think we have seen most of the model cutting from Chrysler).

Zetsche says Chrysler is going to "Expand our brands". This will be good for fans of current Mopar products. The article set my mind at ease to the extent that DCX appears to be committed to making Chrysler a powerhouse brand again. I still have reservations about the adulteration of some uniquely Chrysler products. But it could be worse. They could really do away with the brand.

This is not a real surprise, though we find it terribly short-sighted to eliminate Jeep's built-in off-road supremacy when new "soft-roaders" could be Dodge-branded. It is telling and ironic that Chrysler's excuses for being acquired - wanting more access to international markets, needing more resources to produce a broader lineup, including minicars for developing nations - have all ended up being invalidated, along with the company's mid-90s efforts to expand overseas. Still, as Chris said, it could be worse.

November 1, 2001: Chrysler finally ups warranty - for a while

Chrysler has started a temporary "Home for the Holidays'' program, which will provide -- at no charge -- a seven-year/100,000-mile powertrain protection plan on any 2001 and 2002 Chrysler, Jeep, or Dodge vehicle purchased between November 1, 2001 and December 31, 2001. That's nearly as good as Hyundai's warranty.

November 1, 2001: Priorities

Words are one thing, deeds are another. To get a little glimpse of Daimler-Benz's priorities, take a look at media.daimlerchrysler.com. In the English section, here are the headings: Home All Media Material Company

The list goes on with motorsports and other topics,but the ordering makes Chrysler's position clear - though, admittedly, commercial vehicles, which seem to be Juergen Schrempp's true love, are down near the bottom. Mitsubishi, you may have noticed, does not exist on the list - and it is the division (they only own one third of Mitsubishi, but they have near-total control) which is being cut the most.

November 2, 2001: More bad news from Chrysler

While zero-percent financing lifted GM and Ford sales by about one third, it nudged Chrysler sales up only by about 5 percent - with yet another decrease in the number of cars sold. Toyota, Honda, and Hyundai all announced major sales boosts.

Overall, big trucks and SUVs were the winners among American automakers - a perverse outcome given the concern over dependence on foreign oil in a time of conflict, but also to be expected with oil prices at a historic low. With no end in sight to the downward spiral of Chrysler's car sales, the group (as we reported earlier) revived its 7 year, 100,000 mile powertrain warranty. Some of the financing for these offers comes from dealers.

This may have led Chrysler to offer early retirement buyouts again, this time to employees as young as 52 years of age, hoping to eliminate a few hundred more jobs as the "shrink to grow" program continues.

November 2, 2001: Car sales for October

by Bill Cawthon:

Here are the preliminary results; some reporting was spotty and Suzuki did not report at all (that's why I waited until this morning to send out the results). VW's car sales are estimated based on previous month's sales of the Eurovan.

Big news is that American passenger cars outsold foreign-badged cars for the first time since last April. Is it patriotism? Is it 0% financing? Only the sales figures after the special financing expire will tell the tale. Other big news is that GM managed to reclaim an overall 31.48% market share (even when you subtract the medium trucks with which they like to inflate their sales figures).

Ford F-Series remains #1 but by the thinnest margin ever; only 628 units ahead of the Silverado/Avalanche. Ford sold 102,424 F-Series trucks, an all-time record. The full-size Chevy was right behind at 101,796 (total of 88,881 Silverados and 12,915 Avalanches). Ford is likely to keep the overall lead, however, it is over 100,000 units ahead of Chevy for the year. Dodge is still ahead of GMC. Americans still obviously prefer to buy American-badged pick-em ups; they drove 262,484 Chevrolet, Dodge, Ford and GMC full-size trucks off dealer lots in October. Toyota's full-size Tundra claimed 13,281 sales, just over 5%.

The Honda Accord looks to take the top passenger car sales spot for the year. In October, it edged the #2 all-new-and-cheaper Camry by 678 sales and holds a comfortable margin Y-T-D. Of course, anything could happen. Focus edged by the Taurus to #3, but Taurus will probably hold on to its Y-T-D lead. Cavalier blew past the Corolla to take the #5 spot.

No Chrysler passenger car made the Top 20 in October. Both the VW Jetta and Passat outsold Chrysler's top-selling car, the Dodge Intrepid. So did the Cadillac DeVille. Special financing seems to have helped the mid-size Chryslers more than the Neon.

Dodge Caravan held on to the #1 spot in minivans; despite Mr. Source's concerns, the Chrysler PT Cruiser had its best month ever coming in at #3, right behind the Ford Windstar. The Town & Country was #4.

Ford Explorer remained the top SUV with a commanding 20,000 unit lead over the second-place TrailBlazer. Jeep's Grand Cherokee was #4 behind the escape. Pontiac's Aztek proved you can give the things away by using free financing to move 2,730 units, a figure not seen since the introduction of the Rendezvous.

November 4, 2001: New Ram wins magazine award

The 2002 Dodge Ram 1500 won Four Wheeler's "Pickup Truck of the Year" award. Details to follow.

November 5, 2001: GM to use continuously variable transmissions

Even as the world starts moving to five-speed automatics and six-speed manuals, GM is following the lead of Japanese automakers by installing continuously variable transmissions not just on the upcoming Saturn VUE but, reportedly, on other future small cars. "CVT" units are very efficient, but their construction does not allow them to transfer too much power, so they are generally only used behind relatively low-output engines.

November 8, 2001: Jeep wins yet more awards

The 2002 Jeep Grand Cherokee won Petersen's 4-Wheel and Off-Road "4x4 of the Year" award. Meanwhile, the new Jeep Liberty won the Northwest Auto Writers' SUV of the Year award. We have found the both to have an unbeatable combination of reasonable price, off-road capability, and on-road refinement (in the case of the Grand Cherokee, that's with the V8).

November 11, 2001: Latest rumors

Will there be a turbocharged Neon? What's going on with body changes at the Intrepid/Concorde plant? What's new with the "Rubicon-incapable" Jeep - which may use the 1.6 liter engine developed with Rover?

November 12, 2001: Grand Cherokees investigated

Due to complaints of Jeep Grand Cherokees shifting from park to reverse, NHTSA is stepping up its investigation of 1.8 million Jeeps made from 1993 to 1998. There are now 865 complaints, with five deaths linked to the incidents - quite a few more than the 48 complaints when the government opened its inquiry on June 28. NHTSA was able to duplicate the problem, but only by deliberately putting the shifter between park and reverse. DCX said it could not find anything wrong with the vehicle's design. Chrysler has had a mixed record in dealing with recalls, reacting swiftly to problems it perceived as real and delaying on other investigations where it felt designs to be sufficient - despite a severe public relations backlash in some cases.

Meanwhile, GM recalled 86,312 TrailBlazers / Envoys for the same problem - slipping out of park.

Editorial note: for safety, always use your parking brake - don't rely on the transmission to keep the car stopped. If your car gets hit while parked, having the brake on could also prevent damage. If your parking brake doesn't work well, have it fixed - it's not that expensive, and you may need it quite urgently if your hydraulic brakes fail.

November 12, 2001: GM continues zero-percent financing

Some call it robbing from the future; others note that GM is also stealing sales from other automakers, particularly, it seems, Chrysler. Either way, GM is extending zero-percent financing through January 2 "on most 2001 and 2002 Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Buick, GMC, Chevrolet and Saturn models." Sorry, Saab buyers!

Meanwhile, GM's OnStar announced it has nearly two million customers for its high-quality auto telematics system. While OnStar is not yet profitable, it does help to sell high-end GM vehicles, and telematics are rapidly becoming a "need-to-have" feature. Lexus uses a version of OnStar, though with Lexus phone operators instead of the (in our opinion) friendly and competent GM people.

November 12, 2001: Strike to hit Liberty plant?

One of Chrysler's few recent successes, the Jeep Liberty, may be the subject of a strike due to excessive overtime and parts outsourcing. Chrysler has avoided putting on a third shift by having plant workers put in large amounts of overtime, including ten-hour weekday shifts and Saturday shifts, and has recently asked for voluntary Sunday shifts as well. The company has laid off thousands of workers this year, and outsourcing instrument panels effectively replaced 155 workers with Johnson Controls. The Liberty is reportedly one of Chrysler's highest quality vehicles as well as its second largest selling SUV, behind the Grand Cherokee (Source: Detroit News).

November 13, 2001: Bob Lutz takes over General Motors-North America!

In another blow to Chrysler - and a triumph for General Motors - Bob Lutz has been named chairman of General Motors - North America with the resignation of Ron Zarella. This ends any hope of Lutz coming back to lead Chrysler (if there was any, that is), while making it even more likely that Lutz will be able to make GM lean and efficient while boosting the desirability of its product line, as he did at Chrysler.

Most analysts have applauded Lutz for his styling triumphs, without acknowledging how revolutionary Chrysler's "turnaround vehicles" really were. The Intrepid provided a full-size car with class-leading handling and power at the price of a mid-size. The much-maligned Neon could outhandle and outrun any of its competitors, while providing more interior space and, yes, class-leading styling. Meanwhile, inside Chrysler itself, employees and suppliers were tapped for their ideas and empowered to cut waste, increase quality, and produce more.

GM is now the company to watch, with a huge number of brand new vehicles coming on line and an incredible amount of technology being brought to bear. Watch out, Ford and Chrysler...

November 14, 2001: New ad campaigns on tap - at last

Chrysler will be introducing new ad campaigns across each of its lines, at long last dumping the fire-sale tactics which have cheapened the brands and emphasizing the positive aspects of each vehicle - such as the spacious interior of the Neon.

Some of the ads are sexually suggestive - for example, featuring a joke about conceiving a child in the back seat, "swapping" a minivan, etc. Jeep ads will go back to the original Army GPs, emphasizing patriotism (hopefully de-emphasizing DaimlerChrysler, which would be self-defeating!).

November 15, 2001: Liberty plant may strike soon - official

Workers at the Jeep plant in Toledo which produces the Liberty have voted to strike within 60 days if issues of health, safety and production (most previously reported here) aren't settled. (Thanks, Terry Dempsey.)

November 19, 2001: 2001 Neon beats Civic, Focus on quality

According to J.D. Power, the Dodge Neon actually beat the Honda Civic in initial quality. While the Civic led the Neon in "mechanical quality," the Neon beat the Civic in both feature and accessory quality, and in interior and body quality, and equaled the Civic in performance, creature comforts, and style.

The Neon also beat the Ford Focus, in feature and accessory quality, while equaling the Focus in every other measure.

The Toyota Corolla was the class leader by a substantial margin, however, with the highest ratings in each quality area. Still, second best isn't bad at all - especially considering the Neon's advantages in size and price.

November 19, 2001: 2002 Intrepid squad car tested!

The Michigan State Police have published the long-awaited results of their 2002 model year squad car tests, including both the Intrepid and the Durango in patrol versions. Other vehicles fielded included the Ford Police Interceptor (Crown Victoria) in its final year before a hydroformed frame and better brakes are used, Chevrolet Impala, Camaro, and various SUVs.

It is interesting to note that in the report Dodges are referred to as "DaimlerChrysler Dodge" while Chevrolets are not referred to as "General Motors Chevrolets," perhaps showing a hint of bias at least by the report editors. The 4.7 is referred to as a V6.

In handling, the Intrepid managed the obstacle course in almost the exact same time as the Ford Police Interceptor. The Impala had a similar time, taking only two seconds longer in a one minute, 40 second run. The only real standouts in this test were the overachieving Camaro and the terribly underachieving Hummer, which, incidentally, also had the worst acceleration by an amazing margin, the lowest top speed, and the worst brakes.

The Intrepid achieved credible acceleration, trailing the Crown Victoria but only by fractions of a second in every speed group up to 100 mph. The Intrepid, however, had a top speed of 135, higher than any vehicle tested other than the Camaro (the next best was the Ford Police Interceptor.

The Intrepid stopped in five fewer feet than the extended-wheelbase 2003 Ford Interceptor, but took ten more feet than the 2002 model.

In the ergonomics and communication test, the Hummer again took last place, while the Police Interceptor and Impala both edged out the Intrepid.

The one area where the Intrepid really outshone the Ford Police Interceptor was gas mileage. Despite almost identical performance in every measured area, the Intrepid managed to get three more miles out of each gallon - 18 city vs 15, 26 highway vs 22, 21 combined vs 18. This can be an important difference over the course of 200,000 miles, especially if gasoline prices rise again. The Impala, however, beat the Intrepid, with 20 city vs 18, 29 highway vs 26, 23 combined vs 21.

If the Impala is as durable as the Intrepid or Ford Interceptor, it would seem that Chrysler has managed to produce a vehicle which, while competent, has no truly compelling features or benefits over the best of the competition. The Impala is nearly as fast, stops more quickly, and achieved better ergonomic scores and substantially higher gas mileage, failing only in top speed (124 mpg) - where it is competitive with the Ford's 129 mph top speed if below the Intrepid's 135. (The Camaro managed 159).

We hope someone in Auburn Hills is taking this report seriously and beefing up the Intrepid's brakes and engine - especially with a redesigned Interceptor, featuring a hydroformed frame and revised suspension, coming on line in 2003. We'd like to see Chrysler return to its past role as #1 supplier of patrol cars, and we'd also like to see all those hard-working people at the LH plant return to work on all shifts.

November 21, 2001: Neon S

Several people from California have said that a Neon S is being sold there at bare-bones cost - about $10,000 to start - without rebates. This would be consistent with the "e" minivans and Dieter Zetsche's general dislike of incentives.

November 21, 2001: Chrysler below average in durability study

While Chrysler (particularly the Plymouth brand) have done well in recent quality surveys, the group fared poorly in the 2001 long-term vehicle dependability study by J.D. Power. This study examines vehicles after four to five years and finds the number of problems. Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, and Plymouth all had below-average ratings, with an average of more than 3.8 problems per vehicle (Volvo, Land Rover, Mazda, and Volkswagen were also below average). The top company, by a substantial margin, was Lexus. Cadillac, Honda, and Toyota all beat Mercedes and BMW.

The news was not all bad, as the Chrysler Cirrus topped out the entry midsize category (oddly, the Stratus and Breeze were not in the top three), the Jeep Cherokee made the top three entry-level SUVs, and the Dodge Ram Van/Wagon made the top three full size vans.

November 26, 2001: Mercedes to sell minivans in US

Mercedes is moving ahead with two new minivans, the compact Vaneo (to be sold first in Europe) and the larger V-class, with plans to sell Mercedes minivans in the United States, according to the Detroit News. When the next-generation Vaneo hits the market, though, it will reportedly be sold as a Freightliner - not as a Dodge or Mercedes - just as the Mercedes Sprinter van is sold in the United States as a Freightliner. (Daimler-Benz bought Freightliner some years ago. The result of the acquisition is similar to the Chrysler buyout.) -- thanks to Bill Cawthon for bringing this story to our attention.

November 26, 2001: Mercedes to do fancier Grand Cherokee

The upcoming Mercedes GST, based on the next-generation M-class - which borrows much from the Jeep Grand Cherokee, possibly more than from the current M class - is being billed as having the ruggedness of an SUV with the interior touches of a minivan. It sounds to us like a next-generation Grand Cherokee with media hype - but, then again, it's not a truck. It's a Mercedes.

November 27, 2001: New ads working

According to Detroit News, Chrysler's new ads have already sparked higher demand and sales in regions where they have aired. /rant mode on/ Allpar readers will recall that, for years, we have advocated dumping the "fire sale" ads which cheapened the Chrysler, Dodge, and Plymouth brands by emphasizing price above all else - a strategy not even used by price leader Kia. /rant mode off/

November 27, 2001: Ford recalls the Focus

Ford is recalling nearly 300,000 Focuses due to a problem which can cause the rear wheels to wobble if driven in cold climates. However, the recall apparently only affects Canada and Northern states. The 2000 Focus has been recalled seven times.

November 27, 2001: J.D. Power reminder

Some time ago, we noted the J.D. Power initial quality results, and a few days ago, we brought up 1997 model year long-term reliability survey results. We thought it may be a good time to briefly revisit J.D. Power's 2001 model year initial quality findings. Chrysler had 137 defects per 100 vehicles, slightly more than Honda (135) but less than Saturn (139), Audi, or Mercury, among others. Not surprisingly, Lexus was the leader overall, with Toyota beating all non-luxury brands (121). Mercedes actually had a good showing (129), but was beaten by Cadillac (126) and Toyota! Plymouth was better than average (145) and, for that matter, better than many GM brands and better than Ford or Lincoln. Dodge was below average, possibly due to the inclusion of trucks and SUVs. Jeep was also below average.

We believe the next round of survey results is due in May 2002.

November 27, 2001: Chrysler abandons LeMans

In keeping with Daimler-Benz's decree that Chrysler must focus only on its "home market" of North America, Chrysler is abandoning its highly - even incredibly - successful LeMans efforts, including the backing of Viper-racing Team ORECA.

To quote Chrysler, "The program originally produced two Chrysler brand-sponsored, Mopar V-8-powered Le Mans Prototype-class sports cars for participation in the 2000 French road-racing classic. In the 2001 event, the program expanded to three entries. Team ORECA -- Chrysler's Signes, France-based development partner -- fielded the racing prototypes....The Mopar engine, developed by John Caldwell, will be offered by Caldwell's California-based company, CDI. The 6.0-liter aluminum V-8 engine block is sold through DaimlerChrysler's Mopar Performance Parts division. An alcohol-burning version of it will continue to race in the Pennzoil World of Outlaws, where it powers the 1999 series champion Mark Kinser. The Mopar engine, developed by John Caldwell, will be offered by Caldwell's California-based company, CDI. The 6.0-liter aluminum V-8 engine block is sold through DaimlerChrysler's Mopar Performance Parts division. An alcohol-burning version of it will continue to race in the Pennzoil World of Outlaws, where it powers the 1999 series champion Mark Kinser."

Chrysler said it was redirecting its efforts to creating the next-generation Viper, including the Competition Coupe.

November 27, 2001: Liberty wins Popular Science top award

The Jeep Liberty won Popular Science's top award, the Design & Engineering Award, largely for its innovative new suspension which provides strong off-road capability while delivering good traction and a comfortable ride on the street.

November 27, 2001: Chrysler gives environment awards

Following is a Chrysler press release.

By saving more than $100 million, eliminating more than 60 million pounds of waste and reducing emissions, DaimlerChrysler employees are demonstrating that environmental responsibility makes good business sense.

These cost savings and benefits are quantified by 10 employee teams who were honored by DaimlerChrysler with this year's Environmental Leadership Awards (ELA). The ELA is an annual competition sponsored by DaimlerChrysler for its employees and supplier partners. The 10 finalists were chosen from 108 entries representing eight countries around the world. The awards recognize and reward employees and suppliers for innovative ideas that achieve one of the fundamental corporate objectives of DaimlerChrysler - environmental responsibility.

"DaimlerChrysler is a big company, with operations and facilities all over the world," said Wolfgang Bernhard, Chief Operating Officer of the Chrysler Group. "We believe that with our great size comes great responsibility - to our employees, our customers, our shareholders and our neighbors. DaimlerChrylser acts on its commitment to the environment because it's the right thing to do, and it makes good business sense."

Following are descriptions of the three winning entrants from Chrysler.

* The Chrysler Group worked with Gage Products and Valvoline to develop a process to redistill and then use recycled engine coolant at its 11 U.S. and Canadian assembly plants. Through this process, more than 60 million pounds of used ethylene glycol (EG) is not released into the environment for each model year that the extended life coolant is used. The use of this redistilled coolant also saves 10 cents per gallon, and encourages the collection of used coolant. As a result of this project, newly developed standards for extended life coolant are being considered by American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM).

* Over an eight year period of time, the Chrysler Group, PPG Industries and BASF Coatings Division made significant changes to paint materials and processes at Belvidere (IL), Warren Truck (MI), Jefferson North (Detroit, MI), Sterling Heights (MI), Newark (DE), St. Louis (MO) and Toledo (OH) assembly plants. These changes reduced the emissions of hazardous air pollutants, volatile organic compounds, toxic release inventory substances and hazardous waste, resulting in improvements in air quality in the communities near our plants. This innovation also saved $70 million and was recognized by the Council on Economic Priorities, SAE Environmental Excellence in Transportation Award and Governor's award.

* The Chrysler Group created a solvent management partnership along with its supply partners to create a group-wide process to manage solvents and cleaners in the paint shops of all 11 U.S. and Canadian assembly plants. The process created a single point of accountability for materials and control of regulated emissions, resulting in significant reductions in waste, volatile organic compound emissions, and reduced costs for solvents and cleaners. This project also was recognized by SAE Environmental Excellence in Transportation Award.

November 27, 2001: Bill Lester joins Dodge truck racing team

Dodge Motorsports and Bobby Hamilton Racing today announced that Bill Lester will join the 2001 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Manufacturers title-winning Dodge factory racing program for the 2002 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series (NCTS). Lester will drive the No. 8 Dodge Dealers Ram 1500 for Bobby Hamilton Racing.

November 28, 2001: GM regains Jaguar leader

Jonathan Browning, who led Jaguar's highly successful resurgence (based on putting classic Jaguar styling around modern Ford-Europe platforms), left Ford as the consolidation of Ford's United Kingdom empire (Jaguar, Land Rover, and Aston Martin) was being announced. He will be General Motors-Europe's vice-president of sales, marketing and aftersales. Browning is currently 42 years old.

November 28, 2001: Hyundai to build new plant in US

Hyundai is currently sparking a bidding war among states and cities as it plans to build a new plant in the US - presumably ignoring any idled or shuttered plants that already exist.

November 28, 2001: 5,500 orders for Intrepid squad car

Memory of Mopar squads must be strong and favorable, because we understand that 5,500 of the new Intrepid patrol vehicle have been ordered - most to be built in calendar year 2002. Not bad for a first-timer, especially given its good-but-not-exceptional results in the Michigan State Police tests.

November 28, 2001: LX series launch set for January 2004

While the factory that makes the LH series will be shut down for retooling in September 2003, we understand that the official launch of the rear wheel drive full-size LX cars will be in January, 2004. Confirmed are an LX, LXi, 300N, and Allsport model - no Charger and no Dodge (well, maybe that's the Allsport). The Allsport is basically a modified station wagon, as far as we can tell. No details are available on the content of the LX or 300N.

November 28, 2001: 300M Special fizzling?

Despite the "cool" ratings of the 300M Special, it looks like the modified 300M - complete with high-energy discharge headlights and styled aluminum fittings - isn't doing so well so far, with under 1,000 ordered. Perhaps Chrysler will actually air commercials featuring their top-end car to stimulate sales.

November 30, 2001: Cruisers, Grand Cherokees, Mitsubishis recalled

43,000 2002 Chrysler PT Cruisers and Jeep Grand Cherokees have been recalled due to bad software, which could cause interior lights to go dark - so that the speedometer would be unreadable. No accidents have been caused by this apparently rare issue, and the solution is a fast and simple reprogramming at the dealer.

More seriously - though the press seems to have given it less attention - Mitsubishi recalled 2000 Galant sedans and Eclipse coupes because a power-steering fluid tube could touch the exhaust system and overheat, risking a leak and a fire. We don't know if this affects Chrysler vehicles based on the Eclipse (Sebring and Stratus coupes).

November 30, 2001: Chrysler expanding certified used vehicle program?

Some time ago, Chrysler started a test certified used vehicle program for Chrysler and Dodge. Now, it seems that the program is being expanded and advertised. Johnb300m noted that they are advertising an 80,000 mile/8 year warranty, with the catchline "THEY'RE BRAND SPANKIN' USED".

December 3, 2001: Trucks fare poorly in bumper-basher test

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that the Dodge Ram has gone from worst to best in damage caused by a low-speed crash, with $3,843 in damage (that's "best" for a full size pickup). By contrast, the Jeep Liberty racked up $5,667 in damage, far more than the Chevy TrailBlazer ($2,445), which has the best-in-class rating. The Ford Explorer sustained nearly as much damage as the Liberty, $5,432 from four five-mile-per-hour collisions. To be fair, the Liberty is considerably less expensive than the TrailBlazer, and is far more capable than the Explorer.

December 4, 2001: Sprinter sold in the US

Bill Cawthon pointed out that DCX has announced the sale of the Sprinter van in the US, where it is sold as a Freightliner. Sales are handled by DaimlerChrysler Vans LLC, in Charlotte NC, a division of Mercedes. The van is made in Germany but Freightliner's "distinctive features" are added here.

December 4, 2001: November numbers

Bill Cawthon was kind enough to provide industry sales figures for November 2001. It is worth nothing that Chrysler has dropped to #5 in car sales, below Toyota and Honda, but above Mitsubishi (not by much). Chrysler's car market share is 5.6%, though when trucks and minivans are thrown in, it goes up to 13%. Note, however, that nearly every other automaker rose in sales during November while Chrysler, offering extended warranties and zero-percent financing, plummeted yet again. Toyota is sure to pass Chrysler by 2004 - indeed, thanks to its minivans, even Honda has a chance to become bigger than the declining Chrysler.

Chrysler's best seller, the Ram, dropped below the Accord, Camry, and Taurus, to be the #7 vehicle overall. The Jeep Grand Cherokee was #9.

GM's new TrailBlazer rocketed up to #13, just below the Caravan. The Liberty managed #19, nestled between the rather nice but maligned Chevy Impala and the Cavalier. The Tahoe actually beat the Liberty despite being much more expensive and not at all thrifty on gas.

Chrysler cars got trounced. The best seller, the PT Cruiser, is not officially a car, and is pegged at #29 due mainly, we suspect, to production limits. The "official" best selling Chrysler car, the Dodge Neon, eaked out a mere #75, barely ahead of the aged, discontinued Ford Escort and far below such niche vehicles as the Ford Crown Victoria and Subaru Outback - just a bit above the hideously expensive Buick Rendezvous and truly-niche Jeep Wrangler. The Chrysler Sebring sedan couldn't even beat those vehicles, and came in behind the Mercedes C-class. The formerly-hot Chrysler 300M sold fewer units than the Subaru Impreza, BMW 5-series, or even the "do they still make that?" Chevy Astro.

December 6, 2001: Chrysler sales - the bright side

Chrysler retail sales rose, with total sales falling due to a lack of fleet sales (this also afflicted GM and Ford, which had net sales increases). The extended warranty was credited for some of the retail uptick. PT Cruiser and Liberty sales remain strong even without financing incentives, though both are limited by production constraints to relatively low volumes. Ram sales, while below last year and far below GM and Ford, have risen by almost one third since last month. In another favorable sign, inventory has been reduced to 455,550 units, a 19 percent reduction from November of 2000. That's a 66-day supply, compared to a 76-day supply at the same time a year ago.

Total minivan sales of 33,981 were up 18 percent, compared to November 2000.

Total Chrysler brand sales of 43,543 were up seven percent, compared to November 2000. (We don't consider this to be a big deal since Plymouth sales went down to nothing.)

Total Jeep brand sales of 40,174 units were up 12 percent, compared to November 2000.

Chrysler Sebring Sedan sales of 4,841 were up 57 percent, compared to November 2000. Chrysler Sebring Convertible sales of 2,506 were up 121 percent, compared to November 2000. [Both were recently redesigned]

Jeep Wrangler sales of 5,274 were up 28 percent, compared to November 2000.

Dodge Caravan minivan sales of 18,618 were up 19 percent, compared to November 2000.

December 7, 2001: Liberty airbags recalled

120,000 Jeep Libertys are being recalled because, in a crash, a bracket may scrape a sensor wire, leading to a 20 ms delay in inflation. There have been no deaths or injuries related to the problem, according to DCX.

December 11, 2001: Dodge dealers to get Mercedes vans

The Sprinter, made by Mercedes but sold in the US as a Freightliner, will be sold by Dodge dealers, according to Motor Trend. The Class 1-2 van, which can carry up to six tons of weight depending on its configuration, can be set up as a passenger or cargo van, replacing the Dodge B-series and competing with the Ford Econoline. Sprinters sold as Freightliners are made in South Carolina at a Freightliner factory. FedEx Express purchased the first 1,900 units made in the US.

The van sells for about $26,000, making it more expensive than the Dodge B-series, but features an efficient five-cylinder diesel with 243 lb-ft of torque (154 hp) and 22 mpg. Diesels also tend to outlast gasoline engines, making them more efficient for constant commercial use.

December 11, 2001: CS update

Detroit News updated their Chrysler CS coverage. The Aztek-like (in its basic idea) vehicle, which restyles a minivan to look like an SUV, has reported been approved for sale in April 2003, well over a year beyond its original proposed sale date. [This would eventually become the Chrysler Pacifica.]

December 11, 2001: Magna to buy Chrysler plant?

Parts maker Magna International announced that it is discussing the purchase of Eurostar, Chrysler's Graz, Austria plant which assembles the Chrysler minivan and PT Cruiser for sale outside North America. Bill Cawthon noted: "Magna Steyr already assembles the Mercedes G-Wagen, 4WD E-Class and other vehicles....Eurostar was originally a joint venture between pre-merger Chrysler and SFT. Magna has since acquired SFT... If this purchase goes through, all non-North American Chrysler products would be assembled by Magna. This is the ultimate outsource where the name on the vehicle has nothing to do with the manufacture, it's just a marketing brand." This also backs up Daimler's decision to restrict Chrysler to North America - an ironic decision since most analysts believed that the primary benefit of the merger would be giving Chrysler access to European and Asian markets.

December 13, 2001: Fuel cell concept minivan shown

Chrysler unveiled a fuel cell-powered minivan today that runs on sodium boro-hydride, a compound related to borax, the naturally-occuring substance used in laundry soap.

The concept Chrysler Town & Country Natrium, named for the Latin word for sodium, has a range of 300 miles and produces zero emissions.

Thomas Moore, a Chrysler vice-president who directs fuel cell research and development, noted "there are no hydrocarbons to contribute to greenhouse gas buildup, no smog-producing emissions and the fuel can be recycled."   

Chrysler has no plans to build the Natrium and used the project to study alternative fuels.

Sodium boro-hydride is nontoxic, nonflammable, recyclable and readily available in the United States. It comes in powder form and can be mixed with water to create a fuel mix. In the Natrium, the fuel mix passes through a catalyst that extracts the hydrogen, which is combined with oxygen in the fuel cell stacks to create electricity that drives the minivan's electric motor. The byproducts are water and borax, which can be reprocessed into sodium boro-hydride and reused.

December 14, 2001: Daimler-Benz selling off Chrysler plants

In addition to the Austrian assembly plant, Chrysler has announced that it is selling a Dayton, Ohio parts plant, and industry insiders are saying that other parts plants will also be sold to "cut costs." We interpret this as meaning that Daimler-Benz has no intention of building Chrysler back up again, and is cannibalizing the company while it waits to see if profits will be available in the future for redistribution to Mercedes-Benz.

December 14, 2001: Zetsche speaks

Dieter Zetsche, President and Chief Executive Officer, Chrysler Group, said or wrote:

"Since its introduction earlier this year, the Chrysler Group turnaround plan remains a solid, yet flexible initiative that is helping our company return to profitability. However, we can tell you that there are no plans at this time for any layoffs beyond those already announced. Because of the spirit demonstrated by all Chrysler employees, we are experiencing significant progress in our efforts to reduce costs and enhance revenue. But with additional constraints from the economy, we know that we have to accelerate our cost-reduction efforts, just as we did throughout this year. Our plan is flexible enough to do this without further layoffs."

Our additional note - they don't need to resort to layoffs if they sell their parts and assembly plants. That should provide some nice short-term revenue to reinvest in Mercedes.

December 17, 2001: Chrysler gets Ford-like fire bug, recalls vans

Chrysler is recalling 1.6 million Dodge, Chrysler, and Plymouth minivans in the 1996-2000 model range due to potentially leaky gasoline lines which have resulted in severe fires and gasoline leaks. Three deaths have been attributed to these fires. Chrysler delayed the recall, claiming that they did not have replacement parts ready - in the interim, there were an additional six reported fires and 56 reported leaks. The fault is in the O-rings at the fuel rail (info from Detroit News).

December 17, 2001: Prowler to be dropped

To nobody's surprise, given the ramp-up of Vipers, end of the LH series, and the introduction of the Crossfire, the Prowler has been dropped by Chrysler as of February 2002. Some would have let it die with Plymouth, rather than making it into a Chrysler for less than a year...but some would have kept a division that sold 250,000 cars per year, too.

The plant that makes the Prowler also makes the more popular and more aura-inducing Viper. The Prowler was to usher in a new face for Plymouth, but yanking the PT Cruiser over to Chrysler spelled the end of that initiative - /opinion/ a hallmark of Chrysler management through the years being indecision and inability to carry concepts through over the long term. /end opinion/

December 19, 2001: DCX to start cutting German employees

DaimlerChrysler will finally start eliminating jobs in Germany, cutting its workforce by 5,000 to 6,000 people by the end of next year. This move reflects a slow recognition of the slowdown in the commercial truck and bus business on which the current management has placed its bets. DCX has eight commercial vehicle plants in Germany.

Unlike the Chrysler and Mitsubishi cutbacks, Daimler is relying on attrition only. At Chrysler, 26,000 jobs are being cut, with six or seven plants being closed and, it seems, many others being sold. Freightliner has lost 700 jobs. Truck and bus sales, overall, are projected to fall from about 550,000 last year to about 490,000 this year.

December 20, 2001: Intrepid R/T getting the axe

Did you know there was an Intrepid R/T? Apparently, most people did not, and the model is reportedly about to be cut and replaced by a cheaper variant of the highly rated, but not high-selling, full-size sedan.

December 21, 2001: New Dodge Army truck

A military version of the Dodge Ram pickup features a state-of-the-art hydro-pneumatic suspension system able to negotiate severe off-road terrain.

This unique suspension replaces the front coil springs and shock absorbers with hydro-pneumatic cylinders; the rear leaf springs and shock absorbers are replaced with a mult-link suspension and hydro-pneumatic cylinders.

The vehicle was developed by Dodge in conjunction with the U.S. Army Tank Automotive & Armaments Command (TACOM) - National Automotive Center (NAC). The suspension is currently installed on a conventionally-powered Ram, but will be included in a hybrid diesel-electric version of the vehicle being developed for the Army's Commercially Based Tactical Truck (COMBATT) program.

Among the features of the hydro-pneumatic suspension are:

The suspension is controlled by computer, so proper operation is not dependent on driver familiarity with the system. Vehicle controls permit driver/operator to specify the type of terrain being traversed.

The diesel-electric hybrid COMBATT truck, also equipped with the hydro-pneumatic suspension, will be delivered to TACOM early next year. The vehicle is based on the Dodge Ram HEV that will be sold commercially beginning in 2004.

December 24, 2001: DC opens new plant amidst plant closures

While closing plants across the world - including a brand new Chrysler operation in Brazil - DCX has announced the creation of a jointly operated (50/50) DCX/Mitsubishi engine plant in eastern Germany. (Mitsubishi is 34% owned by Daimler and is largely controlled by Daimler, with a Daimler-selected CEO). The venture, named MDC Power Gmbh, will make powertrains for both Mitsubishi and Smart branded cars - though, to be fair, this will be the same basic car, the Mitsubishi "Z-car" which will form the basis of the four-seater Smart. These vehicles may never make it to the US.

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