Monday, November 12, 2007

Magnum: One swell-looking American car Quirky is lost on Chrysler's bean counters

Bradford Wernle

Bradford Wernle is an Automotive News staff reporter.

Automotive News
November 12, 2007 - 12:01 am ET

The writer calls the Dodge Magnum SRT8 “a mom-mobile from gangstaland.”
Photo credit: JOE WILSSENS
Nothing bland about it

The Magnum has a soul. It has a personality, something all too lacking in the automotive transportation appliances everybody else is offering. Several weeks ago, Automotive News published a feature touting the death of the bland sedan. Then we ran pictures of a bunch of really bland sedans that were supposed to demonstrate that we were on the cusp of a high-style era.

The Magnum has style. There isn't another car on the road that looks anything like it. You can see one coming from miles away. And — bless its doomed soul — the Magnum is a full-sized station wagon, which is the most neglected and undervalued segment in the American car market.

Station wagons drive like real cars. They sit low to the ground and go around corners without leaning too much. They can be downright sporty. The Magnum is no ordinary wagon. The SRT8 version of the Magnum is a mom-mobile from gangstaland.

It took guts for Chrysler even to let the Magnum out of the design dome. It's long, low and more than a little menacing. When it first rolled off the line, it came with instant street cred. People said the Magnum had bling.

Introduced in May 2004, the Magnum got off to a strong enough start. But U.S. sales peaked in 2005 at 52,487 units and tailed off quickly after that. For the first 10 months of this year, Dodge has sold 25,561 units, a 27.4 percent fall-off from the same period last year.

Regrettably, Americans have become addicted to big SUVs and crossovers and won't buy anything that comes with the antiquated "station wagon" label. SUVs ride higher and feel safer to some people.

Nothing like it
John Wolkonowicz, analyst for Global Insight in Lexington, Mass., and a fan of rwd cars, laments the passing of the Magnum.

"I think it was nothing more than a modern interpretation of a station wagon. I think it found its market among those, like me, who like station wagons. There aren't many of us left. So, consequently, it didn't do that well. I've had young people tell me it looks like a hearse."

Like the other cars Chrysler announced it was cutting last week — the Chrysler Crossfire, Pacifica and PT Cruiser convertible — the Magnum was one-of-a-kind. The Magnum, PT Cruiser convertible and Crossfire were downright quirky. Under the cold eye of a private equity bean counter, those one-off vehicles certainly don't make fiduciary sense.

But those four vehicles are part of the colorful legacy that makes Chrysler unique and special. Let's hope the Cerberus-era Chrysler, in its rush to get rid of anything that's not turning a profit, doesn't throw the baby out with the bath water.

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