Friday, June 8, 2007

Chrysler Trademark updates

1 78976488 3030758 U C O N N E C T TARR LIVE
2 78976487 3024822 UCONNECT TARR LIVE
4 78972570
5 78971401
6 78951523
7 78938650
8 78938042
9 78920255
10 78920215

Chrysler Patent Updates

1 7,226,384 Full-Text Torsional damper for electrically-variable transmission with lock-out clutch assembly
2 D543,899 Full-Text Automobile body
3 7,219,009 Full-Text Short runner valve diagnostic
4 7,216,636 Full-Text Evaporative system integrity monitor
5 D542,192 Full-Text Automobile grille
6 D542,181 Full-Text Automobile body
7 D542,180 Full-Text Automobile body
8 D542,179 Full-Text Automobile body
9 D542,178 Full-Text Automobile body

This Day in Auto History: 08 JUNE

Automobile Quarterly
Automobile Quarterly
This Day in Auto History:

A match race at Brooklands is won by Felice Nazzaro in the Fiat “Mephistopheles” over Frank Newton in the Napier “Samson”
The Hercules Motors Corporation incorporates in Ohio to succeed the Hercules Motor Manufacturing Company
Racer Franz Konrad is born in Graz, Austria
The 54-car collection of Judge Roy M. Hofheinz, owner of the Houston Astros National League baseball team, is sold at auction in the Astrodome in Houston, TX

Source: Automobile History Day By Day, by Douglas A. Wick

Chrysler rethinks design after duds

Automaker vows to overhaul its vehicle development after Nitro, Sebring miss mark.

Josee Valcourt / The Detroit News


2007 Dodge Nitro See full image

High and lows

Consumer Reports on new Chrysler products:

Chrysler Sebring/Dodge Avenger
  • Not competitive with most family sedans
  • 2.4-liter and 2.7-liter engines noisy and unrefined
  • 4-speed transmission smooth but unresponsive
  • Handling feels "ungainly" at limits
  • Cabin access and driving position improved, most controls straightforward and easy to use, but unimpressive interior with expanse of hard plastic and poor panel fit
  • Avenger styling compromises rear-seat access

  • Dodge Nitro
  • Very noisy
  • Lacks agility because of body lean and vague steering
  • Ride stiff and snappy; front end can become "buoyant" on the highway
  • Footwells extremely narrow
  • Some nice features, but unimpressive overall
    Source: Consumer Reports Annual Auto Issue, April 2007

    Action plan

    What Chrysler's doing:
  • Sourcing more parts/materials from low-cost countries; investing more in vehicle interiors.
  • Established interior design studio to focus on improving consumer experience with vehicles.
  • Hired ASI Consulting Group, which worked with Hyundai, to help better understand customer needs at the beginning of the design process.
  • Modifying how performance metrics are set after targets for new models lagged market needs.


    2007 Chrysler Sebring See full image


  • A top Chrysler Group executive said in a recent frank internal question-and-answer session with employees that the automaker seriously misjudged the market in developing the panned Chrysler Sebring and Dodge Nitro last year, and is swiftly moving to improve current and future vehicles.

    Answering often pointed questions from employees on Chrysler's internal Internet system, Bob Lee, head of powertrain engineering, acknowledged that many people at Chrysler are "outraged" over the issues with the Sebring sedan and Nitro SUV, according to a copy of the Q&A obtained by The Detroit News. Both vehicles received highly critical evaluations from Consumer Reports, which is influential with car buyers.

    Chrysler CEO Tom LaSorda and Chief Operating Officer Eric Ridenour are "quite upset" and agree the company "missed where the market was to end up versus our projections," Lee wrote.

    Chrysler underestimated competitors, set standards too low in some areas and was not where it needed to be in areas such as fuel economy, interior quality, and limiting noise and vibration.

    "As a result of these embarrassing 'misses,' there are extremely aggressive actions being taken on many of the existing products -- and also the yet to be introduced products to get us at least to the middle of the competitive pack in very short order," Lee wrote.

    Chrysler spokesman Rick Deneau confirmed the authenticity of the employee Q&A -- posted in the past week -- and said it was meant to be seen by a relatively small group of employees.

    While Lee said the issues surrounding the Sebring and Nitro -- two of 10 products Chrysler launched last year -- have sparked a series of deep dives into its processes and standards, the automaker had already started revamping its product development system.

    In an interview Thursday, Frank Klegon, Chrysler's product development chief, outlined several actions being taken that should improve existing cars and trucks and new models that will be launched in the next couple of years.

    "We're certainly not satisfied with where we are," Klegon said. "We have to get better."

    Chrysler is counting on its new models to bolster sales and market share as the automaker restructures to restore profits. After losing $680 million last year, the soon-to-be-sold Chrysler reported $2 billion in red ink for the first quarter and doesn't expect to be back in the black until 2008. Through May, sales of Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep brand models are off 1.5 percent.

    Chrysler began working with ASI Consulting Group in Livonia about 18 months ago. The firm, which previously worked closely with Hyundai Motor Co. to improve its vehicles, has helped Chrysler use a system called "Design for Six Sigma" to help engineers better determine upfront what features and qualities customers want in new vehicles.

    The firm was hired to help "make a cultural change to move that needle to be proactive," Klegon said. "We're taking this on as an extreme change in the way we do predictive quality from the standpoint of customers. It's embedded in our vehicle teams and it's embedded in our components team."

    As an example of Chrysler's proactive approach in responding to vehicle problems, Klegon mentioned noise, vibration and harshness complaints about the 2.4-liter world engine, built in Dundee.

    The company found the problem existed only when the engine was cold. Once warmed up, performance matches the Toyota Camry, he said. Now, Chrysler is taking action on the engine and each vehicle that uses it.

    Both Klegon and Lee, in his exchange with employees, acknowledged that Chrysler needs to do a better job of understanding where its rivals are headed.

    "Our management has admitted that some of our competitors moved faster in some areas than we had anticipated and hence although we matched their previous position and added some improvements, we didn't set targets aggressive enough," Lee wrote. "One example is interior appointments."

    Klegon said Chrysler needs to better predict the current benchmark and "where that benchmark might be in two to three years after you bring that vehicle out."

    Interiors are particularly important because they are so linked to a consumer's vehicle experience.

    "I don't know that the typical person is walking into a Dodge or Chrysler showroom, and saying that the interiors are horrible," said Jack Nerad of Kelley Blue Book. "(But) there's a strong trend to be very careful about interiors, to pay attention to interiors and to do the best job you possibly can to put the investment where the consumer can see it and feel it."

    Klegon said Chrysler established a new design studio last year dedicated to vehicle interiors. And although Chrysler is pushing to cut costs by $1,000 per vehicle, interior design won't be compromised. "We're actually adding money into the interior," Klegon said.

    To keep costs down, though, Chrysler could tap into its burgeoning supply base overseas for cheaper parts, Klegon said.

    While Chrysler has had its share of recent hits with such vehicles as the Dodge Caliber hatchback and four-door Jeep Wrangler, the Sebring, Nitro and other vehicles have missed the mark, many critics say.

    The new Sebring was rated 16th out of 16 family sedans recently by Consumer Reports, a particularly tough segment with established cars like the Toyota.

    The Sebring and Nitro were both knocked for their interiors, noisy engines and poor handling.

    Klegon defended the Sebring as a good car, noting it received no "black circles" from Consumer Reports, which indicate the poorest performance, but acknowledged the "bar is pretty high."

    Sebring and Nitro are among several vehicles Chrysler is working to improve.

    "We're not treating this any different than a thing that would break that you have to fix," Klegon said. "You have to fix an issue that's in the customer's hands either by design change or process improvements or other things."

    osted by Mikethesike

    Audiophiles warn of demise of auto CD player

    Scott Burgess / The Detroit NewsMike thesike

    DETROIT -- The dash-mounted CD player could quickly go the way of 8-tracks and quadraphonic sound, a vice president from Siemens VDO said Thursday at the Ward's Interiors Show in Detroit.

    And it will be a welcome demise, he said, because it will free up valuable real estate on the dash for all the other cool gizmos drivers lug around these days, like the cell phone, personal digital assistant and music player.

    Never-ending advances in digital music devices, the take-them-everywhere cell phones and finicky customers who expect to customize their vehicles with portable devices, will push CD players out of most vehicles as early as 2012, said Frank Homann, vice president of Siemens VDO's Interior Electronics Solutions group.

    Many manufacturers already are putting new sound technologies in vehicles.

    DaimlerChrysler's Chrysler Group has offered its U Connect system to allow people with Bluetooth phones to connect to a speaker phone in the car for the past two years. It recently introduced the My Gig system that will burn CDs to a 20-gig hard drive in the dash.

    Ford Motor Co. will introduce its Sync system later this year. It connects a driver's phone to the vehicle and allows an iPod or other music device to be controlled by the car's stereo. It will also play music saved on a flash drive by connecting to a USB port in the car.

    Chris Dragon, director of marketing for audio company Harmon/Kardon, said he doesn't see carmakers opening their dashes to just any devices.

    "(Carmakers) make a lot of money on those technology packages that include CD players and other things," Dragon said. "I don't see them opening up their electrical architecture to outside people anytime soon."

    Many of the changes in future interiors will start in the more nimble aftermarket arena, Dragon said..

    Harmon/Kardon sells a number of aftermarket devices that are popular with consumers, including the Guide and Play GPS 500 that can store music and movies, as well as GPS navigation.

    Automakers could save between $20 and $40 a vehicle if they eliminated CD players, according to Holmann. They also could save money other ways, such as consolidating some of the electronics behind the dashboard, he noted. But all of this will take time.

    Most new models now come with an auxiliary input jack to allow motorists to plug and play their music devices. Additionally, carmakers recognize the need to have more electrical sources in a vehicle so drivers can recharge their phones, iPods and laptops.

    Even if CD players linger in dashboards of the future, many will simply gather dust.

    "I bought a new car a few years ago and have never played a CD in it," Dragon said. "Everything I have is on my iPod and that goes wherever I do."

    Posted by Mikethesike

    Erich Henkel Dodge sponsors a Hole-in-One Contest at The Drew Clifford Memoria

    Submitted by CityLinC

    Kim Clifford, Golf Outing Event Coordinator and Board President of CityLinC Ministries shakes hands with Barry Case, Dodge Sales Manager at Erich Henkel Dodge of Battle Creek.

    New car a prize at Drew Clifford golf outing June 16

    l Benefit Golf Outing. One lucky person could WIN A NEW Dodge Avenger with a Hole-in-One!

    The Golf Outing is set for this Saturday, June 16th with registration beginning at 7:30am. It is a 4-person Scramble being held at the captivating greens of Cedar Creek Golf Course. The Price is $60 a player and includes 18 holes, golf cart, food & prizes. This golf outing is a benefit for CityLinC Ministries. A local non-profit organization located in downtown Battle Creek devoted to the support of youth, families and the gospel of Jesus Christ. Their mission is to unite the Christian community to make a lasting impact in local churches, schools, neighborhoods, and individual lives. This mission is accomplished through a variety of ministry programs including Adopt a School Initiative, Appeal for Purity, Affordable Christian Counseling, Crisis Pregnancy Center, Grief Support, Juvenile Home Ministry, Youth Guidance Foster Care and special events held throughout the year with collaboration from area pastors and youth pastors. Please log onto our website to find out more about CityLinC and the ministries listed here. So gather your friends, form a team, have fun, support a good cause and have a chance to win a new car!

    here will be other Hole-in-One Prizes which are: a Nike SQ Driver, 36 Dozen Nike Golf Balls, and a vacation package.

    Cash Prize will be given to the Wining Team and a prize for "Worst Golf Pants." Registration begins at 7:30am at Cedar Creek Golf Course. Tee Off will be at 8am.

    It is not too late to register. Registration Information is available at or you can call the CityLinC Office for more info at 269-969-9181. You can bring the form with you the day of the event or show up with your team at 7:30 am so we can register you. You don't want to miss out on your chance for a NEW car! See you There!

    6,400 jump for Chrysler buyouts

    Company seeks to cut only 4,700

    Nearly 40% more U.S. hourly workers than planned have expressed interest in taking buyout and early retirement packages being offered by the Chrysler Group this year, the Free Press has learned.

    About 6,400 U.S. hourly workers have told the company they would like to leave through the program being offered to reduce Chrysler's workforce as part of its turnaround plan announced in February. But the company is seeking to eliminate only 4,700 hourly U.S. workers this year.


    Auto industry observers said the high interest likely reflects worker uneasiness with the future of the industry and the company, an 80.1% interest in which is being sold by DaimlerChrysler AG to Cerberus Capital Management, a private equity firm.

    Officials at the Auburn Hills-based automaker have said they were surprised by the number of people interested in the offers but have never publicly stated the total number of workers who expressed interest in the packages.

    The packages, which for U.S. workers included payments of as much as $100,000 to leave the company, were targeted at facilities where the company wants to reduce head count this year.

    While the company wants to eliminate 13,000 jobs during the next three years, the company's stated goal for 2007 was 5,900 hourly workers in Canada and United States.

    In Canada, about 1,200 hourly workers have expressed interest in similar buyout and retirement packages -- about the number of jobs being eliminated there this year.

    A spokesman for the company declined comment Thursday. In early May, Chrysler spokeswoman Michele Tinson acknowledged that the number of takers exceeded company's expectations, but she did not provide numbers.

    The flood of interest has slowed departures from the company. UAW Local 51 in Detroit told workers in May that the packages were on hold because of the high interest.

    Since then, workers at various plants say they've begun to hear how many people were being awarded the packages.

    It's unclear at this point how many people will be granted the packages this year. It is likely to be more than originally planned, but not as many as who want them, according to people familiar with the company's thinking.

    Several workers in the plants are frustrated with the slow process and complained about not being able to make the cut for a buyout or early retirement.

    Catherine Madden, an industry analyst with Global Insight, said the high interest among workers suggests a growing skepticism among hourly workers about the direction of the auto industry.

    "I can only say that there is some level of doom and gloom," she said.

    Chrysler is not the only Detroit automaker to have seen high interest in buyouts. Both General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co. got plenty of takers for UAW buyout packages related to their turnaround plans. In some Ford white-collar departments, too may people accepted the conditional offers and were not allowed to take the incentives to leave the company.

    David Cole, chairman of the Center for Automotive Research, attributes the demand to two factors: uncertainty over Chrysler's future and a belief among workers that a successful turnaround plan is important to their own futures.

    "It works together. People take a buyout and they have a better chance of having health care in retirement," Cole said.

    Chrysler lost $680 million last year.

    The February turnaround plan that includes the incentives was largely overshadowed by DaimlerChrysler's decision to seek buyers for the American unit. Cerberus, which is putting $7.4 billion into Chrysler as part of its purchase, could complete the acquisition in July.

    Driver claims police enticed him to race, revved engine

    Martin E. Comas | Sentinel Staff Writer TAVARES -- A motorist mentioned in an Orlando Sentinel article Thursday about a police decoy car said he thought the driver of a red Dodge Charger that pulled up alongside him at a traffic light on U.S. Highway 441 was looking for a race.

    It turned out the Charger's driver was a Tavares cop. Raymond Lind said he didn't know that and thought the Charger's driver wanted to race, and so Lind sped off when the light turned green.

    "I thought he's out there drag racing," said Lind, 46, of Eustis. "He was all over the gas pedal."

    Lind made the comments on Thursday, the day a Sentinel story was published about law-enforcement decoy cars and Tavares police using the 350-horsepower Charger.

    Lind could not be reached for comment Wednesday when the article was written.

    Police said Lind flew off after the traffic light turned green and then cut across three lanes of U.S. 441 while looking back and waving on May 23.

    Capt. Danny Feleccia, who was driving the Charger, flicked on his lights and pulled Lind over. He was given a verbal warning, but no ticket.

    But Lind said that Tavares police lured him into speeding by revving the engine at the traffic light.

    "If he was not out there provoking people, I would never do that," said Lind, a mechanic. "That was entrapment."

    Feleccia disagreed.

    "In no way, shape or form are we trying to entice [drivers to speed]," he said.

    Feleccia said he didn't notice Lind's Buick Regal at the traffic light.

    "I never saw him. It wasn't until I took off -- and I didn't take off that fast -- that I saw him speed off," he said. "He went flying by us, and you can't do that."

    By Mikethesike

    China becomes second largest auto parts exporter to US

    Story Link:§ion=business&col

    Khaleej Times - Dubai,United Arab Emirates BEIJING - China replaced Germany in the first quarter as the second largest auto parts exporter to the United States, Chinese state media said Friday. ...

    By Mikethesike

    Thursday, June 7, 2007

    This Day in Auto History: 07 JUNE

    Automobile Quarterly
    Automobile Quarterly
    This Day in Auto History:

    Clement Smith is issued a United States patent for his “leader iron front-axle”
    John Phillip Cartwright, Executive Vice President of the Studebaker Corporation 1964-1965, is born in Ellwood City, PA
    Peter Monteverdi is born in Binningen, Switzerland
    Sir Arthur F. Sidgreaves, Managing Director of Rolls-Royce Ltd. 1929-1946, commits suicide in a London subway station at age 65
    Randolph H. Guthrie is elected Chairman of the Studebaker Corporation

    Source: Automobile History Day By Day, by Douglas A. Wick

    Chrysler, Dodge answers your questions!

    07/06/2007 14:15

    Your questions for DaimlerChrysler SA's Chrysler and Dodge divisions have been answered. Read what they had to say in response.


    With the split from Daimler, how readily will parts and servicing be available and what kind of service levels could be expected? How will this split affect the pricing of Chrysler and Dodge products if they are no longer able to benefit from Mercedes' export credits? Who will import these products in the future?

    Parts and servicing of Chrysler Group products will not be affected by the sale as we will continue to maintain the same dealer network for the time being. As always, we will strive to improve service levels at our dealerships regardless of the status of Chrysler.

    Pricing of the Chrysler group products are in no way affected by Mercedes-Benz' export credits in any case, these apply only to the Mercedes Car Group vehicles.


    Readers commented that although both brands have products well worth considering, they were still disappointed by the apparent inferiority of the interior plastic finishes. What, if anything, is being done by Chrysler and Dodge to remedy this?

    The plastics used in the interiors of Chrysler Group vehicles are in no way inferior and meet the stringent standards set by not only the design teams at Chrysler, but by safety associations such as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

    Do not associate hard plastics with inferior quality. The plastics used in our products deliver superior UV resistance and general toughness.


    Can you explain the pricing on the Dodge range? Compared with prices in the UK, local prices are almost double on certain models. How do you explain this, considering both countries import from the US?

    South Africa and the United Kingdom have vastly different import duty structures and as such cannot be compared. Furthermore, as the Chrysler Group in South Africa currently exports limited components, our duty off-set on imported vehicles is very low. The Chrysler and Dodge vehicles offered in South Africa are also generally of a higher specification level to that of our UK counterparts.


    According to one reader, the waiting period for the Caliber, in particular, is up to six months long. What is DCSA doing to pressure the production facilities into ensuring that the high demand for popular models is met?

    Demand for Caliber has exceeded supply in many markets throughout the World and as such production is running at full capacity. DCSA from time to time adjusts the production forecasts and we believe that by year end we will be in a position to satisfy the extraordinary demand for this popular product.


    What are the possibilities of getting the Dodge Ram or Durango in South Africa? And is there a chance that we could get the Viper and Challenger, when it goes into production? Do you plan on introducing a small car to slot beneath the Caliber in the Dodge line-up? Also, when will we see the new Voyager in South Africa?

    There is a demand World wide for many of these models and we are currently evaluating all Dodge derivatives for introduction into RHD markets. A decision has yet to made on introducing the Challenger.

    Dodge is planning a production version of the Hornet that was shown at last year's Geneva Motor Show, however, a decision on a possible right hand drive version has yet to be made.

    Detroit's carmakers expect fuel rule boost

    They hope CAFE increases are responsible


    (DENNIS COOK/Associated Press)

    Chrysler Group CEO Tom LaSorda, left, Ford CEO Alan Mulally, leaning forward, and General Motors Chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner discuss problems facing the auto industry Wednesday in Washington, D.C. They declined to back a particular fuel economy proposal.

    WASHINGTON -- Detroit automakers reluctantly accepted the likelihood of higher federal fuel economy standards from Congress this year but declined to endorse a specific proposal Wednesday, saying any increase should be responsible.

    General Motors Corp. Chairman and Chief Executive Rick Wagoner and Ford Motor Co. Chief Executive Alan Mulally said any increase in the federal Corporate Average Fuel Economy system should come only as part of a package of incentives for alternative fuels and other technologies that stood a better chance of reducing U.S. consumption of gasoline.

    With some lawmakers in both chambers calling for even tougher standards than those under consideration, industry executives emphasized they were committed to making more efficient vehicles regardless of the debate's outcome, but didn't want to be hit with goals that could add sizable costs to vehicles they already struggle to make profits on.

    "My sense is there will be increases in CAFE," Wagoner said after a summit on problems facing domestic automakers sponsored by Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow for her Democratic colleagues. "We hope there are responsible levels that don't disadvantage the domestic industry."

    The debate has only intensified as Senate Democrats plan to bring a proposal to the Senate floor as soon as Friday that would require new vehicles to average 35 miles per gallon by 2020, a target the entire industry has called unworkable. Proposals backed by Michigan lawmakers in the House and Senate would set a standard of 36 m.p.g. for cars and 30 m.p.g. for trucks over a longer time frame, or roughly 32.5 m.p.g. overall.

    But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said late Tuesday she would oppose a draft bill from Rep. John Dingell's House Energy and Commerce Committee that, in addition to setting the lower fuel economy standards, would bar the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, California and other states from regulating the fuel efficiency of cars and trucks.

    Neither Wagoner nor Mulally would explicitly endorse the 36 and 30 target, but both, along with Chrysler Group Chief Executive Tom LaSorda, told lawmakers they wanted to have a voice in the debate rather than oppose any proposed increase.

    "We want to get to a reasonable plan going forward, one that makes progress that's doable," Mulally said after a meeting in the Senate. The 36 and 30 target is "really, really a stretch."

    The three executives spent much of the day meeting House and Senate leaders from both parties, along with Michigan's congressional delegation, with fuel economy dominating the talks. LaSorda left the summit early because of illness and wasn't available to comment on fuel economy.

    While the Senate Democratic bill contains some provisions the industry supports, the alternatives would go much further, from requiring more ethanol-capable vehicles and alternative-fuel filling stations to setting up grant programs for converting old factories.

    Wagoner told the dozen Senate Democrats at the summit that if all automakers followed the pledge of Detroit's companies to make half of their new models ethanol-capable by 2012, the country could eventually save 37 billion gallons of gasoline a year -- about four times more fuel than the Senate CAFE proposal.

    A couple of senators pressed the executives to support higher standards, with Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., saying the industry had "lost the issue." Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said he believed the auto industry was supportive of an increase in fuel economy standards.

    "Whether it's enough, we'll find out, but at least it's a start," Reid said.

    Michigan Sen. Carl Levin said several senators were working on an alternative to the Senate proposal that would likely be introduced next week. The 36 and 30 target in the alternatives "is a stretch, but something that we may have to go with," but a 35 m.p.g. combined standard "is not achievable."

    The debate will shift today to the House, where a subcommittee of Dingell's House Energy and Commerce panel will take testimony on its draft. Pelosi's opposition reflects the intensity of California officials who have been fighting with the industry since 2003 to regulate fuel economy as part of their battle against greenhouse gas emissions.

    A U.S. Supreme Court ruling in April gave the EPA that power, and California officials are pressing for a waiver from the agency that would let their efforts proceed.

    "Any proposal that affects California's landmark efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions or eliminate the EPA's authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions will not have my support," Pelosi said in a statement.

    The two clashed earlier this year over Pelosi's move to launch a separate environmental committee, and Dingell has fiercely guarded the bill-writing power of his committee. Dingell -- who wrote both the federal fuel economy and clean air laws in the 1970s -- said while he would work with Pelosi to address her concerns about the draft, the recent Supreme Court ruling allowing the EPA to set fuel economy standards threatened to create a morass of regulation that would choke off the auto industry.

    "My question is: Do you want to produce cars? Do you want to have jobs?" Dingell said after a meeting with the auto executives.

    "We are returning ... to a system that will work rather than a lot of enthusiasts running around and creating problems."

    BERNHARD GETS REACQUAINTED: Cerberus consultant makes the rounds, keeps eye on Chrysler operations


    Wolfgang Bernhard, a former Chrysler executive and current Cerberus consultant, has an office at the automaker's headquarters in Auburn Hills.

    Wolfgang Bernhard, a former top Chrysler executive, is making his presence known around the Auburn Hills automaker's headquarters.

    As a consultant for Cerberus Capital Management, the private equity firm that is supposed to take control of Chrysler later this year, Bernhard has an office in the building and is keeping an eye on operations.

    Chrysler design guru Ralph Gilles said Wednesday that Bernhard recently toured Chrysler's new design studio, where the former chief operating officer exchanged high fives with designers. Gilles called the visit "like a reunion."

    "It was a great vibe. It was awesome. He looked at everything. It is his right to do that -- to come in and check everything out. He was very supportive," said Gilles, a vice president in the design group.

    There's been a lot of speculation about what role Bernhard, who helped guide the Chrysler Group through its previous turnaround as part of DaimlerChrysler AG, will play in the new company.

    The company has emphasized that CEO Tom LaSorda is in charge and that Bernhard is there for him to call upon when needed.

    Bernhard is not part of the Chrysler executive team.

    The deal for Cerberus to acquire 80.1% of Chrysler is expected to be completed in July.

    Gilles said the initial Feb. 14 announcement indicating that DaimlerChrysler AG might be broken up nine years after the merger was distracting for the designers at first, but they soon got back to work.

    The change of Chrysler ownership "feels different" than the previous change, Gilles said. "There is definitely a huge aura of opportunity here, and we're taking advantage of it."

    Gilles made his comments after delivering the keynote address at the Ward's Automotive Group's Auto Interiors Show in Detroit.

    During his time on stage, Gilles said attention to interior designs has become even more important than in the past for competitive reasons.

    "Interiors are becoming the battleground," he said during a question-and-answer session.

    Carmakers tell the inside story

    Ricardo Thomas / The Detroit News

    Stefan Donat of Ident Technology, left, and Vincent Verna of Mercedes-Benz check an interior.

    Bryce G. Hoffman / The Detroit News

    DETROIT -- Automobile interiors are the latest battleground in the war for the hearts and minds of car buyers, but they are also becoming more and more alike, a leading auto designer said Wednesday.

    "There's a bit of a rut now in interiors," Ralph Gilles, head of one of the Chrysler Group's main design studios, said in a speech at the Ward's Auto Interiors Show at Cobo Center.

    He challenged interior suppliers attending the show to help Chrysler and other automakers find their way out of it.

    Although it was once easy to tell a Japanese interior from a European one, automakers' design from all regions have evolved in similar directions, Gilles said. But new materials and technologies offer opportunities to branch out, which Chrysler is trying to do.

    "We've been focusing lately on distinguishing our brands from each other," he said.

    So future Jeep products will have more functional interiors, while Dodge models will use more color.

    But Gilles said cost pressures are prompting carmakers to shift more responsibility for interiors to suppliers, and worries about costs are making automaker-supplier relationships more adversarial.

    "I want to change that," Gilles told suppliers, calling for more collaboration. "We're willing to have you guys own it as if it were your own project."

    Many leading interior makers attended the Cobo conclave, where panel discussions focused on emerging issues such as new federal guidelines that require automakers to add active headrest safety systems to vehicles.

    A number of suppliers set up booths to showcase everything from cutting-edge fabrics to new approaches to climate control.

    Germany's Ident Technology AG showed off a new wireless system that uses electrical fields to determine whether dashboard controls are being operated by the driver or the passenger.

    Ident spokesman Markus Raiser said the system can prevent passengers from accidentally changing important settings that affect vehicle operation, while allowing those same passengers to work navigation controls that would be unavailable to the driver for safety reasons.

    "You can also use it to cut down the number of switches you have in the car," Raiser said, adding that the technology can be used to keep sliding doors from closing on fingers, create virtual controls on materials like wood and monitor the position of occupants to better deploy safety equipment like airbags.

    In his speech, Gilles pointed to several emerging trends in interiors. White is in, along with other light colors -- even though lighter materials soil more easily. Ambient lighting is becoming more popular, and grain is emerging as an important tool for making synthetic components look more substantial and sophisticated.

    "It's to me the absolute indicator of quality," Gilles said. "We have to design grain on the microscopic level."

    But Gilles also said "real materials" like wood and chrome are making a comeback. At the same time, consumers are increasingly wowed by the use of recycled materials or natural materials from sustainable sources.

    But new technologies do not come cheap and often require designers to make tough trade-offs. Gilles said incorporating an innovative in-dash cooler into the new Dodge Caliber required the designers to settle for a cheap plastic dash.

    Analyst Erich Merkle of IRN Inc. said improving interiors is one way automakers can convey a sense of quality in their vehicles. "It's the contact point that the customer has with the vehicle," Merkle said. "Customers may not understand how the engine connects to the transmission, but they can appreciate quality interior materials."

    Wednesday, June 6, 2007

    Survey: GM, Chrysler below average in quality


    The 2006 Dodge Dakota ranked third in midsize truck category. See full image

    Report finds most of the crosstown rivals' models performed worse than they did a year ago.

    Sharon Terlep / The Detroit News

    DETROIT -- All of General Motors Corp.'s and the Chrysler Group's brands scored below average in initial vehicle quality, J.D. Power and Associates reported Wednesday.

    While Ford Motor Co. had more segment-leading 2007 model-year vehicles than Toyota Motor Corp. in the annual survey, which tracks quality during the first 90 days of ownership, its crosstown rivals stumbled.

    All but three of the 11 nameplates owned by GM and Chrysler performed worse than they did a year ago in the closely watched quality survey. The results could hinder sales efforts.

    "Customers are desperate for outsides sources" of information on quality, said Jim Hall, an analyst with AutoPacific Inc. in Southfield. "It has an effect."

    GM's Cadillac luxury brand fell farthest, from seventh to 25th place, followed by the Chrysler brand, which dropped from 11th to 27th place. GM's Buick, Saab and Hummer brands notched up in the field of 35.

    "I'm not happy, I can tell you that. We didn't execute," said Jamie Hresko, GM's vice president of quality. "We were average and we don't want to be average."

    A number of complicated product launches increased glitches in new vehicles, he said. GM became aware of a number of problems, particularly in the Cadillac line, through its own research and has already fixed the mistakes, he said. GM launched 19 new models in 2006.

    Despite the disappointment, GM had success in some traditionally strong areas, namely trucks. The automaker had the highest-ranked large pickup with the Chevrolet Silverado Classic HD, the top van with the Chevrolet Express and the best-ranked large car in the Pontiac Grand Prix.

    Chrysler's struggles similar

    Chrysler introduced 10 new models in 2006 and faced some of the same struggles as GM.

    While the J.D. Power survey wasn't flattering, the Auburn Hills automaker is encouraged that its warranty costs were down 4 percent last year from 2005, said Chrysler spokesman Sam Locricchio.

    Chrysler's Dodge Dakota pickup was third in the midsize truck category and the Chrysler Aspen got good marks for a newly launched vehicle."To launch that much fresh product and still have that many positives is an accomplishment," Locricchio said.

    Standards up industrywide

    J.D. Power's Neal Oddes noted that product launches are becoming a "key differentiator" of quality in the industry, namely because new products are coming out with increasing frequency.

    Oddes, director of product research and analysis, also agreed with points raised by both GM and Chrysler -- the quality gap between brands has narrowed vastly over the years. Significant differences remain, however, at the model level.

    As standards ratchet up industrywide, automakers must produce quality vehicles to get consumers to even consider their vehicles. And Detroit's automakers can't afford any bad news in the marketplace, he said.

    "If you try to get by without building a quality car, you might as well forget it," AutoPacific's Hall

    This Day in Auto History: 06 JUNE

    Automobile Quarterly
    Automobile Quarterly
    This Day in Auto History:

    Automotive historian Frank Robert Donovan is born in New York City
    The Maxwell Motor Corporation is reorganized in Delaware as the Chrysler Corporation
    Racer Bill Puterbaugh is born
    Charles W. Nash dies in Beverly Hills, CA at age 84
    Richard E. Cross retires as Chairman of American Motors and is succeeded by Robert Beverley Evans

    Source: Automobile History Day By Day, by Douglas A. Wick

    Tom Gale returns

    Tom Gale will be replacing Trevor Creed....inside slip

    By Mikethesike

    Dodge Hornet gets the green light

    The Dodge Hornet is about to be officially a go. Dodge's Euro B-segment entrant will be produced with Chinese automaker Chery, and won't have a Chrysler-branded counterpart. The show car, from the 2006 Geneva show, had a supercharged 4-cylinder with 170 hp, and got to 60 in 6.7 seconds. Autocar believes the production version may bow as early as this September at the Frankfurt Motor Show, though we think that's a bit optimistic.

    The good thing is that the Hornet's impending production is part of Chrysler's 3-year, $3-billion product renewal program, which has been "confirmed" since Cerberus bought the company. Though it will likely debut at a European auto show, we have high hopes that Chrysler will bring its Chinese-built B-car to the U.S., as well.

    [Source: Autocar]

    Detroit 3 hear they've already 'lost' on CAFE

    Harry Stoffer
    Automotive News
    June 6, 2007 - 3:42 pm

    WASHINGTON -- Automakers that oppose higher fuel economy standards won't block congressional action this year, a Senate Democrat who switched positions on the issue warned today.

    "The issue is over," Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., told the CEOs of the Detroit 3. "You have lost the issue."

    Dorgan's remark came at the end of what was supposed to have been a feel-good session on manufacturing issues by Senate Democrats.

    Dorgan represents one of 11 states where the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers is running ads that assail "extreme" fuel economy legislation before the Senate. The alliance represents the Detroit 3, Toyota and five other automakers.

    Scare tactics such as telling Americans that Congress is going to take away their pickups won't work anymore, Dorgan admonished the executives.

    At a lunch meeting, the Detroit 3 CEOs stuck by their position that the corporate average fuel economy program, or CAFE, is a failure. Higher standards alone are not the answer to concerns about energy security or global warming, they said.

    Afterward, in a brief session with reporters, General Motors CEO Rick Wagoner said automakers understand that fuel economy standards are going to rise.

    The Detroit 3 say they seek to ensure that higher standards are part of a broader package of actions that promote alternative fuels and provide incentives for advanced technology vehicles.

    Behind the scenes, industry lobbyists are meeting with lawmakers on possible alternatives to the CAFE bill, which is scheduled for debate on the Senate floor next week.

    Two alternative proposals would require cars to average 36 mpg by 2022 and trucks to average 30 mpg by 2025. Regulators would be able to set lower standards if the targets were deemed to be unreachable.

    Today's standards are 27.5 mpg for cars and 22.2 mpg for light trucks.

    The bill before the Senate floor would require a fleetwide average of 35 mpg by 2020 and 4percent annual increases thereafter. Again, regulators would be able to cite economic or technological reasons to set lower standards.

    Environmental and consumer groups contend that guaranteed standards are needed. They are lobbying to toughen the Senate bill.

    Cerberus affiliates file to raise $11.01 billion

    WASHINGTON, June 6 (Reuters) - U.S. private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management LP has set up affiliates aiming to raise up to $11.01 billion, according to recent regulatory filings.

    Six affiliates said in filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that the money raised will be used for investment capital, and that they have already raised about $10.47 billion through the sale of limited liability company interests.

    Last month, Cerberus grabbed headlines by saying it would buy a majority of DaimlerChrysler's (DCXGn.DE: Quote, Profile, Research struggling Chrysler Group for $7.4 billion.

    The New York-based firm has been active in the auto industry in the past with General Motors Corp. (GM.N: Quote, Profile, Research last year selling a 51 percent stake in its financing arm, GMAC, to a consortium led by Cerberus in a deal worth about $14 billion. The Cerberus affiliates that filed with the SEC on May 17 include Cerberus FIM Investors LLC, Cerberus FIM Investors Rescap LLC, Cerberus FIM Investors Commercial Mortgage LLC, Cerberus FIM Investors Auto Finance LLC, Cerberus FIM Investors Insurance LLC, and Cerberus FIM Investors Commercial Finance LLC.

    Tuesday, June 5, 2007

    Chrysler Group Exports a Record Number of Vehicles to Achieve the Best May Sales Ever Outside North America


    AUBURN HILLS, Michigan and STUTTGART, Germany, June 5 /PRNewswire/ --

    - Unprecedented 24 consecutive months of year-over-year sales gains

    - Record number of exports from North America since continuous sales
    momentum began in 2005

    - 2007 marked the best May in Chrysler International's history

    - May 2007 sales outside North America were up 24 percent over same month
    last year

    - Year-to-date sales increased 16 percent over the same period in 2006

    Sales growth for Chrysler Group outside North America continued in May with an increase of 24 percent (20,553 units) over the same month last year. The Company has reached an unprecedented two full years of monthly sales gains, and year-to-date sales (91,412 units) continued to climb and grew 16 percent over the same period of time in 2006. Increased sales were supported by a record month in the number of Chrysler Group exports from North America (18,405 units).

    "The continued growth of the international vehicle portfolio supports our Recovery and Transformation plan. The success of the vehicles that are now available in markets outside North America indicates that there is great growth potential for Chrysler Group," said Michael Manley, Chrysler Group Executive Vice President of International Sales, Marketing and Business Development. "Our fuel-efficient diesel and petrol engines, right-hand drive availability and multiple safety features packaged in distinct vehicle designs appeal to customers all over the world, and positions Chrysler Group as a serious global competitor."

    For 2007, trends indicate that diesel engines could account for more than 75 percent of Chrysler Group sales in Western Europe by the end of the year, where overall diesel sales are higher than in many other parts of the world. This is a significant increase from diesel sales in 2005, which accounted for roughly 65 percent of the Company's Western European vehicle sales.

    All regions where Chrysler Group sells vehicles saw increased sales in May. Western / Central Europe, the Company's largest volume region outside North America, grew 13 percent in May, and 11 percent year-to-date. The Middle East (including Northern Africa) market had the highest growth rate, as sales for the month increased 57 percent and year-to-date increased 61.

    All three Chrysler Group brands -- Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge -- were represented among the top-three-selling Chrysler Group products. Dodge Caliber remained the Company's number-one-seller outside North America with 13,265 units sold in 2007 year-to-date. Jeep Grand Cherokee sales were a close second, with 13,017 units, and Chrysler Voyager / Grand Voyager sales were third with 12,358 units.

    Including May sales, the Dodge brand accounted for roughly 22 percent of the Company's year-to-date sales, with only one vehicle widely available outside North America -- Dodge Caliber. "As the next two Dodge products -- Avenger and Nitro -- make their way, in volume, into all of the markets, we see further opportunity for the brand. So far, the expansion for Dodge has been well-received by both customers and dealers, and contributed to our record month of exports out of North America," said Thomas Hausch -- Vice President of International Sales. "There is a lot of untapped potential here, and we expect that the brand could account for 30 percent of the Company's sales outside North America by 2009."

    Chrysler Group sells and services vehicles in more than 125 countries around the world, and Chrysler Group sales outside North America currently account for approximately eight percent of the Company's total global sales. Vehicles available range across all three Chrysler Group brands, with limited availability on some trucks and SUV models. The Company's operations outside North America have been experiencing year-over-year sales increases since 2004, and will continue to increase the number of product offerings, powertrain options and RHD availability through 2007.

    Post by Mikethesike

    First Drive: 2007 Jeep Grand Cherokee CRD Video


    MOTORTREND.COM - - With a 3.0-liter common-rail turbodiesel under the hood courtesy of Mercedez Benz, the new Jeep Grand Cherokee CRD looks to replace and surpass. Watch our first drive video brought to you by the automotive experts at Motor Trend. Average fule economy was over 42-MPG.

    By Mikethesike

    This Day in Auto History: 05 JUNE

    Automobile Quarterly
    Automobile Quarterly
    This Day in Auto History:

    The Timken Roller Bearing Axle Company reorganizes as two distinct businesses, the Timken Roller Bearing Company and the Timken-Detroit Axle Company
    The B. F. Goodrich Tire & Rubber Company of Akron, OH introduces “Ameripol” tires, the world’s first to be made from synthetic rubber
    Gordon M. Buehrig is issued a United States patent for his “vehicle top with removable panels”, an idea that appeared on 1968 Chevrolet Corvette
    Racer Jim Clark makes his Formula 1 debut driving a Lotus in the Dutch Grand Prix
    The Lec Makes its Formula 1 debut at the Belgian Grand Prix in Zolder, with the Type CRP1 driven by David Purley finishing in 13th place

    Source: Automobile History Day By Day, by Douglas A. Wick

    Chrysler Begins 2008 Sebring Convertible Production

    The Chrysler Group has announced the production launch of the all-new 2008 Chrysler Sebring Convertible, which will be built at Chrysler Group's Sterling Heights (Mich.) Assembly Plant (SHAP) alongside the Chrysler Sebring Sedan and the 2008 Dodge Avenger, launched earlier this year.

    Chrysler Sebring Convertible
    The all-new 2008 Chrysler Sebring Convertible builds on the successful formula of the award-winning Chrysler 300 in the large car segment, the all- new 2007 Dodge Caliber in the compact car segment and the more recent, mid- size Chrysler Sebring Sedan. This formula combines elegant, sophisticated design with interior craftsmanship, high-levels of safety, reliability, exhilarating performance and excellent fuel efficiency all at a surprisingly affordable price. Sebring Convertible also features many class-leading technologies not available elsewhere in the convertible segment. Sebring Convertible has a roomy, comfortable interior for four adults, and a trunk that holds two golf bags with the top down. With the widest offering of convertible tops, including Vinyl, Cloth or Retractable Hard Top, the Sebring Convertible is competitively priced with high content and features compared to its competition. The 2008 Chrysler Sebring Convertible appeals to buyers who appreciate style, practicality, safety and value.

    The 2008 Chrysler Sebring Convertible is available now in U.S. dealerships and in international markets later in 2007.


    Small Cars, A Big Question

    Jerry Flint, 06.05.07, 6:00 AM ET

    More From Jerry Flint
    Long-term, it seems certain that more of us will be driving small cars. The big question is whether manufacturers will build any of these vehicles in this country or whether plants in Korea, China, Eastern Europe and elsewhere will grab most of the business.

    The domestic manufacturers are already sourcing a large number of passenger cars from outside the U.S. Ford Motor (nyse: F - news - people ) builds its Ford Fusion, Mercury Milan and Lincoln MKZ in a Mexican factory. Half of Ford's Focus output also comes from Mexico, while its Ford Crown Victoria and Mercury Grand Marquis come from a Canadian plant that also builds the Lincoln Town Car.

    Chrysler builds its PT Cruiser in Mexico and its Chrysler 300, Dodge Magnum and Dodge Charger in Canada. General Motors (nyse: GM - news - people ) also builds some passenger cars in Canada--including its best seller, the Chevy Impala--and will soon import the Saturn Astra from Europe and the Pontiac G8 from Australia.

    Most of these models are large cars. Right now, ''Detroit's'' only tiny passenger car, the GM Chevy Aveo, which sells at a 60,000-per-year rate, comes from Korea.

    Some critics say it is not possible to build small cars in the U.S., with its high wages, benefits and taxes and heavy regulations. Personally, I think it is still possible to build them here, or at least in North America.

    The key is volume. To build small cars and make money, the trick is to build lots of them, and variations of the same platform. This has been a problem in the U.S. because the market for such vehicles was limited.

    It could make sense for Ford, for example, to build a plant's worth of small cars, meaning 200,000 to 300,000 per year, in Mexico. Ford could ship some to the U.S., sell some locally and export the rest to Central America and the Caribbean, a small-car market now dominated by the Japanese and Koreans.

    I believe the scheme I just outlined for Ford is viable, because that is precisely what Nissan (nasdaq: NSANY - news - people ) is already doing. It builds the Nissan Versa in a factory in Mexico and exports the car to the U.S. and other markets. The Versa is a bit longer (169 inches) than the Honda Fit (157 inches), but it's part of that small-car group. In the first four months of this year, Nissan sold 21,000 Versas in the U.S., which puts it on pace to sell 60,000 in a year. Add in local sales in Mexico and exports to other countries, and Nissan has the kind of volume it needs for a successful small car.

    Suzuki (other-otc: SZKMF - news - people ) built the Suzuki Swift and the Geo Metro in Canada a few years ago. General Motors sold the latter in Chevy dealerships. Those vehicles never caught on and never attained critical volume. I suspect that Suzuki lost money on the venture.

    What went wrong? Gasoline was cheaper than it is now, and the cars were not that good. That is a key point: Buyers of small cars want the same thing as buyers of big cars--quality, style, performance and handling.

    A good example is the Mini, which BMW builds in the U.K., a high-wage country with a strong currency. Yet BMW is building this car at a 200,000-per-year pace. The difference is, the Mini is not cheap. In the U.S., it typically costs $26,000. At that price, it seems plausible that a manufacturer could build a little car in this country and make a profit on it.

    The trick is to have a small vehicle so appealing that Americans would pay a high price for a little car. With gasoline now north of $3 per gallon, the idea that a Detroit company could sell a factory's worth of such a car--say, 200,000 units a year--is not so far-fetched.

    One reason why small cars have failed here in the past is that U.S. car buyers have equated ''small'' with ''inexpensive.'' American manufacturers made too many design and engineering compromises to keep their vehicles affordable, but that strategy has not worked. It would also be a good idea for the U.S. government to force other producing nations, like Japan, China and South Korea, to strengthen their currency. Doing so would help prevent manufacturers in those countries from using a weak currency to dump their small cars in our market.

    The U.S. market for premium small cars may be limited, but the idea of producing a low-cost car in a high labor cost country is not necessarily doomed to failure. Toyota (nyse: TM - news - people ) builds its small, low-priced Yaris in France, another high-wage country. Except for the health care, the labor costs are probably like ours, maybe higher. If Toyota can build such a car in France, then a manufacturer could do something similar in this country.

    Ford Motor is thinking about designing and building a new generation of small cars in North America, but General Motors seems to have settled on Korea as a small-car source, at least for now.

    Chrysler has talked about building a smaller low-cost car, but in China and with a partner, Chery. Of course, Chery has a reputation of borrowing without asking, so working with it might have some penalties, like giving technology to a future competitor.

    It is possible the Detroit automakers could reach some special agreement with the auto workers' union--lower wage and benefit rates in plants so that smaller, low-priced cars can be built in the U.S. Such concessions and some great automotive designs might prevent the type of offshore production similar to what Chrysler has talked about with China.

    US: Chrysler Corp reported to be continuing stamping operations under new ownership

    By Automotive World staff writer (DI)
    5 June, 2007
    Source: Automotive World

    According to a report carried by Reuters, Chrysler Corporation does not intend to divest itself of its stamping operations when it comes under the control of Cerberus Capital Management. The report cites Frank Ewasyshyn, Chrysler Group's senior manuf...

    Monday, June 4, 2007

    Report: NHTSA to probe Jeep Wrangler stalls

    The Detroit News - - DaimlerChrysler AG's 2007 Jeep Wrangler sport-utility vehicles are being investigated by a U.S. safety agency after reports of engine stalling at highway speeds, Bloomberg News reported today.

    The probe may affect 35,000 vehicles, including two- and four-door models in front-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive versions, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said today on its Web site. The agency said 53 complaints mostly involved highway speeds and included 12 cases with a loss of electrical power and lighting

    DCX chief Schrempp stands to make $134 million off Chrysler sale, paper says

    June 4, 2007

    Former DaimlerChrysler AG Chief Executive Officer Juergen Schrempp could earn the equivalent of $134 million from the sale of Chrysler Group to Cerberus Capital Management, according to published reports.

    The German newspaper Handelsblatt reported that Schrempp, who launched the initial merger between Daimler-Benz AG and Chrysler Corp. in 1998, stands to get about 50 million euros for his stock options when the proposed sale to New York private equity firm Cerberus is completed.

    The sale is expected to be completed between July 1 and Sept. 30.

    Shares of DCX, which ended trading Friday at $91.68 a share on the New York Stock Exchange, have increased by close to 90% since Schrempp resigned in 2005.

    If the stock continues to rise to around 100 euros, as many expect, Schrempp’s payout could be worth 100 million euros, according to the newspaper.

    Last month, Cerberus agreed to pay $7.4 billion to buy a controlling stake in the Auburn Hills automaker, effectively ending the nine-year relationship between Daimler and Chrysler.

    Ashley Blows Away the Competition and Wins in Topeka

    by Matthew Brammer, Gotham City Racing

    TOPEKA, Kan. -- Mortgage banker Mike Ashley scored his very first NHRA national event win and drove the Torco Race Fuels Dodge Charger nitro Funny Car all the way to the winner's circle at the O'Reilly Summer Nationals at Heartland Park Topeka.

    Dispatching Del Worsham, Ashley Force, Jack Beckman and Jim Head en route to the event championship, Ashley said the day was 'practically perfect.'

    "I knew it would happen if we just kept doing what we were doing and didn’t try to force anything," an ecstatic and emotional Ashley said. "I'm so proud of this team, Brian Corradi, Mark Oswald, Steve Boggs -- everyone, and everything they have done to get here - they are true champions."

    On hand to watch Ashley receive his first Wally event trophy was team sponsor Evan Knoll, owner of Torco Race Fuels. Ashley said, "This has been such a journey and it all started a few years ago when Evan came to me and said, 'Let's do it.' We've been working towards this goal since then and Evan stuck with us through it all. This win is for all the dreamers out there. This is proof you can do anything you set your mind to."

    Ashley and his Gotham City Racing crew displayed marksman-like consistency as they worked through their opponents, with only .154-seconds variance between his elapsed times of each round. In round one, Ashley beat former teammate Del Worsham, 4.793/321.88 to 4.894/316.45. In the quarterfinals, it was a ‘battle of the Ashleys’ - Mike Ashley versus Ashley Force, and Mike used a .036 reaction time to take the win against the quicker Ashley Force, 4.926/263.20 to Mike's 4.947/292.84.

    Semifinal action saw the battle of the fastest Funny Cars on the planet, Ashley having recorded the fastest speed ever at 334.11, and 'Fast' Jack Beckman holding the NHRA official record at 333.66 mph. Ashley defeated Beckman with a stellar run, 4.882/310.41 to 4.949/304.12.

    In the final round, the third of his Funny Car career, Ashley left the line first against Jim Head with a .052 reaction time, and never trailed, taking the stripe with 4.896/310.70 to Head's 4.928/303.09.

    "It's all so emotional for me, really. This has been my dream for so long, and we finally accomplished it. It's a testament to the power of positive thinking, and working together as a team. We've all had the same vision and are working toward the same goal - and that's to win a championship, and this is a huge step toward that goal," he said.

    The win put Ashley solidly in third place in POWERade points with 502, just 100 points behind second place Robert Hight and 153 behind leader Ron Capps. Ashley also jumped into second place in the Skoal Showdown points, a $100,000 race within a race for Funny Car drivers held at the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals and reserved for the racers who qualify the best at the NHRA POWERade Series events completed since the previous year's Showdown.

    "For my family, everyone at Lend America, all my Pro Mod guys - we did it! This is the most amazing feeling. I've won a lot of races and two championships in Pro Mod, but this is the most awesome feeling ever," Ashley said. Ashley is vice president of Lend America, the Official Mortgage Source of NHRA.

    Team Gotham will have just a few short days to enjoy their win, as racing continues next weekend at the Torco Race Fuels Route 66 NHRA Nationals at Route 66 Raceway in Joliet, Ill., June 7-10.

    Chrysler needs a small car, but not from Chery

    James B. Treece is Asia editor of Automotive News.


    James B. Treece
    Automotive News
    June 4, 2007 - 1:00 am

    Chery Automobile Co. has resumed talks with the Chrysler group about building a small car in China for sale under the U.S. carmaker's badge. Talks had been suspended during DaimlerChrysler AG's sale of the Chrysler group.

    Expect Chery to say that the conditions of the deal have changed and to seek some form of sweetener from Chrysler. It's a common bargaining tactic.

    Chrysler boss Tom LaSorda should counter that he's canceling the proposed deal. It was a bad deal before. If anything, Chrysler's separation from Daimler makes it even worse.

    I understand that Chrysler needs small cars to compete in a market where gasoline prices are high and possibly headed higher. But Chery is not the company for the job.

    Headaches ahead

    Chery has never built a car that meets U.S. regulations or customer expectations. Getting such a car out of Chery's factories and into U.S. dealerships is a migraine headache waiting to happen.

    Let's pretend that Chrysler had blueprints for a competitive, fuel-efficient small car that it could simply hand over to Chery. (You don't really believe that, do you?) The U.S. carmaker would have to dispatch a battalion of engineers to China for months, at least, to teach Chery how to build it.

    They would have to instruct Chery in manufacturing techniques, quality control and a host of other skills. For example, automotive executives in China tell tales of Chery or its suppliers switching materials without warning. That can turn an instrument panel from acceptable to reject-grade overnight.

    At the 2005 Shanghai motor show, the license plate on one of its concept cars fell off. The Chery executives, busy glad-handing foreign distributors hoping to sell Chery cars outside China, failed to notice and reattach it.

    Chery's quality has made great strides in recent years, even since that show. But the company isn't ready for prime time yet.

    Chrysler doesn't have the time or resources to devote to teaching Chery how to make a car that's sellable in the United States. But even if it did, should it?

    If the deal goes forward and the car turns out to be a lemon, Chrysler, not Chery, will get a black eye.

    If the car is good, Chery will spend five years learning about the U.S. market and U.S. dealers at Chrysler's expense. And I do mean expense. After five years, Chery could walk away from further deals with Chrysler, sign up its own dealers and - bingo - Chrysler would face another competitor it doesn't need.

    Who is second?

    And it won't be the only one. No major automaker wants to be the first to import a car from China, but several would be willing to be second or third.

    If Chrysler-badged Cherys come to the United States, how long will it be before General Motors starts shipping cars from Shanghai to America? Last month, GM showed possibly the best-looking Buick in years at the Shanghai show. Gossip has it that GM already is doing studies on possibly exporting China-made Cadillacs.

    I predict GM will start exporting cars from China to America anywhere between nine months to a year and half - after someone else goes first.

    If Chrysler just needs a low-cost car in that smaller-size segment, why not turn instead to someone else? Mitsubishi Motors Corp., a one-time Chrysler partner also now free of Daimler managers, could fill the bill. Or Chrysler could call Suzuki Motor Corp., which makes excellent, fuel-efficient small cars and has considerable management experience in working with other carmakers. Or someone else.

    Of course, Cerberus Capital Management, Chrysler's new owner, may not care whether this deal hurts Chrysler five years down the road. Who knows whether its plans for Chrysler even extend that long. But LaSorda should care about what happens then and about the cost today to make it happen.

    Chrysler should buy a small car from an experienced, proven competitor. It ought to avoid spending its time and engineering resources turning Chery into such a competitor.