Oops, I said what - Camry or cameo appearance?
As Chrysler LLC Vice Chairman and President Jim Press stepped out of a Fiat 500 this morning, he quickly said that he wasn’t announcing anything, but the 500 was “making a Camry, err, cameo appearance with us just so you can imagine the possibilities. Take a look at the whole car is the size of a hemi engine.”
After that initial stumble, the former Toyota executive went on presenting his sales pitch for why the Fiat deal made sense for Chrysler. Press also said that the employment levels at Chrysler are now at 1934 levels as a result of taking out $3.8 billion in costs and cutting manufacturing capacity by one-third.
The real reason Press was there was to show signs of product life after the President’s Auto Task Force said Chrysler couldn’t survive as a stand alone company. Indeed, the all-new 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee that made its world debut today demonstrates that proposition. Grand Cherokee is based on the Mercedes-Benz ML platform but it will be built in Detroit, Michigan, the traditional site of grand Cherokee assembly.
The unusually early debut of Grand Cherokee is an attempt to prove that Chrysler has a future.
This premium SUV has a heavy-set, high waist line look, devoid of Mercedes styling clues, an all-new interior, an all-new V-6 engine and a three different four-wheel-drive systems. No prices were announced this far ahead of introduction but Press said it will be “volume priced.”
The new 3.6-liter V-6 engine, no matter what its take rate in the Grand Cherokee where the 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 is also offered, will eventually replace seven versions of an older, less fuel efficient design currently in service in other Chrysler family vehicles. It offers an 11% fuel economy improvement in the 4600-pound Limited version, and an estimated 16 mpg on the EPA city cycle.
Jeep, arguably, invented the premium SUV segment with the introduction of the Grand Cherokee in 1993. More than 4 million sales later, and with seemingly as many competitors, Jeep is trying to market an extremely sophisticated off-road vehicle in a wounded segment where only 25% of its current owners ever venture off-road.
Nonetheless, there’s a new Quadra-Lift air suspension that delivers off-road capability, along with the new Selec-Terrain system that allows the driver to choose the drive system that best matches on- or off-road driving conditions. Quadra-Lift has five height settings for optimum ride performance ranging from 8.1 inches of clearance during on-road driving; two off-road settings that add 1.5 inches or another 3 inches of ground clearance for a total of 11.1; a “park’ mode that lowers the vehicle 1.5 inches from the on road height, and a “aero” setting that lowers the vehicle 0.6 inches from normal ride height. Aero Mode is controlled by vehicle speed and adjusts for optimal performance and fuel economy.
The Selec-Terrain’s dial allows the driver to choose from five driving conditions, including sand and mud; sport; snow; rock and automatic, where the dial will no doubt reside all the time for most suburban drivers.
Outside of North America – available in 86 countries — Grand Cherokee is one of Chrysler LLC’s best-selling vehicles. In 2008, diesel models counted for almost 50%. The new SUV will offer a 3.0-liter diesel form Mercedes-Benz, and left-hand and right-hand drive versions.