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NAIAS (North American International Auto Show), Detroit, 2007

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NAIAS (North American International Auto Show), Detroit, 2007

At the 2007 Detroit Auto Show, Chrysler released a new Dodge Avenger and Dodge Viper, new minivans, and a new NASCAR racing car. The media was very interested in the Chrysler Group, with rumors of an upcoming sale in the wind (DaimlerChrysler sold it to Cerberus in May 2007).

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We thought the Avenger looked stronger and more muscular than in the photos, and neater and cleaner inside. The interior was a refinement of the current Dodge themes.

Ben S. Chang, senior designer and the man responsible for the interior of the Avenger and the Nassau show car; he said the Nassau instrument panel was inspired by his watch (there was indeed a strong resemblance). He said he was not influenced by the Lexus IS, which was also watch-influenced, but by his own watch. Going into production wasn't a problem in terms of cost or materials.

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Ben also designed the Avenger climate control knobs, with chrome rings and integral buttons, that were making their way through the entire product line.

Ben introduced me to Ryan Nagode, who led the exterior styling. Ryan said he was looking for a sinister, aggressive appearance, and was most strongly influenced by his sunglasses; the grille wraps all the way around the front of the car to the headlamps, providing a full graphic of the front end. The corners, he said, are like boxing gloves - protective forms in all corners.

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As for the headlights, he said he tried to move the elements up to tuck the lights under the grille; and he thought the linear part underneath the dual headlamps added to the overall look. He also said that they had tried to differentiate the models, using black on the R/T and silver/chrome on the tothers; and in the grille, the base model was body color, while the others were chrome.

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Trevor Creed with Tom Tremont, Alan Barrington, Ben Chang, and Kevin.

Ryan said they had put a lot of time and effort into aerodynamics, especially as the Avenger is four inches taller and 1.4 inches wider than the Stratus. The corner shapes and degree of grille lean were wind-tunnel tested. The recessed grille has gaps only where needed for the air intake and is not an aerodynamics problem. They worked with the hood so that there would not be large, noticeable gaps.

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Part of the reason for the resemblance to the Charger is the desire to sell the Avenger in Europe, where the Charger is not sold (the 300C is there instead). They worked to ensure that the Avenger would keep its unique identity when sold abroad. But, in the end, according to Ryan, "It's all about getting rid of the boring sedan."

The minivan

We spent some time in the minivan displays and the actual vehicles. The display bucket seats were comfortable once we reclined a little (they were set straight-up, which may have affected some reports of the seat comfort). The bench seat is set at what appears to be an odd and awkward angle, and the demonstration confirmed that this was, indeed, awkward and uncomfortable.

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Chrysler's Kathy Graham wrote: "Stow 'n' Go is standard and Swivel 'n' Go is an option. The second row Swivel seats do not stow, but they are removable (they are on wheels). Third row seats always stow into the floor."

With standard Stow 'n' Go, the seats were far better, despite the angle of the rearmost seat; but because the seat has to have room for storage behind it, legroom in the third row is severely limited, and that's with the second row of seats as far forward as possible, which restricts their legroom (though not terribly).

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On the whole the system works well. With the table up, room was restricted; the passengers have to deal with the knees of the people facing them. It might still be good for relieving boredom or snacking on long trips.

TV reporters spent quite a bit of seat time in the demonstration seats and in the minivans themselves. Two questions remain unanswered: ours on the weight of the minivans, and CNN's (they quoted us!) on where you put the table when you're not using it. (We later found out the table is stored in the Stow 'n' Go cavity.)

Dodge Viper variant

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A version of the new Viper was shown with various Mopar Performance accessories. With the Mopar cold air intake, chrome fresh air feed, and revised grille in place, the engine is rated at 670 horsepower. A coilover adjusting suspension and special Mopar wheels help to keep the power to the ground as well.

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The new Dodge Avenger NASCAR body was also shown. As a reminder, all lights on this thing are actually decals. The guy peering in gives it scale.

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The Viper remains a very impressive vehicle, even more so in this generation. The curves were interesting - particularly the detail around the tail-lights.

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For details and photos of the cars, see our Dodge Avenger page and Dodge Viper page.

First-day Presentations

At 20 minutes to go, the Chrysler area was well-packed, and reporters had been drifting by since 11 am, picking up free drums. The air was filled with drumming as we waited.

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At noon, Senior Vice President of Design Trevor Creed entered the stage, saying that Chrysler always followed the beat of a different drummer. As each concept showed up, we were to put down our pads and cameras to drum; quite a few of the audience did just that. Most of the execs seemed to be enjoying themselves.

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The Trailhawk drove quickly up the ramp and onto the turntable. Trevor noted its space, huge skylights, unique interior and exterior design, and the off-road angles (approach, departure, etc) of the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited.

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The drummers then invited members of the audience to join them on-stage, so they could show someone how to drum; then the drummers brought out rock-style drum sets, as the canopy lifted off the Chrysler Nassau, which drove rapidly on stage, stopping at the turntable.

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The Nassau cut an impressive figure, first sheathed except for its bright lights shining through cutouts, then accelerating with impressive speed and precision onto the stage.

Then we went to lunch, where Chrysler supplied box lunches and dessert (followed by ice cream bars served by roving waitresses, if you wished.) A drum, with drumsticks, was built into the press kit.

The Nassau looks much smaller than it is; reporters behind me were trying to figure out its size, thinking it was compact (it's full size). The stylists did a remarkable job in making it look smaller. The hatchback looks fairly practical.

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The interior of the Trailhawk is simply amazing, especially if you like shiny things. If they can make this, they'll sell a bunch of them.

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BMW and Toyota people seemed interested in the Nassau and Trailhawk. Some reporters seemed to think that Chrysler had captured the show - despite some other impressive introductionsand the first Chinese automobiles to be shown in Detroit.

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Chrysler seemed to be on top of things, with enough press books for everyone, and good coverage of people. Putting all the stylists on stage made the concepts more human somehow. Lexus' hot new F series got much less attention, partly because it was introduced via the "droning announcer" method.

The show

The show floor was far more upscale and lavish than New York's Javits Center; the displays were larger, and the lighting was better.

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The Chrysler area was widely spaced; minivans stood alone, attended by a small crowd of reporters always present, checking out these key vehicles a full day after their introduction.

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The working press was everywhere, this being the largest and most important show of the nation. The press room was overcrowded, and the wireless network was swamped.

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The North American International Auto Show is immense. The only thing not out of scale was the parking price at $6 for the full day. The show is a lavish display of excess, not only in the cars themselves, but in the displays. It should be fun on public days, too.

2008 NAIAS reporting | Other auto shows

For details and photos of the cars, see our minivans, Dodge Avenger, and Dodge Viper pages

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