Chrysler-Models that must abandon ship
From the Detroit Free Press:
Models that must abandon ship
BY MARK PHELAN • FREE PRESS AUTO CRITIC • February 18, 2008
So you think Chrysler vice chairmen Jim Press and Tom LaSorda have it easy? Then pretend you're Chrysler's product planning boss for a day.
The rules are simple: Take Chrysler LLC's current model line, eliminate uncompetitive vehicles and those that are too much like each other. Then add new cars and trucks to make the automaker profitable when the process is done in three or four years.
The object is to end up with 18 vehicle lines, the target Chrysler is working toward.
Remember, this is more like Rubik's Cube than checkers. Each move you make rearranges all the other squares. For instance, if you decide to drop the Chrysler Town & Country and keep the Dodge Grand Caravan, how does that affect the rest of the Chrysler brand? Does it dilute Dodge's tough and capable signature?
Here are some suggestions:
Chrysler 300, Dodge Charger, Dodge Magnum, Dodge Challenger -- The 300 and Charger are great cars that sell well and should form the backbone of their brands' identities. "The 300 redefined Chrysler," said analyst Stephanie Brinley of consultants AutoPacific. "They absolutely must keep that image.
The Charger and 300 don't appeal to the same people, so duplication between them is not a problem."
The Magnum sporty wagon struggled in the market, so it must go.
The Challenger large coupe is a natural addition to Dodge's lineup, a performance model that's priced and styled to become the brand's image vehicle.
Dodge Viper SRT 10 -- Put it in the terrarium. The Viper breathed life into Dodge when it debuted, but an $84,460 600-horsepower two-seater is too far removed from the reality of the brand. Fuel-economy concerns and the fact that it can't be built alongside any of the company's other models will doom the Viper, Brinley said.
Chrysler Sebring and Dodge Avenger -- The uncompetitive midsize sedans must go.
"I never understood why they didn't take the magic of the 300 down a size and make a killer midsize car," said Michelle Krebs, editor of AutoObserver.com. Chrysler should get that dynamite sedan and a convertible, while Dodge could use a sporty coupe from the family to give it a car priced and sized to compete with the Mustang and add pizzazz to the brand.
The company's midsize sedans always have struggled against cars like the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry. Fine new models like the Chevrolet Malibu and Ford Fusion only have increased Chrysler's woes.
Chrysler might roll the dice by using a version of the rear-wheel-drive platform for the next-generation 300 and Charger. A family of smaller, less expensive sedans, coupes and convertibles with rear-drive styling and performance might shake up the market and make the Chrysler 200 the "it" car of 2012.
Chrysler Crossfire -- Drop it. The Crossfire served its purpose, boosting morale and garnering positive headlines during Chrysler's last crisis, but the beautiful two-seater is at the end of its useful life.
Chrysler Town & Country and Dodge Grand Caravan -- Building and selling two versions of the same minivan costs too much money, Chrysler Vice Chairman Press recently told the company's dealers. You can make an argument for keeping either, but the company can charge higher prices for the Chrysler one, and a badly needed bigger crossover with SUV looks fits Dodge's lineup, so the Grand Caravan is the one to go.
Dodge Caliber, Jeep Compass, Jeep Patriot, Chrysler PT Cruiser -- Lose the Compass and improve the Caliber and Patriot.
"Dodge needs something in that segment, but they must do it better," Brinley said. "Maybe they could develop it in a partnership with Nissan." The two small Jeeps are too similar to each other, and the Compass is the weaker model, so it should go, she said.
Chrysler also must improve the compacts' drivetrains. An upcoming direct-injection system for the engines should improve power and fuel economy. Chrysler also should rush to replace the continuously variable transmissions with the dual-clutch gearbox, scheduled to come from its joint venture with Germany's Getrag.
The aging PT Cruiser also is due to go, but another stylish little compact with great looks and a creative interior would be a nice fit for Chrysler.
Chrysler Aspen, Dodge Durango -- The big SUVs are in the wrong place at the wrong time, fighting high fuel prices and improved new competitors like the Chevrolet Tahoe. Drop them both.
Jeep Grand Cherokee and Commander -- The Commander is barely selling and competes with the Grand Cherokee. It goes, but the platform for the next generation of the Grand Cherokee should be flexible enough to give Dodge a seven- or eight-seat crossover, and maybe an SUV that offers serious towing capability without Jeep's bias toward off-road ability, said Jim Hall, managing director of 2953 Analytics, a Birmingham consultant. "That's a product they need."
Dodge Nitro and Jeep Liberty -- Chrysler only needs one midsize SUV, and the Liberty wins on the basis of Jeep's unique appeal. The next generation of the Liberty might be based on the same underpinnings as the new Grand Cherokee, Hall said. That strategy would boost Jeep's manufacturing and engineering efficiency.
Crossovers -- "Chrysler hasn't made any inroads into that market despite getting there first with the Pacifica," Krebs said.
The Pacifica is gone and Dodge has added the Journey crossover, but its size may not be a perfect fit for the market.
Dodge should add a legitimate seven- or eight-seater to compete with models like the Toyota Highlander and the new Chevrolet Traverse, Krebs said.
It also could use a compact crossover in what Hall calls the sweet spot of the market occupied by the Ford Escape.
Dodge Dakota -- Eliminate it. Midsize pickups are a dying breed. They've grown too close in size and price to full-size pickups. Big pickups are profitable, midsize ones lose money. It's an easy call.
Dodge Ram -- Keep it, but drop the Mega Cab option. Now that the Ram has a crew cab model with enough interior room to compete with the Ford F-150, Chevrolet Silverado and Toyota Tundra, building the Mega Cab adds cost and complexity without the promise of a serious profit.
Dodge Sprinter -- An excellent vehicle that faces relatively little competition in the delivery van and airport shuttle business. Keep it.
Dodge B-car -- Chrysler's mass-market brand desperately needs a small, inexpensive car to compete with fuel-efficient models like the Chevrolet Aveo, Honda Fit and Toyota Yaris. The company will sell a rebadged version of Nissan's Versa B-car in Latin America, but the model for the United States is more likely to come from Chrysler's alliance with Chinese automaker Chery, Hall said.
"It's a glaring void in their lineup," Krebs said. "The whole world is going that way. The Dodge Hornet was a really interesting concept car. They might make it look like that."