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Dodge, Chrysler, and Jeep at the New York Auto Show (March-April 2013)

story and photos by David Zatz

Featured cars: 2014 Dodge Durango and 2014 Jeep Cherokee

Chrysler launched two SUVs at the 2013 New York Auto Show, the updated 2014 Dodge Durango and the 2014 Jeep Cherokee. Chrysler's usual positions within the show have moved to lower-rent locations, but the usual Jeep ride-and-drive was still set up outside, with various Jeep vehicles going over logs, steep inclines, and the like. Visitors can drive one of the Jeeps through the obstacle course, in full view of the public (who are invited to come along for the ride).

Chrysler's displays were definitely in the low-rent district - all the way in the back, on both floors. Oddly, Mitsubishi and Subaru, niche players in the United States, had prime spots on the truck floor; but Ford had a prime location upstairs, and to get to Chrysler or Dodge, one had to walk through a plethora of Mustangs and other Fords. Chrysler did have massive banners on the main floor, to interest buyers in their long journey through the Javits Center and one of the nation's premier car shows.

That said, the Chrysler area was bigger than it seemed. It was oddly shaped during the press days, with Chrysler and Dodge in the far reaches, extending back to the Mopar wall. Volkswagen was even further back, but their display seemed more open, possibly due to the huge bright wall erected against the Javits Center wall.

One had to move through Fiat to get to the SRT section, clearly separated from the rest, presumably to clarify SRT's relatively new role as a completely different brand. Fiat had two 500Ls on display - locked and on pedestals, and that was during media days - but they also had the rest of the Fiat 500 line and a Mopar display.

In addition to the hot cars and special editions, there was a row of regular Dodge and Chrysler cars for potential customers to explore, seeing in person the vastly upgraded interiors and improved finishes. WJR was broadcasting for part of the day out of a large booth in the Dodge space, facing a new, purple Challenger R/T.

Mopar had their usual "Mopar garage" out, albeit without a Viper this time. That might change by the time the public show starts.

Chrysler was not limited to the Chrysler display; a lone Challenger adorned the D2 Forged Wheels display, sensibly placed next to a Maserati.

What's more, Dodge and ScyFy had a display for their joint-effort television series out front; we don't know if it will be better or more popular than the ill-fated "Viper" series, which ran on "third tier" networks back in the 1990s.

Chrysler 200S Special Edition

The Carhartt special edition 200S was unveiled earlier in the month, and the show included displays of both special Carhartt "imported from Detroit" clothing and the car that goes with them.

Many details of the 200S were changed for this one, including the blacked-out (rather than chromed) "200" logo in the rear side glass, special blacked out wheels (and blacked-out raised lettering on the tires), and the most noticeable change, the unique grille. Inside, the seats had a unique fabric to go along with the special "extra durable" mats.

Ram ProMaster

Grand Cherokee still looks good, inside and out, and several were parked downstairs in the main Jeep area, along with the "real Jeep," Wrangler, in several flavors. There were, though, just as many Ram ProMasters as anything other than Ram pickups; and in person, they look a lot better than they do in photography. The interior of the truck, where most owners will spend the most time, was a revelation: the most vertical walls in the industry, huge doors (each one designed to allow pallets to be brought in), mounts for shelving and storage systems, and a good solid wall (not looking like an afterthought) between cab and cargo.

The Ducato's driving position was comfortable, though it looked as though the interior was created with durability first in mind. The big red hazard flasher button was right out in the open, a boon for delivery vans; there was a closed glove compartment and a large area for papers or loose objects to sit, above it. The emergency brake was oddly positioned to the left of the driver (right hand drive versions must be interesting), but otherwise things looked basic yet serviceable. The large center screen was out of place, not so much stylistically, but in what was obviously designed as a commercial vehicle, a big telematics screen doesn't seem right - even if it will be a boon to those who need navigation.

Fred Diaz said there was some interest from aftermarket upfitters and package delivery companies, who are currently testing the ProMaster, but that they cannot make official announcements yet.

Last year, Chrysler launched the SRT Viper at the New York Auto Show.

Cherokee launch

Mike Manley launched the 2014 Jeep Cherokee at a massive event, apparently attended by every person within the Javits Center; the Special Event Hall was not just standing room only, but appeared to be filled to capacity. Jeep has been on a roll, and the new Cherokee is being launched into a busy market. There were 2 million midsized SUV sales in the US in 2012, 5 million worldwide, according to Mike Manley; and that market is dominated by imports.

Manley praised the original Jeep Cherokee for some time, before moving on to the new one. He pointed to the artifical rocks on the stage, saying that while they could not launch the car in Moab, "we tried taking a little bit of Moab here." Then DRLs lit up at both sides of the stage and, slowly, the Trailhawk moved in from stage left, easily climbing the box-like faux rocks. Manley quipped, "It takes the concept of social climbing literally."

Mr. Manley heaped praise on the new Cherokee, some of which seems impossible; if it is "the most capable midsized SUV in the world," I would be rather surprised, especially since that class should include Wrangler. He also said that the Trailhawk rides one inch higher than Limited, which doesn't conform to Chrysler press sheets - which probably isn't surprising. The rear axle disconnect is unique in the industry, according to Manley, and it's standard on all three four wheel drive systems.

The Cherokee has gotten mixed reactions from those who have seen it in person, while those who have only seen photos have tended to be more negative. To me, there is no question but that it is better in reality than in two dimensions; the front and side "work" in person, but not in photography. I was expecting something much worse, which might have been part of it, even after seeing the press photos.

The rear still appears sparse, but not as unsorted as in the photos; the overall style is attractive, particularly from the three-quarter view. As for off-road capabilities, the blue Cherokee in the bright light took the Hell's Revenge trail at Moab.

<a name="here" onclick="document.getElementById('here').style.display = 'block';">Click here see to more Cherokee launch photos</a>

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Durango launch

Reid Bigland, Chrysler sales and Dodge chief, launched the 2014 Dodge Durango today in New York. Though it shares an assembly line and core design with the Jeep Grand Cherokee, the two differ in length, suspension design, and interior and exterior design; Durango goes so far as to use a completely different transmission shifter (the Ram's knob rather than Grand Cherokee's/300C's/Charger's semi-traditional console unit).

Mr. Bigland first went over Chrysler's sales successes, noting that retail sales went up 23% in 2012 (over 2011), and were up 13% in January-February 2013 over the same months in 2012. He then went into full size SUV and crossover sales, which total 10% of the American new-vehicle market, or around 1.5 million vehicles per year. An introductory video played homage to the Dodge Brothers and various Dodge cars and trucks over the years.

According to Mr. Bigland, Durango buyers are ten years younger than the segment average. He pointed to Durango's capabilities, showing the original Durango on the screen along with the first of the current generation, before two new Durangos drove onto the stage under red lights.

While the huge auditorium was completely filled for the release, post-launch excitement was notably dimmer than for the 2014 Jeep Cherokee launch yesterday, most likely because the 2014 Durango is an evolutionary change, particularly with regard to styling (despite the new front and rear optics, which include a snazzy, smooth-light set of front LED driving lights and racetrack rear lighting).

The changes are evolutionary, but substantial. The advantages of the eight-speed automatic with the V6 engine are hard to overstate, and the interior has been substantially improved, with new information, assistance, emergency, and video systems.

Other brands

Aston Martin, Bentley, Rolls-Royce, and some other luxury brands chose to rope off their entire collections; but Porsche, to their credit, did not, with a full line of visually integrated cars along the back wall.

Meanwhile, one photo shows why some people have issues with NASCAR: it's all about the sponsors, it's clearly not a real car (two door, rear wheel drive Camry?), the lights are stickers, ... and it's a Toyota. Which it wouldn't be, if NASCAR still raced production or near-production cars. Editorial comment over.

This AMG SLS runs around $200,000. That's twice the price of the Viper, but you get those cool gull-wing doors, which actually make it harder to get in. Viper also has a nicer interior, but hey, look at those doors!

General Motors went all-out this year, renting the entire north building, having a massive display on the truck floor (which was mostly devoted to Camaros), and also having cars upstairs. To make sure customers went all the way into their separate-building area, passing Buick, Silverado, Cadillac, and various cars customers might not know by sight or name, they put Corvettes only in the far back of the north building, past a hallway of Chevy Sparks. If you wanted to see or sit in a Corvette, you had to work at it. In fairness, if you want to sit in a Corvette, you may have to work at it anyway.

Getting to the show

Visiting the New York Auto Show: Tickets are $15 for adults, $5 for children under 12, $13 for adults in groups of ten or more. Backpacks are not allowed; wheelchairs are available. Public show dates are March 29 to April 7.

The more comfortable your shoes, the happier you'll be in this show, with so much ground to cover (on two floors) not to mention getting to Javits in the first place. Attending with a friend makes a real difference. Having someone there to point things out you might have missed, share your appreciation, and argue small points with adds to the experience, and makes it more enjoyable.

For lunch, we recommend the hot dog stand just outside, if you can leave and still get back in; otherwise, Javits has a few overpriced diners, similar to Cobo (Detroit). Okay, a little better than Cobo.

Parking lots raise their rates dramatically for the show (as in $50, cash only - Detroit lots charge $10 at most). You can use a New Jersey or Connecticut park-and-ride if you're driving in, to go that last step into the city via rail or bus. The best route via subway is Penn Station to the M34 bus. At some point, the MTA will finish the 7 line extension and then you can take the subway nearly into Javits.

Other ways to get in (I've tried them all):

  • Take a train to Pennsylvania Station (a cheap dump named after a stunning edifice said to be the finest train station in the world). Then walk to the Javits Center or take the M34 bus (see NYC busses note below). The walk to Javits is long and through questionable neighborhoods.
  • Ferries go to 34th street or so, and from there it's a two-or-three-block walk to Javits - shorter, probably, than the walk from the ferry parking lot. There are buses that run to the ferries. The ferry takes much less time from New Jersey than the bus to the taxi/bus.
  • Take a bus to the Port Authority Bus Terminal and catch the city's M42 bus (every 7-14 minutes) westwards - get off at 11th Avenue and walk three blocks southwards to Javits (see NYC busses note below), making sure you catch the right M42, or you may have to walk more than you expect. We don't advise walking from Port Authority, either, but if you do, go south of the Port Authority building and then work your way westwards; the walk is still long and goes through quiet industrial streets (at your own risk).
  • The fare by taxi from Port Authority or Penn Station is around $5. Give a large tip if you take a cab out of the line for this short route.
  • NYC buses require a MetroCard or $2.50 in exact change. MetroCards have short lives before they expire, so we suggest exact change for out-of-towners - but if you are taking the subway, too, then you can (according to the MTA) do both bus and subway for a single fare, so the MetroCard makes more sense.
  • Park and rides include the 321 bus from Secaucus and the Secaucus transfer station; the bus depot is currently cheaper and easier.
Other photos

See the Dodge, Jeep, and Mopar 2013 New York Auto Show press kits.

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