Saturday, April 11, 2009

Start Spreadin' the News
2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee Debuts in NYC

Chrysler has exactly 19 days to finalize its merger with Fiat, resolve an impasse with its secured debt lenders, tie up a bunch of other loose ends and present its new self to the PTFOA (that's the President's Task Force on Automobiles to you and me). If it doesn't, then the feds turn off the money spigot, and per Standard & Poor's, Chrysler will be headed for a liquidation rather than a reorganization.

But let's say Chrysler gets all this pesky paperwork stuff done and emerges as the "new" Chrysler in 19 days, what kind of products will the new Chrysler sell? The answer is, for the first year or so, pretty much what's in the stores right now. For model year 2011 (starting as soon in 2010 as Chrysler can push the metal through the doors), Chrysler aims to introduce a re-skinned Chrysler 300 and a brand new Jeep Grand Cherokee. If are quick at getting their ducks in a row, some rebranded Fiats may be available about the same time. The initial Fiats will likely be imports. It will take a minimum of two-years for the first Fiat clone to come from a retooled US factory.

Chrysler showed off the 2011 Grand Cherokee at the New York Auto Show this week. David Zatz's site has an extensive write-up on the new Grand Cherokee and its new 3.6 liter v-6 engine. The new Grand Cherokee's chassis was co-developed with Mercedes. The V6 engine, formerly called the "Phoenix" but now called the "Pentastar" is the first of a new family of engines that are supposed to migrate to most of Chrysler's products. What is the new Grand Cherokee like? It looks a lot like the current one with the lines smoothed over and a modern-looking interior replacing the 90's look of the current model.

In this particular case, the debut of the Phoenix/Pentastar engine is at least as important as the debut of the Grand Cherokee. The Phoenix engine was supposed to be paired with a new dual-clutch automatic transmission, and the pair was supposed to breath life into Chrysler's somewhat tired product line. The dual-clutch transmission was canned early this year because Chrysler and its manufacturing partner, Getrag, couldn't agree on who was supposed to pay to equip the brand new factory that they built. That leaves it to the engine itself to keep the lights on at the current Chrysler factories. The initial version of the Phoenix/Pentastar will displace 3.6 liters and yield 280 horsepower. This is competitive with similar-sized mainstream engines available today, but several manufacturers already sell similar engines that are more powerful yet still economical. GM ranks with the leaders in this engine class. Unlike the Pentastar, GM's 3.6 liter engine already features direct injection to improve power, economy and emissions, and GM makes D.I. available on mainstream models like the Chevrolet Camaro (300 hp)and Traverse (286 hp). The 2011 Grand Cherokee is expected to have EPA ratings of 16 city and 23 highway with the V6. Chrysler says its V6 will be cheaper to produce. We'll see.

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