The Speculator: Post-Dart
The Dodge Dart has just about reached its final destination – the showroom.
It is a cause for celebration. The transition of Fiat's C-EVO architecture to become Chrysler's CUSW platform has now been framed into production form. Fiat and Chrysler's CEO Sergio Marchionne reiterated once again that the Dart has a lot riding on it for both companies – this time to the people tasked to build the car.
Now, we will just sit back and watch as the first Darts find their way to their proud owners….
As I mentioned in my preview of the Dart, this story is continuing. The Dart is just the beginning, not the end. There are more CUSW-based vehicles and other elements of the Five-Year Plan left to accomplish.
From what I know, Chrysler and Fiat has a lot more forthcoming. A few reports have sprinkled here and there as to what we will see from the Fiat-Chrysler combine. Some even stated by Marchionne himself.
So far, we know the next vehicle to be released is the SRT Viper – as promised by Ralph Gilles himself. After that, a lot more is promised by others across Fiat and Chrysler to reinvigorate the product line and fit within their showrooms to properly represent all the brands – except Fiat, Alfa Romeo, Maserati and Ferrari.
Both sides of the combined company are up for some exciting stuff. The Speculator has been scrambling to ascertain what will be coming our way next…
THE NEXT WAVE OF CUSW: After the first Darts left the Belvidere, Illinois plant, the media reported two hints as to the next CUSW-based products. It came with no surprise as at least one of these products hinted.
We knew that Jeep would benefit from this flexible platform – but one wondered how it would be balanced with Trail Rated requirements and brand image. The Liberty is the next to be replaced – with the Cherokee. The last Liberty sold as the Cherokee to the rest of the world, and many Jeep enthusiasts wished they kept the old name in the first place for our markets. Perhaps the return of this nomenclature will help the new mid-sized SUV’s cause when it arrives sometime n 2013.
Considering that the CUSW is a front-drive based platform, it appears that it will be as such. Jeep purists would see crafting a front-drive skewed driveline for the new Cherokee would be seen as a "declawing" of Jeep's reputation. Then again, some front-drive skewed SUVs have done quite well going off road – the Nissan X-Trail, for example. There could be a good case for a Trail Rated Cherokee if it works out well on the CUSW platform.
The Cherokee should also represent a melding of exterior elements of it two main products: The Wrangler and the Grand Cherokee. One could possible try for a "retro" design – in this case, the 1984 Cherokee. Yet, Jeep owners and potential conquests would rather see the seven-slot grille between two sets of headlamps regardless of what lies behind the front end.
The engine of focus for the new Cherokee appears to be a new variant of the Pentastar 3.6litre V6. The basic engine architecture has worked wonders for both the Wrangler and the Grand Cherokee and can really do the next Cherokee justice regardless of driveline. Rumor has it that it would displace 3.2litres. It seems odd since Chrysler stated it was committed to a single V6 during the Five-Year Plan presentation.
However, the only 3.2litre V6 known to Fiat is one Alfa Romeo used to put in some of their sportier cars. Come to think of it, the block came from Holden when GM had a stake in Fiat a decade or so ago. I highly doubt they will be using that engine…or, at least I hope they would not.
I would also expect a VM turbocharged diesel option with requisite emissions cleanup to placate the California standards and a true 50-state (and Canada-wide) sale. The diesel is an absolute must if the Cherokee is to sell around the world.
The second vehicle mentioned in the same breath as the upcoming Liberty replacement was an even bigger surprise. Last year, Chrysler sent over a Lancia Delta to North America to gauge auto show attendee reaction. The Delta is built off of the C-EVO platform; therefore it gave us a preview of things to come. However, the Chrysler brand is now being groomed for its own CUSW variant from the Dart – now called the 100.
One would expect many differences between the Dart and the Chrysler 100. I would, too. One such difference already mentioned is the fact that the 100 will be hatchback. This makes sense as the 100 appears to be groomed for a middle ground between mainstream compacts with high content – the Ford Focus Titanium, for example – and premium models, such as the Audi A3, Buick Verano and Acura ILX.
This would mean skipping the Tigershark 2.0litre engine for the 100 altogether. Instead, I would expect the Multiair 1.4litre turbocharged engine as one choice alongside the Tigershark 2.4litre engine. I also expect the same manual, automatic and DDCT gearboxes to be offered as well. I am also assuming that a lot of the mechanical tenets of the Dart will carryover with a few tweaks towards a more luxurious set of driving dynamics.
However, I would expect the differences would be mainly visual. Exterior-wise, I would see Chrysler's (and Lancia's) grille flanked with bejeweled headlamps and some Italian-American flair from the front bumper flowing to a compromise between Lancia and Chrysler styling elements. The 100 would not be as polarizing as the current Delta, but it could end up being more handsome than the Focus hatchback – perhaps a cleaner design overall.
The interior may have some familiar elements from the Dart, but expect a completely different layout utilizing Chrysler's blue-tinted lighting and elegant graphics. You might even see a completely different instrument panel than the Dart, along with higher quality interior materials – akin to some of the 300 models. The S model should be available with that hot red interior and Beats by Dr. Dre sound system. Otherwise, you will see a compromise between the Dart and both the Chrysler 200 and 300 inside.
The question is whether this will be the global compact hatch for both Chrysler and Lancia. The problem is that the current Delta is right-sized for European markets. Some markets – China namely – could get away with a wider upscale compact flanked by the winged badge (or the Lancia crest), as the 100 would end up being. Since the Delta appeared to not get an overwhelming reaction, the 100 might be the right step into the Chrysler brand – as long as it is absolutely distinctive in its mission and execution.
MARCHIONNE SAID IT: The Fiat and Chrysler CEO dropped an announcement saying that only one minivan will survive – Dodge's. He also said the Jeep Compass is a goner, leaving one small SUV to be left behind in the next round of replacements. Word also has the Dodge Durango and Avenger erased from history by the middle of this decade.
This is actually good progress – and very expected. What caught me off guard was the fact that Chrysler will supplant the Town & Country with a crossover.
Starting with the small SUV market, it is easy to assume that the single Jeep entry will be built off the CUSW platform and built at Belvidere. Will it be another Patriot? I doubt it will. With access to a better and more capable front-drive skewed four-wheel drive system from Fiat, Chrysler has plenty of leverage to create a very good, two-row small SUV that will be miles better than either the Compass or Patriot.
I would expect the new small SUV to take on some of the elements from the Patriot with new elements from the Cherokee and other Jeeps. The cabin should also be miles better – taking cues from other Jeep models in terms of organization and quality. From the onset, this new small Jeep should be Trail Rated with a proper and capable four-wheel-drive system that shows the competition how it should be done.
Power should come from the Tigershark 2.4litre engine – especially now with Multiair induction – and the choice of a six-speed manual or automatic gearbox. Though it has 185HP, it matches with the heart of its competitors. The Multiair will certainly create a buzz amongst consumers in this segment.
For Dodge, the minivan continues to be a symbol of the company's ability to change the game when it is needed. It could be built on the same old platform as the current one, melded onto an extended version of the CUSW. It should remain on a longer wheelbase with seven-passenger seating and a choice of Pentastar 3.6litre V6 or VM diesel power.
Where I see the difference as in the details. Since the competition had moved the design bar up several notches, the overall look should be more daring. Give it a larger snout – as with the current Charger and Durango – and some lines that meld the best of the Dodge brand together. The interior should also reflect the boldness we expect from Dodge. Without a Chrysler variant, Dodge has the leverage to offer an expansive range of trim levels. It would not be far fetched to see an ultra-luxury model alongside an R/T one in the new minivan.
One bit of business to be considered: The name. Perhaps it is time to drop the "Grand" from Caravan. There is no need to call it "Grand" anymore since every one of the minivan’s competitors is about the same size. It also makes marketing simpler – in my opinion.
As for the issue of supplanting the Town & Country, this one's going to be difficult to tackle. The one thing this vehicle should not be is a badge-engineered version of a current SUV or crossover in the lineup.
There are plenty of options for the Chrysler brand to consider. One would be a three-row crossover based off of the new Cherokee with a different Chrysler body and interior. Another would be a three-row version of the small Jeep SUV replacing both the Patriot and Compass.
The key to all of this is to distinguish the Jeep and the Chrysler by the number of rows of seats, as well as its overall design. However, there is a wild card to consider – the Dodge Journey. The Journey is already a hit in both Dodge and Fiat guises in various parts of the planet. Depending on where Chrysler will place the next Journey is where the new Chrysler will become. The Journey should remain a three-row crossover with a choice of four-cylinder petrol, Pentastar V6 and VM diesel power. However, there is a story circulating that the Journey will add a SRT version. This would cement the Journey's future in both the Chrysler and Fiat sides of the house.
If it were me, I would put the next Journey on the same platform as the small Jeep as a three-row softroader and move the new Town & Country onto the Cherokee's platform with three rows of seats instead of the Jeep's two – and make it more of a luxury crossover.
ROUNDING THINGS OUT: The only product that has not been discussed is the family midsized sedan. According to the Five-Year Plan, the next Chrysler 200 mid-sizer would most likely be built on an extended CUSW platform. It makes sense as one would look at the Dart for possible clues as to the flexibility of the platform as designed.
One look at the Dart, the Charger and the 300 will give you an idea some of the details of the next Chrysler 200 exterior and interior. The engines are elemental: The Tigershark 2.4litre, the Pentastar 3.2litre and 3.6litre V6, and a VM diesel. We should see six speed transmissions in both manual and automatic – and perhaps, the eight-speeder for the Pentastar V6.
There are a few other things the new mid-sized sedan should have. It has to outdo everyone in terms of driving dynamics, interior space, overall quality and execution. These are pie-in-the-sky ideas, but consider how much the segment has changed – yet again. Chrysler needs to play in this sandbox to at least gnaw at the sales leadership of the Toyota Camry, the overflowing kudos for the 2013 Ford Fusion and the 2012 Nissan Altima and the lasting benchmarks of the Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima. Somewhere beyond these leaders should be the next Chrysler 200.
WHAT ABOUT FIAT, ALFA…AND MAZDA? The recent announcement of the tie-up with Mazda and Fiat continues to create such a buzz for all parties concerned. It appears that the only way to make a new Alfa Romeo or Fiat Spider is to make it alongside the MX-5. It makes sense on one end, but it just seems almost like sacrilege to do exactly that.
The new roadster might become a compelling vehicle, given Mazda's track record on affordable, rear-drive roadsters that still feel like modern versions of the European ones from the 1960s. It gives Fiat and Alfa a chance to draw more curious consumers to their showrooms – though one would hope that Alfas would be sold alongside Fiats in North America.
Even more curious is the portion of the Fiat-Mazda agreement that gives the Hiroshima company access to production facilities operated by the combined Italian-American entity. Which facilities…and where? It will depend on which facilities would have enough capacity and flexibility to build these roadsters or any of Mazda’s lineup.
There are a few more bits of business to take care of here. One, the coming of the Serbian-built 500L mini-MPV. When it arrives, one must remove the MINI Countryman from the equation. It is not that. It will be a different kind of vehicle for this market – closer in price to a Suzuki SX4 than the aforementioned Germanic-British supersized MINI. Fiat studios would attract a curious crowd to see whether the 500L is a great option for starter families.
Then, there is the Maserati Kubang (or whichever name they decide to christen it) that is built off of the Jeep Grand Cherokee/Dodge Durango platform. We know it will be built at the Jefferson North plant in Detroit and will be something really special to make. But, would ever think in today's global economy that such a vehicle could be conceived as it is? Maybe, but you can thank Porsche for putting the idea in Maserati's head to begin with.
As for Alfa's return to North America, perhaps we are waiting for the Fiat-Mazda tie-up to be realized before we see the serpent and the crest return from Milan.