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Olivier Francois on Chrysler

by David Zatz on

Olivier Francois started his speech by saying that Chrysler was on the crossroads between failure and greatness. “It’s time to recontent a brand that has been decontented.”

He also pointed out that good design involved not just styling the appearance, but also working with needs and cognition.

He started out by pointing out that nobody knew they needed a minivan until Chrysler launched theirs, 27 years ago. Now, he said, America needs — this one. At that, a film of the new 2011 Chrysler Town & Country rolled, showing the elegant appointments of the extensively restyled minivan, the first to wear the new Chrysler wings.

Francois said they had improved the suspension, steering, and tires, improving both ride and handling, as well as the performance, with the new Pentastar V6 and the “highly efficient” six speed transmission. It delivers 25 mpg highway mileage, with a best in class 283 horsepower, in all models. It has new wheels, new fascias, new rear and, and new grille.

Inside, “that’s where we get the best part of the story,” with an upgraded dashboard, center stack, and gauges. “It totally changes the look and feel of the interior.” Stow ‘n’ Go still has a power folding third row, and now the second row seats fold in with a single finger only. The leather was upgraded across the cabin, the steering wheel is heated.

“There is something even more important than performance, great, design, or comfort…safety.” He noted that SafetyTech is standard on every Chrysler Town & Country, including blind spot monitoring, regardless of trim level. (This is not true of Dodge Grand Caravan.)

“We are not about to surrender the segment we have held since we invented it.”

The D segment (midsized cars) is a prime example of how hard it is to regain a segment one has lost, Francois said. “We took our eyes off the ball. … It had to be good, and it had to be now… the brief was simple: do everything.” They needed beautiful design, with quality and purpose, … within twelve months. He told engineers to look at “every thread, every weld, every stitch, every cut, every seem, every rivet, every collection, every seal, every valve, every spring, every chip, every line, every angle, every detail, I want this car to be stronger, tighter, faster, smoother, smarter, purer, bolder, sharper, louder, meaner, classier, sexier, I want it to be the Chrysler.”

(At that, a white Chrysler 200 rolled out, almost silently; it sat in contrast with the black minivan.)

“A completely new front end…new wheel design, completely new rear end… what are we not giving you? The cheap plastic…” There are new fabrics, new instrument cluster, new dashboard, new steering wheel. “We fixed the ride, handling, performance, and NVH. We took care of the guts.” It now has 283 horsepower with 29 mpg (highway).

The six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission will be available next year, and is the first Fiat powertrain component to be integrated into a Chrysler.

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