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Are we going to see a big Chrysler SUV?

by Robert S. Miller on

With the Chrysler brand having only two models (three if you count the Pacifica Hybrid as its own model, instead of a trim), some have been skeptical about the brand’s future.

In 2014, FCA US announced that Chrysler would become the “mainstream brand” and sell a wider portfolio of vehicles including a full-size crossover, mid-size crossover, and even a compact sedan. Since then, FCA US has abandoned their small and mid-size sedans as the sedan market dried up; the Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger have survived thanks to steady sales.

DT-SUV: Chrysler Aspen?

During the 2014 Investor’s Day presentation, FCA US announced that they would build a full-size Chrysler crossover to take on the Chevrolet Traverse, Ford Explorer, Buick Enclave, Honda Pilot, and such. To be based on the Pacifica, it was supposed to include a hybrid and an electric four-wheel drive system that would drive the rear wheels separately when needed. This would allow the crossover to avoid having a rear driveshaft —  and allow it to use the Pacifica’s Stow & Go seating. The crossover, code-named RA and originally scheduled for a 2015 launch, was put on hold because the older Dodge Grand Caravan is still a sales success, so there isn’t room for another vehicle at the Windsor Assembly Plant.

FCA US had also announced an upcoming full-size Jeep SUV called Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer (WS), to be built at the Warren Truck Assembly Plant for the 2020 model year. Later, FCA announced that the Wagoneer will be based on the upcoming Ram 1500 (DT) body-on-frame chassis — not a unibody platform, like the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Dodge Durango.

With the production plant shuffle and the Chrysler “RA” crossover being put on hold, where does that leave Chrysler?

Chrysler Atlantic?

Late last year, FCA US held an open house for the families and friends of employees to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Chrysler Technical Center in Auburn Hills, Michigan. Many participants toured the Product Design Studio.

There, a certain design stuck out: a design for a three-row Chrysler SUV based on the Ram DT chassis. Could this be a Chrysler mainstream power hitter, against the likes of the Chevrolet Tahoe / Suburban and the 2018 Ford Expedition and Expedition Max?

GM dominates that market, but it looks like the segment is  steady, with potential room to grow. Older millennials who are starting to have bigger families; they are starting to look more into full-size, body-on-frame SUVs, which can tow heavy trailers if needed.

Chrysler SUV sketches

The Chrysler SUV takes the current Chrysler styling language to the next level. Two-tone roofs, which have been slowly appearing on Jeeps, make their way to some of the sketches. The roof itself seems to be the focus of styling on this design with its floating design.

A big bold grille embraces the look of the current Chrysler 300 (as well as Chryslers going back to the LH). The sleek body lines are broader and bolder, with a look like the final Chrysler 200 (UF). The rear flaunts typical bold Chrysler rear styling, with integrated exhaust tips.

The big question is whether could Chrysler truly produce such a vehicle for the brand — and the answer is “absolutely.”

DT-SUV

With the upcoming 2020 Jeep Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer  coming to market, based on the 2019 Ram 1500, the cost of development is slashed; the Chrysler would probably share most of its under-the-skin components with the WS and DT, as well as things we might not think of, like powertrains, the suspension architecture, infotainment, four-wheel drive systems, seats, and such.

The Chrysler would be built alongside the WS in Warren, Michigan. The only real issues would be if FCA had to move the Ram Heavy Duty from Mexico to Warren, or tap Warren for extra Ram 1500s. Most likely, Warren would help with Ram pickup production as well as making the SUVs. With a shared platform, added profit margin, and a plant already geared up for similar product, the new Chrysler Aspen (or Chrysler Atlantic) really would not need massive sales to make money.

Chrysler hasn’t had a body-on-frame SUV since the 2009 Chrysler Aspen; this one would allow Chrysler to aggressively go after Chevrolet, Ford, while the new Jeep Wagoneer competes for the off-road crowd and the mid-luxury market (such as Land Cruiser and LX570), with very little added investment.

Robert Miller is a long-time Allpar contributor, Mopar enthusiast, and automotive photographer.


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