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The New Chrysler Group

2009 Dodge Viper SRT10

Fysler? Chiat?

Last time out we took a quick look at the “new” General Motors,” so it only seems fitting that we now give Chrysler a look. At this time it doesn’t appear that, since being bought by the Fiat group, the company will change its name. If it does, I don’t imagine it will be either of those at the top of this page. Fysler sounds like some ne’er-do-well from a Dickens story. A Chiat is something I’d expect to see fake hair growing out of.

Chrysler has had what could best be described as an “interesting” recent history. Bought by or merged with (depending on who you listen to) the German Mercedes-Benz manufacturer Daimler Benz in 1998, that marriage ended in divorce in 2007, when the equity investment firm Cerberus Capital Management bought the Chrysler portion of DaimlerChrysler. In March of this year, the US federal government (better known as “you” and “me”), in bailing out the company, became the majority owner of Chrysler. At the end of April it was announced that the Italian auto manufacturer Fiat would take over.

This could be good for Chrysler. Fiat, who also own Alfa-Romeo and Lancia (as well as a couple of other Italian makes you may have heard of, Ferrari and Maserati), has a stable of small, fuel-efficient cars which the present Chrysler lineup lacks. The sooner that Fiat can bring its world-renowned 500 to North America, the better. Not only is it the current darling of the European automotive press, it’s an able competitor to top-sellers (aka: money makers) in the US like BMW’s Mini Cooper. The European car market is also big on diesel-powered vehicles, and it wouldn’t hurt to bring that technology across the ocean, either.

2009 Alfa-Romeo MiTo

On the other hand, the last time Fiat was in the US market was in 1984, and when they left, hardly anyone noticed. Mainly because no one was buying their product. At the time they didn’t have the best reputation for quality—some joked that Fiat stood for “Fix It Again, Tony.” Chrysler-watchers may also remember the last time the company partnered with a European car maker, and how that turned out (see above).

I think this time things will go better. Fiat has overcome its bad reputation, which it had not only here but at home as well, and is selling some award-winning cars. The aforementioned Fiat 500 is almost a sure bet to make it to North America. Don’t be surprised to see the Alfa MiTo baby hatch or the 8C Spider sports car here, too. And Chrysler has just announced that Dodge won’t be stopping production of its own sports car, the Viper, this year, as was previously announced. Okay, they don’t sell many of them, and they’re gas pigs, but they do add a bit of sparkle to the brand.

What should happen to the rest of Chrysler’s lineup? Seeing that the goal is to have all dealerships selling Chrysler, Dodge, and Jeep, they only need one minivan (probably the Dodge Caravan) one mid-sized sedan (I’d say keep the Chrysler Sebring, but get rid of the “I look like a rental car” styling). And there are way too many smallish SUVs in the showroom: Jeep Liberty, Jeep Compass, Jeep Patriot, Dodge Journey, Dodge Nitro. The PT Cruiser has seemingly been around since the Eisenhower administration. The Jeep Wrangler could use a trip to Jenny Craig. The overly large Jeep Commander and Dodge Durango are products of what at the time seemed like cheap gas. And the Dodge Caliber, although somewhat cute, just never seemed to me like a good replacement for the Neon. Where is Chrysler’s small sedan to compete with Ford’s Focus, Chevy’s upcoming Cruze, and a gazillion foreign nameplates?

I’m assuming we’ll find out in the coming months. And I’m assuming it will look very Continental.

Read more of Jim Corbran's You Auto Know on Artvoice Daily.

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