Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Dodge Demon, Hornet: Who Will Build These for Chrysler?

DETROIT — Two top Chrysler executives have confirmed recently that the automaker is on a global hunt to find a partner to help it build small vehicles, ones like the hot Dodge Demon sports car and the clever Dodge Hornet people mover. And that partner apparently won't be Chrysler's current Chinese partner, Chery.

Most recently, Simon Elliott, president and CEO of Chrysler Group China Sales Ltd., told The Wall Street Journal in Monday's edition that Chrysler is exploring how to fill the small-car holes in its China product portfolio, since those are the largest volume categories in the country. Chrysler's Chinese partner Chery will not plug the voids, he said, and Chrysler is shopping for a partner that can ensure pricing and quality. Chrysler CEO Bob Nardelli has said Chrysler wants partners that can provide platforms upon which Chrysler can put its own "top hat."

Elliott's remarks echo those made by Chrysler's top designer Trevor Creed to Edmunds' AutoObserver at the Frankfurt auto show in September. Creed said Chery would not be Chrysler's partner in building the B-segment Hornet, a concept for an international people mover unveiled at the 2006 Geneva Auto Show. Creed said Chery's platforms were not appropriate for the Hornet, and the hunt for another partner was ongoing.

Before these comments from Elliott and Creed, Chrysler was thought to be working with Chery on a redesigned version of Chery's A1 model, which would be used as the basis for B-segment vehicles like the Hornet to be sold in Europe and North America.

However, that was then and this is now. Since DaimlerChrysler negotiated the deal with China's Chery to build small vehicles with Chrysler, the German company has become Daimler and sold Chrysler to Cerberus Capital Management. Cerberus, in turn, has installed new management, including former Home Depot CEO Nardelli and a new chief of Asia operations, Phil Murtaugh, formerly of General Motors and GM's Chinese partner, SAIC.

Chrysler has been rumored to be talking with Korea's Hyundai and Japan's Mitsubishi on some projects. The trio already builds a global four-cylinder engine together.

What's not clear is what Chery's role is, if any, in the new Chrysler's future? We're awaiting an answer from Chrysler on that question.

Meantime, Daimler and Italy's Fiat are reportedly in talks on co-developing small A- and B-segment cars.

What it means to you: The wait for a Chrysler car smaller and less expensive than the Dodge Caliber stretches on as the automaker searches for a partner.

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