In the past few days, we've taken a look at the steps being taken (i.e. new product) that the domestic manufacturers are going to put on the market in the next year. These are important products, of which their success will help decide how much buffer that the makers will have to deal with their legacy costs (healthcare as well as huge pension liabilities). Also, every successful product helps add revenue that can then be invested into further great and desirable cars and trucks.
We started out with GM, which has quite a product salvo on the way in 2006. We followed this with Ford, which does not have quite the plethora of product on the way over the next 12 months - though they are coming off of a product blitz was taken mainly in 2005.
Now, we are going to take a look at the remaining member of the 'Big 3', though some now consider DaimlerChrysler's Chrysler Group as a foreign manufacturer, their legacy issues are similar enough to Ford and GM to be counted with them.
Chrysler Group is arguably in the best shape of the 3 - they also are slated to have one of the most impressive, both in number and excitement/buzz-worthy-ness sets of launches in 2006. Let's take a look:
If you've already read my GM and Ford then you might already know what I'm about to say...yep, Chrysler Group has some new truck based and car based SUV's on the way. Also, there are, more than from their cross-town rivals, some cars due as well.
First of all, are some new variants of current SUV's. Dodge will be flying in the face of previous Chrysler convention and will be getting a version of a Jeep vehicle. Based on the Jeep Liberty, only stretched in this iteration, is the Dodge Nitro. This vehicle gets the same powertrain choices as the Jeep with the obvious exception of the CRD Diesel that the Liberty gets. This is a good addition for Dodge, as they have only had the Durango for quite some time in a market where some brands have almost half a dozen SUV offerings. Also, expect a hybrid version of the Durango this year as well. Both of these should arrive in the fall.
Since we're discussion variants...it is worthwhile to mention that Dodge is not only getting a variant of another brand's SUV, they are also donating their Durango chassis to Chrysler for use in the new Chrysler Aspen. Expect this vehicle to debut in the summer with unique styling as well as an upgraded and more luxurious interior.
That isn't the only news for the Durango as rumor has it that the 6.1l hemi will get dropped into the vehicle this fall in a Durango SRT-8.
That would be plenty of SUV news to keep Chrysler's buzz buzzing, but that's not all. Over at Jeep, there is a rumored addition of a Commander SRT-8 with the 6.1l hemi in the fall. Also, the new Wrangler is expected to go on sale sometime during the next year. That most Jeep-like of Jeeps would be big news, but that's not all. For the first time ever, the Wrangler will be available in 2 body-styles. The traditional 2-door we all know and love, but also a 4-door. This seems to make the Liberty redundant, but with Jeep's recent decision that not everything they build needs to be 'trail rated', they may be planning to make the Liberty more of an on-road SUV and make the 4-door Wrangler take the spiritual place of the old Jeep Cherokee and go head-to-head with the other hard-off-roaders like the Nissan XTerra and the upcoming Toyota FJ Cruiser.
That's not all the Jeep news, but we'll get back to that in a minute.
A slightly harder to believe rumor is that SRT may be working their magic again on the Ram pickup, only this time providing us with a cheaper alternative to the Viper-powered SRT-10 Ram...this time with the 6.1l Hemi in an SRT-8 Ram. Expect this one in the spring and maybe with a non-SRT badge.
The big news outside the truck/SUV side of the Chrysler Group house is in both the small and mid-sized cars - which have been fairly invisible in the marketplace as of late. Chrysler and Dodge will be getting brand-new mid-sized cars to compete against the Chevy Malibu, Pontiac G6, Saturn Aura, Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, and Toyota Camry. The Dodge version should bring back the Avenger nameplate while the Chrysler may keep the Sebring name (though with Chrysler's recent trend to bring back classic names - may be a different name altogether). Styling on these should be something similar to the Chrysler Airflite and Dodge Avenger concepts (shown). Interestingly, these cars are based on a new platform co-developed with former partner Mitsubishi. This is a highly flexible chassis - as will become clear below.
The real news at Chrysler Group is also on this Mitsubishi/Chrysler chassis. This platform is not only used for mid-sized vehicles like the ones we just talked about, but also works very well for smaller vehicles as well. Mitsu will be using this for the next Lancer, Evo 10, and the Outlander small cross-over SUV.
Dodge will get a couple small entries on this chassis to replace the Neon and SRT-4. The first example of this is the upcoming Dodge Caliber that will bow in the spring. Basically a small front-drive, four-cylinder, cross-over/wagon in the vein of the Pontiac Vibe. This vehicle will be powered by the new family of 4-cylinder engines that Chrysler has co-developed with Mitsubishi and Hyundai in 2.0l and 2.4l variants.
In the fall, expect a 2.4l turbo version of the Caliber, likely called either the SRT-4 or the SRT-4 Caliber, perhaps with all-wheel drive, to replace the previous SRT-4 based on the Neon. Expect a more refined high-po small-car than the last SRT-4 (for good or bad) and aggressive styling and a hood scoop like the rest of the Dodge SRT line.
Now, remember how I mentioned earlier that we weren't done with Jeep news? Also remember how I mentioned that Jeep was no longer committed to trail-rated Jeeps across the line? Well, if this makes you cringe, you may want to move on to some other site...
In the fall, Jeep will release two different versions of this new co-developed chassis - one for more traditional Jeep fans, and one to bring others into the fold. On the traditional front, is the Jeep Patriot. This is a traditionally styled Jeep that looks quite a bit like a 7/8ths scale Jeep Cherokee. Expect this one to be trail-rated with very Jeep like interior styling and off-road manners.
On the other hand is a version of this same chassis that will make Jeep traditionalists cry, cuss, and whatever else folks do when they think the world is coming to an end. The Jeep Compass is a lower riding cross-over, possibly available in front-drive in addition to all-wheel drive, and aimed at attracting a new breed of 'urban' Jeep buyers who don't care if their Jeep can tackle the Rubicon. The concept was called the Compass Rallaye and is aimed at the Rally racing fans. Expect the production version to be a bit less low-riding, but a sport model might look quite a bit like this.
Well, that brings to an end our 2006 preview of what the 'Big 3' have up their sleeves. It's shaping up to be a busy year and will hopefully buy all of the companies time to get their legacy issues behind them.
Next up...the Asian manufacturers.