Monday, May 21, 2007

Imperial limo to head new Chrysler breed

21 May 2007

The centrepiece of Chrysler’s future model programme, following its split from Daimler, is likely to be a dramatic flagship saloon influenced by the in-your-face Imperial concept from 2006’s Detroit auto show, Autocar has learned.

Chrysler’s new flagship is pencilled in for launch in 2010 and is slated for production at the Canadian plant where the 300C and Magnum/Charger family of rear-drive saloons and estates is built. If it stays faithful to the concept’s 1930s-influenced styling cues and imposing high-roofed bodywork, the Imperial will be the perfect vehicle to deliver Chrysler Group’s new ambition to be “the truly American, American car company”.

It is also likely to steal a march on General Motors, whose V12-engined Cadillac flagship is an on/off project with no definitive launch date. The risk for Chrysler's new majority stakeholders Cerberus is that the production Imperial could suffer the same ire as the concept, which drew vocal criticism over its large proportions, chiselled body surfacing and huge chrome grille.

A fan of the Imperial plan

Putting the Imperial into production was an idea full of life at this year’s Detroit Show. Speaking to Autocar in January, Chrysler boss Tom La Sorda promised a production decision “in the next few months”, a statement later overtaken by the decision to put Chrysler up for sale. According to well-placed sources the project recently got the green light; an announcement was to follow as an encouragement to potential investors, but news of the company's sale took over.

The Imperial, though, is only one of 20 new Chrysler Group vehicles and 13 major facelifts planned by 2010, as part of La Sorda’s ‘Recovery and Transformation Plan’ announced in February. La Sorda told Autocar that there is no plan to split-up and sell-off any of the three Chrysler brands.

Immediate model expansion

While Chrysler works flat-out on its longer-term new model programme, UK buyers will see a more immediate boom in new Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge models this year. Scheduled to be in UK dealers this month are the Jeep Compass and Wrangler, followed soon by the Jeep Patriot, Chrysler Sebring and Dodge Nitro. August sees the Dodge Avenger hit dealers.

In early 2008 the new Chrysler Grand Voyager goes on sale, around the same time as the Sebring Convertible. Later that year, two new soft-roaders from Chrysler and Dodge will arrive, based on the Sebring and Avenger's platform.

In 2009 comes the replacement for the Chrysler 300C, the all-American saloon that kick-started Chrysler’s latest product revival. This model will be a re-skin of today’s old-tech Merc platform, and insiders say it is well into the development phase.

Julian Rendell

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