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Chrysler Group LLC, the U.S. automaker operated by Fiat SpA, has laid the ?groundwork for a successful transformation,? the companies? chief executive officer said today.
Sergio Marchionne, CEO of both Chrysler and Fiat, addressed workers in a message obtained by Bloomberg on the day the U.S. automaker raised its operating profit forecast for the year and said its net loss narrowed to $84 million in the third quarter.
?The changes we are bringing about are beginning to enter into the DNA of the company,? Marchionne said in the message. ?You can tell by how the language and tone of conversations have changed, by the long hours people are working, and by the way teams form and function.?
Shawn Morgan, a Chrysler spokeswoman, confirmed the memo was sent.
?We knew when we began this reconstruction process that the road back would be a long one,? Marchionne said. ?We?ve hit some key milestone and we?ve made progress in important areas. We have laid the groundwork for a successful transformation. I ask you to continue to have faith in your leadership.?
The interior of the new Grand Cherokee is impressively quiet, with supportive seats and well-arranged controls. Exterior styling is more rounded and modern than before, and the new V-6 engine is more robust than its predecessor. Best of all, the vehicle rides in a nearly refined manner on pavement, while still capably handling rugged off-road duty when needed.
But don't look for a bargain price. With seats for five, Grand Cherokees remain in the $30,000-and-above category, though starting retail price has declined by $499.
Specifically, starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, is $30,995 for a 2011 Grand Cherokee with rear-wheel drive, automatic transmission and new, 290-horsepower V-6. This contrasts with the $31,490 price for a base, 2010 Grand Cherokee with 210-horsepower V-6. With four-wheel drive, the 2011 Grand Cherokee starts at $32,995, and the top-level Overland model starts at $42,690. Substituting a 360-horsepower, 5.7-liter, Hemi V-8 under the hood adds $1,495 to the price, no matter the model of Grand Cherokee.
Competitors in the traditional SUV segment have been dwindling as Americans turn to lighter-weight, less brawny and more fuel-efficient crossover SUVs with car-like ride.
But Nissan's 2011 Pathfinder, which has a starting retail price of $28,640 with 266-horsepower V-6, and Toyota's 2011 4Runner with 270-horsepower and starting retail price of $30,335, are among those remaining. The Pathfinder and 4Runner each offer a third row of seats, but the Grand Cherokee does not.
The Jeep brand - which dates to tough, nimble, off-road vehicles used in World War II - is well known for its rugged image. So it's the smooth, easy-travel ride of the new Grand Cherokee that was most striking and memorable.
In contrast with earlier Grand Cherokees, I didn't feel a lot of road bumps underneath me. Most were stifled and managed adeptly by the new, independent front and rear suspensions with isolated suspension cradles. The previous Grand Cherokee had a live rear axle, instead.
Also note that the platform under the new Grand Cherokee is used by the pricier and tonier Mercedes-Benz ML-Class SUV. This is because the development of the 2011 Grand Cherokee began years ago, when Mercedes' parent company owned Chrysler, which is the parent company of Jeep.
All this, plus a much more rigid body and newly tuned rack-and-pinion steering, allowed Jeep engineers to improve the ride and handling of the Grand Cherokee markedly.
The base, 3.6-liter, double overhead cam, Pentastar V-6 is new, too. Jeep boasts the powerplant is more fuel efficient than the lower-powered, base, 3.7-liter V-6 from last year. But the federal fuel economy rating of 16 miles per gallon in city driving and 22 mpg on the highway for a four-wheel drive, 2011 Grand Cherokee like the one I tested ranks in the lower half of SUVs on the market. I averaged 18.9 mpg over city and highway miles, without really trying to wring everything I could from the regular gasoline.
But I was extremely satisfied with the engine's performance - no
stressing for get-up-and-go, easy cruising and inspired, but not
thundering, response in city driving. Torque peaks at 260 foot-pounds at
4,800 rpm and seemed well matched for the 4,470-pound model with
four-wheel drive that was the test vehicle.
In fact, I wondered if I were to buy a Grand Cherokee whether I would be interested in upgrading to the top engine - a 360-horsepower, 5.7-liter, Hemi V-8 with 390 foot-pounds at 4,250 rpm. The fuel mileage rating drops to 13/19 mpg for a four-wheel drive Grand Cherokee with the Hemi.
Still, it's worth noting how large the Grand Cherokee fuel tank is. It holds 24.6 gallons, so the test vehicle could go well over 450 miles without a fillup, even with the kind of mileage I got.
Everyone in the Jeep appreciated the good views out as we rode high above the pavement. But the seat cushion height wasn't so high that I had to struggle to climb aboard.
Ground clearance under the Grand Cherokee is a healthy 8.6 inches, and the front and rear body styling maximizes approach and departure angles for off-road situations.
There are many features that Jeep continues to provide for committed off-roaders. These include a traction control system where a driver can select the type of terrain to maximize control and grip. Also, a Quadra-Lift air suspension system can raise the vehicle body by up to 4.1 inches above obstacles. But fewer than 8 percent of Grand Cherokee buyers go off-road.
I appreciated the excellent fit and finish on the tester, and the cargo area behind the rear seats is bigger now - 35.1 cubic feet vs. less than 30 cubic feet last year.
Rear seats have more legroom - now 38.6 inches. This is a bit more than the 38.3 inches reported in the second row of the Toyota 4Runner and the 34.2 inches in the second row of the Nissan Pathfinder. It's comfortable riding back there, too, because 39.2 inches of headroom is nearly as much as the people in the front seat get. Front and rear door openings are larger this year, making it easier to get in and out of the Grand Cherokee.Many safety features are standard, including antilock brakes, electronic stability control, curtain air bags and even hill descent control.
Government crash tests gave four out of five stars for Grand Cherokee passenger protection in a frontal crash and five out of five stars in a side crash.
With chrome and luxury doodads being the selling points of so many full-size pickups today, it's easy to forget that trucks are still supposed to get dirty. Thankfully, two automakers haven't forgotten. For today's Face Off, we've got a match between two specialized factory trucks meant to go off-road: the 2011 Dodge Ram Power Wagon and the 2011 Ford F-150 SVT Raptor.
The Raptor has been getting all of the attention lately because it's new, but the Power Wagon can claim to be the original. Both trucks excel in the dirt, but the devil's in the details: one is meant for high-speed running and the other low-speed crawling. Executive Editor Michael Jordan touts the Power Wagon while Senior Automotive Editor Brent Romans presents the case for the Raptor.
Brent Romans for the SVT Raptor:
The SVT Raptor debuted last year, and I do have to say, this is the king of sinister pickups. Just look at the thing. Widened track and fenders. Big knobby tires. Black-out grille. It even has cab running lights because it's so wide that government regulation mandates it. And it's not for show, either. Out in the desert, the Raptor specially tuned suspension allows it to take on just about any hill, rut or fireroad at speeds that would be illegal even on pavement. This is as close to a Baja-style race truck as you'll get from the factory.
And you know Michael, I've gone rock-crawling before. Most boring automotive adventure ever. It amounted to nothing more than driving a truck really, really slow over rocks while other people stood around watching me. They could walk and be faster than I was driving. The whole thing was as dull as watching golf on TV. Or maybe more, since you at least get plaid pants with golf.
Michael Jordan for the Power Wagon:
The Dodge Ram introduced the big-rig look to pickups. I saw people literally walk right past the then-new Dodge Viper to get close to the Ram. It still has the right kind of American muscle, while the Ford looks like a rental car with braces on its teeth -- a total wannabe. You wouldn't think a monster like Dodge could climb up a rockfall, but I've crept up trails in Moab, Utah, where even Jeep Wranglers feared to tread. The Power Wagon is the last of the manly trucks, complete with a 5.7-liter V8, solid axles, a jillion differentials, a manual-shift transfer case, skid plates, tow hooks, winch and even rooftop running lights.
And I don't care what kind of zippy suspension you have in the Raptor, the Power Wagon can still fly over the desert floor. And I'm not kidding about the flying part. I've driven all those old trails cut by the uranium miners across the plateaus near Moab and never had so much crossed-up, berm-smashing fun since I quit motocross bikes (or motocross bikes quit me). Especially love the quiet parts, which of course means you're flying through the air. In comparison the Ford Raptor drives like an old Crown Vic police cruiser in a truck suit, untroubled by obstacles but also no fun, either.
No fun? I'd say the Raptor looks pretty fun in this video. And I'd wager that its ultimately more capable for high speed work than the Power Wagon; not everybody lives near Moab, you know. Plus, I disagree that it looks like a wannbe. Sure, the side graphics are a bit silly, but those are just an option. For me, I'll take a truck that isn't afraid to show off a little. The Power Wagon, in contrast, hardly looks any different than a regular Ram. In fact, it looks a little short in the pants, with its stock-sized 17-inch wheel-and-tire combo.
The great thing about both these trucks is that they take you places. And by that I mean places other than the Dairy Queen on Friday night. Most of the roads in America are actually unpaved (and that doesn't even count the trails that are little more than dotted lines on your Forest Service map). I can't go by one of them without wondering where it goes. These are the vehicles I'd pick to take me, but for me the Raptor is a bit too set up for crashing through the whoop-de-doos across the trail in Baja (which is why Baja trucks all have that distinctive nose-high stance), and that makes it a little wobbly on both the street and on fire roads. The Raptor really needs a wide open trail, and I guess I like the Power Wagon because it'll do asphalt and yet still take you places in the dirt where only a motorcycle can go.
Which Truck Wins?
The automaker, which has taken an unorthodox approach to vehicle introductions under the management of Chief Executive Sergio Marchionne, who is also CEO of partner Fiat SpA, will give the public its first viewing of the new Durango this weekend at a half-marathon in Virginia Beach.
A Durango will be the pace car for the Sunday race expected to attract 20,000 runners and walkers. Among the 30 company runners will be Ralph Gilles, head of Dodge Car and the automaker's head of design.A caravan of more than a dozen Dodge vehicles, including three Durangos, left Auburn Hills today for the trip to Virginia. Their progress can be tracked at the Facebook page www.facebook.com/dodge or on Twitter.
Prior to the race, the company will have a Dodge display area set up in the Virginia Beach convention center. The Durango is the big brother to the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee; the Dodge sport-utility is also made at the Jefferson North plant in Detroit.
While the Jeep is a two-row, five-passenger vehicle, the Durango adds a third row.
Under the hood, the engines are the same: a choice of the 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 or Chrysler's new 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6, and both are available with all-wheel drive.
Dodge has been without a large SUV since it discontinued the Durango in 2008 when it closed its plant in Newark, Del., as part of its restructuring.
The automaker says in a release today that the body structure of the vehicle has been stiffened and the SUV can tow up to 7,400 pounds with the V-8, and 6,200 pounds with the V-6.
The interior has been upgraded significantly by the same studio that worked on the much-improved Dodge Ram. Interiors have been a weak point for many Chrysler vehicles but the new Grand Cherokee has shown Chrysler's new strength in this area. Chrysler says the Durango has replaced much of the hard plastic it used in the past for higher-grade materials.
Customers may notice a new Dodge ornament in the center of the steering wheel. Officials say it isn't a new logo for Dodge -- the logo for the brand remains simply the word "Dodge" imbedded in the grille. The corporate logo for Dodge is a series of red slashes.
The three rows offer 22 seating configurations for passengers and their gear, the automaker says.
Safety features include side and side-curtain airbags that extend to the third row, standard active head restraints, standard electronic stability control and optional technology to monitor blind spots, detect objects behind the vehicle, forward collision warning systems and adaptive cruise control.
The Durango is the first of a series of new and updated vehicles for the Dodge brand that will also include a completely redone Charger and upgrades to the Avenger mid-size car and Grand Caravan minivan.
Chrysler said dealers who set up quick-lube services as part of the company's push to improve customer treatment are doubling their oil-change business in one year.
The faster service is part of the automaker's drive to improve buyers' experience and make the outlets more competitive with independent repair shops, said Pietro Gorlier, CEO of Chrysler's Mopar service, parts and customer care division.