At its annual fleet preview in Detroit, Chrysler laid out its five-year product plan. Much of the new product was on display but not available to drive-and photos will have to wait.
Chrysler's design chief Ralph Gilles, always outspoken, energetic and candid, walked us through the highlights of the manufacturer's product direction.
Some 75 percent of 2009 models will be modified or renewed in 2010, 100 percent by 2012. Chrysler promises a "more ordered cadence moving forward."
Many 2010 launches involve cosmetic changes such as new front and rear fascias and interior redesigns. That translates into a new, across-the-board style, especially on the front end, with new headlight clusters and a thinner, sleeker grille.
Dodge now gets its own front-end styling (what Gilles called the holy cross) and leaves Ram's signature grille to Ram.
Refinement of interiors is a major Chrysler initiative. Gilles did not mince words about Chrysler's erstwhile interiors, calling Wrangler's "tragic paramilitary" and others "clumsy." Audi is now the interior benchmark, Gilles said. He said Chrysler wants to build "the cars people fight to wash."
Chrysler has reengineered its Pentastar V6 engine, which will replace seven separate V6 engines. With a max horsepower of 290 and a max torque 350, the new Pentastar V6 is getting 28 mpg hwy in tests, which is as efficient as the Camry's engine, according to powertrain head Paolo Ferrero.
Chrysler's goal is to improve fuel economy by more than 25 percent by 2014. This will be accomplished primarily by improvements to the good old internal combustion engine, transmissions (with multiple speeds and a wide-ratio spread), axles and drivetrains (all-wheel drive only when needed) and better thermal management.
Chrysler will leverage the Fiat partnership in a few key engine and drivetrain areas. Those include implementation of start/stop technology (similar to hybrids) for ICE engines, something called a "dual dry clutch transmission" (uses two separate clutches for odd and even gear sets) and Fiat's Multiair engine, which reduces fuel consumption and emissions by a more refined control of air through intake engine valves. That engine will be used first in the Fiat 500.
Fiat has put considerable resources toward natural gas technology, with six models that run on compressed natural gas (CNG). Chrysler product may benefit. Of interest to fleets would be Fiat's commercial vans, for which Fiat has been producing CNG versions for years.
Here's a quick hit of product plans:
- Chrysler fleet customers will have two new Fiat commercial van choices in MY 2012. The Doblo is a "Transit Connect" fighter, while the Ducato will be a Sprinter-type replacement.
- The Dodge Dakota will go out of production by the middle of next year. The new Ram brand is looking at unibody, midsize pickup truck for 2011.
- Ram is in a three-year demonstration program of a two-mode, plug-in hybrid pickup. There are no definitive plans for production.
- Chrysler is considering expanding its commercial truck lineup to Class 6.
- Dodge Caliber will be discontinued in 2012, replaced by a compact sedan.
- In 2013 Dodge will introduce a "Honda Fit fighter."
- Grand Caravan gets a souped up RT model this year with a masculine, black and red trim interior, dubbed the "Man Van."
- Chrysler Sebring launches later this year. The midsized sedan gets the new front and rear styling, a new interior and a revised suspension. The Sebring will be the first vehicle with a Fiat-engineered dual-clutch transmission.
- The Fiat 500 minicar hits showrooms in the fourth quarter and will most likely be badged as a Fiat. A rollback convertible will follow in 2011 and an all-electric version in 2012. The 500 will be a niche play, with about 200 dealers selling 50,000-60,000 units a year.
- Jeep Grand Cherokee, completely redesigned and out now, is the first vehicle to get the new Pentastar V6 engine.
- Dodge Durango replacement (Q4) will get a unibody construction.
- Dodge Charger (Q4) gets new sheet metal, new rear suspension, new interior, new Pentastar V6.
- Chrysler 300 (Q4) gets the new look, the new suspension, new engine and a new interior.
On the fleet front, Chrysler is adding commercial fleet field personnel, according to Pete Grady, vice president - Network Development & Fleet. The company is expanding and revamping its fleet Internet resources, which apparently have not been as robust as other manufacturers.