Chrysler Plans Multiple Improvements During 2010
By Chris Haak
As long-suffering Chrysler dealers do their best to hang on for the next 12-18 months until new products from the automaker’s partnership with Fiat come to fruition, there is a bit of good news on the product front for Chrysler at last. Rather than continuing to trot out basically all of the same vehicles from the past several years with few – if any – meaningful improvements, the company is planning some extensive refreshes.
This is surely welcome news for dealers and fans of the pentastar (and the Pentastar – more on that later), as the company previously had no press conferences at all during January’s North American International Auto Show in Detroit. That fact alone dramatically highlights the company’s lack of a product pipeline, since Chrysler had earned itself a reputation of staging some of the most elaborate new-product launches in the industry.
What will begin as a trickle in the early part of 2010 will turn into a steady stream as 2010 continues.
In first quarter 2010, the Jeep Liberty SUV will see some styling tweaks, and the Ram 3500/4500/5500 chassis cab launches with an all-new chassis.
Second quarter will see an all-new Jeep Grand Cherokee SUV launch on a Mercedes-Benz-derived platform; it will be the last Daimler-engineered platform for Chrysler Group. Although the Grand Cherokee is absolutely a significant vehicle launch, perhaps even more significant than its launch is the V6 engine under its hood. Chrysler’s Pentastar V6 (formerly known as the Phoenix) V6 will make its debut with the 2011 Grand Cherokee in 3.5 liter trim, and promises better power, refinement, and fuel economy than the current (and elderly) lineup of Chrysler V6 engines. The Pentastar weighs less and is built from fewer parts than GM’s similar 3.6 liter V6, which reduces cost and complexity, and should improve durability as well. The Pentastar V6 will eventually – in one variant or another – replace all of Chrysler’s V6 engines over the next several years.
Third quarter, we’ll see stop/start technology added to diesel Jeep Wranglers (sold outside of the US; sorry, oil burner fans, no diesel Wrangler for the US at this point). The Wrangler will also get the Pentastar V6 for the 2011 model year. The Jeep Patriot will also receive some exterior revisions in the third quarter.
Finally, in the fourth quarter, the pace of change will have accelerated. The Dodge Avenger gets minor exterior styling changes and a heavily-revised interior that should address criticisms heaped on it and its fraternal twin, the Chrysler Sebring, since their launch. The Avenger will also get the Pentastar V6. The Grand Caravan receives minor styling tweaks and the Pentastar V6 (the Town & Country gets the Pentastar V6 as well, plus a new front clip). The Dodge Journey gets a new interior, the Pentastar V6, and a redesigned front end, and the Jeep Compass gets a revised interior – its second interior revision since launch.
Other more signficant news for the fourth quarter is that the Dodge Charger and Chrysler 300 will receive new sheetmetal, a heavily revised platform with a new rear suspension design, new interior, the Pentastar V6, and revised V8 engines. There will also be a 7-seat unibody SUV that shares its platform with the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee; it is intended to replace the Durango’s spot in the lineup, but with much-improved fuel economy, and of course gets the Pentastar V6 as well.
Perhaps even bigger news than the handful of all-new vehicles is the fate of the Chrysler Sebring. The butt of jokes, and perpetual comparison-test loser, is going out to pasture at the end of this year. Replacing it will not be an all-new car at this point, but a significant mid-cycle enhancement of the old Sebring. The new Chrysler midsize sedan – whose new name has yet to be revealed – will have a new front and rear end, the Pentastar V6, an all-new interior, revised suspension, and a Fiat-engineered six-speed dual-clutch gearbox. The updates will be given to both the Sebring sedan and convertible, so Michael Scott from The Office may have to find a new car next season.
Meanwhile, the reinforcements from Italy, aside from the Fiat 500 subcompact, are set to arrive stateside in 2012. The Fiat 500 is set to hit dealers toward the end of 2010, in at least two different versions. Meanwhile, let’s hope that the changes to the existing lineup, plus a few select new models and improvements, will be enough to keep the lights on until the Fiats land in the US.