Friday, September 7, 2007

Chrysler's coup

DETROIT - Chrysler pulled off a major coup Thursday, hiring away the highly-regarded Jim Press, Toyota's top North American executive, to run its sales and marketing operations.

Press, 60, formerly president and chief operating officer for Toyota in North America and the first non-Japanese member of Toyota Motor Corp.'s board of directors, will become Chrysler vice chairman and president.

He joins new Chairman and chief executive Robert Nardelli and Tom LaSorda on Chrysler LLC's top management team. LaSorda already has and will retain the same titles as Press.

LaSorda will run the company's manufacturing and purchasing operations, while Press will handle sales, marketing and product strategy, said company spokesman Mike Aberlich.

Toyota said Press' resignation will be effective Sept. 14. Shigeru Hayakawa, a Japanese veteran at the company and Toyota managing officer, will be the new president of Toyota North America.

Hiring Press is Chrysler's second major executive announcement since August, when private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management LP took control of 80.1 percent of the company from DaimlerChrysler AG. Cerberus announced Aug. 6 that Nardelli, a former Home Depot Inc. CEO, would become Chrysler's chairman and CEO.

"Toyota has been the centerpiece of my life. This was the most difficult decision I have made," Press said in a statement.

Press, an American, has been with Toyota for 37 years. His rise at Toyota was widely seen as furthering the company's effort to bolster its standing as a multinational corporation.

"Jim has played a significant role in strengthening Toyota's presence in the U.S," Toyota President Katsuaki Watanabe said. "I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to all he has done for Toyota."

Press comes to Chrysler with a great record of success at Toyota, which has seen continued U.S. sales increases for the past several years. Chrysler's sales have been dropping.

Aberlich said hiring Press is no reflection on LaSorda, who was demoted from chairman and CEO when Nardelli was hired. "The guy is such a remarkable 'get' that you're going to do it," Aberlich said of Press, equating the hiring with a baseball team bringing another power hitter onto its roster.

Chrysler would not comment on Press' compensation package, and because it now is a private company, details likely will be kept quiet.

Aberlich said the compensation, like Nardelli's, will be tied to Chrysler's performance. "He'll help turn us around, and he'll be rewarded."

Press will face two immediate challenges: managing the launch of crucial new vehicles such as the Chrysler Town & Country minivan and Dodge Avenger sedan, and repairing the company's frayed relations with its dealers. Both tasks should play to his strengths.

As the key figure at Toyota's Torrance, Calif .-based U.S. sales division from 1999 to 2005, Press served as the automaker's eyes and ears in this country and was credited with having a keen understanding of what appealed to U.S. drivers. As head of Toyota Motor Sales USA, Press led Toyota's rapid sales climb from a 9.3 percent U.S. market share in 2000 to 13.1 percent in 2005.

"He's smart enough to know how to bring to market what the customer wants," said Jim Hall, an analyst with Tustin, Calif. -based consulting company AutoPacific Inc. "And knowing the secret of how to put the customer No. 1 is how Toyota went from being an importer with their headquarters Hollywood Boulevard to what may be the smartest car company on the planet."

Press also displayed a talent for working with car dealers, which will be "incredibly important at Chrysler because Chrysler has bungled its relations with its dealers," said Michelle Krebs, editor of Edmunds'

Press is the second Toyota defector to join Auburn Hills, Mich.-based Chrysler. Last month, it hired a top marketing executive from the other company's Lexus luxury division - a division Press ran in the 1990s. Deborah Wahl Meyer, 44, was named vice president and chief marketing officer.

Chrysler Group records high first quarter sales in the Middle East

[Story credit - click on link]

Middle East subsidiary of DaimlerChrysler has released the sales figures showing strong sales for Chrysler Jeep and Dodge across the region for the first quarter of 2007.

Trent Barcroft, Vice President, DaimlerChrysler Middle East said, 'It's been a great opening to the year for all three brands'. He also added, We achieved all of our sales objectives and delivered a 29% increase in volume against the same period last year - that's significant in such a highly competitive market, and testimony to the quality, appeal and overall value for money that our brands represent.?br />

As DaimlerChryslerproducer of high quality Jeep mufflers ---continues with its aggressive programme of new model introductions that includes the all-new Jeep Wrangler, Jeep Dodge Nitro, and Wrangler Unlimitedall equipped with durable and power boosting Jeep muffler -- and Chrysler Sebring, ---all launched this year--2007 looks likely to be another record sales year. Barcroft has also said, Sales in Qatar, in particular, were incredible, with volume up 154% against 2006. All of our distributors have worked really hard, and with great new models to sell, they're reaching new heights.?br />

Barcroft also said, Chrysler Group's clear definition between brand offerings, improved quality and overall value are ensuring balanced sales among the top products. In 2007, we expect this to continue as we introduce an all-time record number of new models, all of which are part of a balanced product portfolio and are designed to meet the needs of a specific group of customers, and complement, not compete with one another.?br />

The first new model introductions of 2007 are already available in the Middle East, and so far have been very successful in boosting sales and interest levels. According to Craig Hardie, Marketing and Communications Manager - Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge - DaimlerChrysler Middle East, 'The first shipment of Dodge Nitro's that we received sold out immediately - more stock is on the way. Response to the Jeep Wrangler, the Wrangler Unlimited and Chrysler Sebring has also been extremely positive, driving many new customers to our brands, and with the Dodge Avenger and Jeep Patriot still to be launched in the Middle East, we're highly optimistic about our continued growth in the Middle East!?br />

The best sales month so far for the Chrysler Group's operations outside North America happened last March 2007 and marked the 22nd consecutive months of year-on-year sales gains. The sales for March 2007 grew by 18% as compared to the same period in 2006 and closed with a total of 22,375 units sold. The sales outside North America has also increased by 13 percent over the same period last year which records 52,570 units sold.

Thomas Hausch, Executive Director of International Sales and Marketing said, The efforts of our sales teams in all of our international regions contributed to the March sales performance. We have said that our business outside North America has a key role in the Chrysler Group's Recovery and Transformation Plan. These markets have solid teams in place to help grow our business, and with the right products tailored to meet the needs of global markets, there is a lot of potential to reach new customers.?br />

Sales has also continued to grow in a steady level in key markets throughout Western Europe, surprisingly reaching highest monthly volumes ever for regions such as Latin America, which has obtained sales of up to 43% in March, contributing to the high sales recorded by Chrysler Group for the same month. The combined sales of Chrysler AG for Eastern Europe and Russia rose by 69% and compared to the first quarter of 2006 its up by 45%.

The Dodge brand is also enjoying an increasing demand starting off with the Dodge Caliber which has surpassed the rest of the other Chrysler Group vehicles and made it as Chryslers International top-selling vehicle to date with 7,964 units sold. The Jeep Grand Cherokee and the Chrysler 300C sales ranked second and third reporting sales of 7,771 and 7,616 units respectively.



FRESNO, Calif. (Sept. 6, 2007)

Four-time NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series champion Gary Scelzi has committed to compete in all 24 national events in 2008 with Don Schumacher Racing, driving the Mopar/Oakley Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car.

When the four-time NHRA world champion made the announcement earlier this season that he would take a sabbatical from NHRA racing to spend more time with the family business and his family, he left the door open to the possibility that he might return under the right circumstances. Those right circumstances have come to pass, as Scelzi has received, and accepted, an offer from NHRA team owner Ken Black to fly him on his private jet to and from 10 events in 2008 so that Scelzi can spend more time working at Scelzi Enterprises and still pursue his NHRA drag-racing career.

"I'm extremely excited about being able to come back with DSR," said Scelzi. "I know some people on the Internet have said I demanded a jet in order to keep drag racing. I did no such thing. I was asked how could I stay in the sport and I made a joke, saying, Well, if someone could fly me out on Thursdays or Fridays and have me back in Fresno on Sunday nights it would be a big help. I never demanded it, and I never put that kind of pressure on anyone.

"Ken Black actually called me and offered to fly me back and forth so I could stay at Don Schumacher Racing, because he's only 40 minutes away from Fresno in Las Vegas. He said he could fly me to at least 10 races. Well, 10 races to me adds up to 20 days back at work at Scelzi Enterprises, which is a month, no matter how you look at it.

"People think that this job is an easy job with the travel, but when you look at it, two days at every event adds up quickly, so one month at home or being able to work is huge for me. Flying commercial the other times we can deal with.

"Between appearances, testing days, the events and the rainouts, you're never home. So this is going to make my life a whole lot easier. And hopefully by the end of 2008 I'll have my business affairs in order to where I might be able to miss more days, and work things out with my family to be able to do continue on a more regular racing schedule.

"I'm very pleased that Don hadn't filled the seat and is able to work with Ken Black and allow Ken to step in and help the situation so we can all do what we need to do to try to win another POWERade championship. I can't thank Ken Black enough for making this offer.

"It also meant a great deal to me that at every race the fans supported my decision about being home with my business and my family, but they all wanted me to return. They would say, 'Don't be gone long. We need you out here.' Those kind words meant a lot to me, and the later we got into the season the more people would say things like that."

Crew chief Okuhara was happy with the news:
"I'm thrilled that Gary's going to be back," he said. "He is so easy to work with, he's really positive, energetic and he makes it a lot of fun. I'm looking forward to not only continuing to try to win a championship this season, but in 2008 as well."

Don Schumacher:
"Gary is coming back because he's committed to winning a world championship. I'm glad that we were able to get all of this worked out and I certainly thank Ken Black for accommodating Gary at some of the events so Gary can get back home and spend 20-plus days both at home with his family and his business. That's really what allowed Gary to make the decision to continue with Don Schumacher Racing as he competes for another NHRA POWERade world championship."

Gary Scelzi is a four-time NHRA world champion - three Top Fuel crowns and one Funny Car championship. He has won 35 national events in 56 final rounds. So far, in 2007, he is seventh in the new Countdown to Four playoffs standings.

Automobile Quarterly
Automobile Quarterly
This Day in Auto History:

A Riker Electric Trap driven by Andrew L. Riker and C. H. Whiting wins the first closed-course automobile race in United States at the Rhode Island State Fair in Narragansett Park
Racer Lee Wallard is born in Schenectady, NY
Willaim A. Besserdich is awarded a patent for his Steering Mechanism, a design used on most 4-wheel-drive vehicles
Racer Donnie Joseph Allison is born in Miami, FL
Racer Rad Dougall is born in South Africa

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

Nardelli to detail action plan

Bill Pugliano / Getty Images North America

Renewed focus on customers tops list of initiatives to revamp carmaker.

Bill Vlasic / The Detroit News

Chrysler CEO Bob Nardelli outlined the "five initiatives" at a corporate r

Bob Nardelli will roll out his vision for Chrysler LLC today in a speech that focuses on five "initiatives" to improve the newly independent automaker.

In his first major policy address since becoming chairman of Chrysler last month, Nardelli is scheduled to outline his action plan to members of the Automotive Press Association in Detroit.

The speech is expected to highlight key points shared recently with the top 300 executives in Chrysler's management team at a closed-door corporate retreat, according to people close to Chrysler.

Nardelli, a veteran General Electric executive and former CEO of Home Depot Inc., was a surprise choice as Chrysler's chairman by the automaker's new owner, the private-equity firm Cerberus Capital Management.

In an internal Chrysler e-mail and videotape obtained by The Detroit News, Nardelli and Chrysler President Tom LaSorda outlined "the five initiatives" needed to revamp the company's image and operations.

The four-minute videotape was filmed during the executive retreat held in Dearborn late last month.

In the tape, Nardelli and LaSorda laid out a plan with five points: "Customer First," "QualityPeriod," "Going Global," "Be Green" and "Powered by Great People."

Putting a renewed focus on customers topped the list, followed closely be a greater commitment on quality.

Expanding international operations is also a critical goal for Chrysler, which derives nearly 90 percent of its revenues from North American operations.

Nardelli is also emphasizing Chrysler's need to be more "green," or environmentally friendly, in its development of fuel-efficient products and manufacturing facilities.

Finally, Nardelli will hone in on personnel issues by challenging employees to be "great" as Chrysler moves forward as a private company after nine years as a division of the German automaker DaimlerChrysler AG.

In his videotaped message to employees, Nardelli made it clear that he expected the five principles to be adhered to throughout the organization.

"It's very important that we have fundamental alignment across our company," he said.

In his speech to automotive journalists, Nardelli is also expected to underscore the need for flawless execution of Chrysler's "recovery and transformation" plan.

"We're going to use the recovery and transformation plan as the means of how we focus on the execution going forward," Nardelli said in the videotape to employees.

Ebay Auction: 2008 Dodge Viper for $245,000.00

Now you can own the Dodge Viper that beat the Bugatti Veyron in the 2007 ROAD & TRACK 0-200 MPH Supercar Shootout.

Here are some of the numbers on the Viper:

1000 hp @ 5000 rpm
1100 lb-ft torque @ 3800 rpm

0-60 mph: 2.9 sec.
0-100 mph: 5.8 sec.
0-150 mph: 10.7 sec.
0-200 mph: 19.4 sec.
Top Speed: 255 mph

2008 Dodge : Viper -

Credit on title

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Chrysler 300C SRT8 Project Car

Chrysler 300C SRT8 Project Car

This supercharged modern hotrod, owned by our friend AJ Greco of Las Vegas, Nevada, was on display in the DaimlerChrysler booth at the SEMA show. It was also featured on the cover of the March 2006 issue of SuperRod Magazine. We are thrilled to be involved in the development of this unique supercar!

Click on any of the thumbnail photos below to view the full sized photo

Cimtex Rods

Custom two-tone paint job with factory silver on top and House of Colors "True Blue" on the bottom.

Painting in process at Cimtex Rods in Jerrold, TX

Rear spoiler fully integrated into trunk lid

Rear spoiler painted

Eight coats of clear and wet sanded

Graphic artwork by Rodney Hutcherson

Art work by Total Kaos Design (Rodney Hutcherson) in Houston, who has worked with Chip Foose, Roy Pickford and other top builders.

Alumicraft Street Rod Grills

Custom grill fabricated by Dan Baker at his shop in Bellwood, PA.

GS Motorsports

Supercharger set up for 8 pounds of boost and nearly 600 rear wheel horsepower.

Supercharger and intercooler


StopTech built this custom set of brakes with 6-piston front calipers and 380x32mm rotors, 4-piston rear calipers with 355x32mm rotors.

Custom wheels by Wheel Concepts

The wheels do an amazing job of showing off the StopTech brakes and even the Moton shocks!

Kooks Custom Headers

George Kook built one-off prototype headers and complete exhaust using this car as a template.

Hogan Manifolds

Hand-built custom manifold

Moton Shocks

In cooperation with H&R, Moton built custom double-adjustible shocks so the SRT8 can compete in the Super Car Challenge

Front Shocks

Rear Shocks

Intake & shocks in final position

Turn your Jeep into a pickup

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(Photos by WILLIAM ARCHIE/Detroit Free Press)

Greg Henderson, 29, of Lennon works on a Jeep Wrangler being customized into a Brute on Aug. 21 at American Expedition Vehicles.

    Michael Chetcuti's metal stamping business -- Quality Metalcraft Inc. in Livonia -- bought the Jeep customizer American Expedition Vehicles last year.

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The need for speed works to the advantage of metro Detroit vehicle customizers

There are huge boxes -- about the size of two dishwashers -- landing on doorsteps, at auto garages and dealerships across the country.

Inside are all the parts you would need to turn a Jeep Wrangler into a pickup, known as a Brute.hose boxes, which sell for about $9,000 each, come from the Walled Lake garage of American Expedition Vehicles, which soups up Jeeps for off-roading and assembles kits for do-it-yourselfers to customize their own vehicles.

Most of the parts come from Michigan.

In contrast to declines in most of the state's auto industry, American Expedition Vehicles, which has grown from five to 30 employees in the last year, moved its headquarters from Montana to Michigan.

"We can source any part within a 45-minute drive of this building," said Michael Chetcuti, a new owner of American Expedition Vehicles.

His metal stamping business -- Quality Metalcraft Inc. in Livonia -- bought the Jeep customizer last year.

Chetcuti, 43, grew up in Southfield. He plans to buy five more companies in as many years as part of a strategy to grab hold of a growing and quickly changing market for customized cars and low-volume automotive accessories.

The U.S. market for accessories added after a vehicle has rolled off the assembly line is nearly $37 billion and growing at about 7% a year, according to the Specialty Equipment Manufacturers Association.

"We're really at a threshold right now," said Peter MacGillivray, vice president of communications and events for the association. "Consumers have bought into the notion that they are what they drive and their vehicles are a reflection of their personalities."

Quality Metalcraft, with about 270 employees, makes metal low-volume production and concept vehicles. The company, founded by Chetcuti's father 43 years ago, made prototype minivan bodies for Chrysler LLC.

Sales at Quality Metalcraft have been flat this year. The stamping business can be unpredictable because automakers can easily change plans on concept and specialty vehicles.

American Expedition Vehicles, on the other hand, has seen strong growth. Chetcuti wouldn't reveal any sales or volume numbers, but said the company booked more business in the first three months of this year than it did in all of 2006.

Chetcuti says that metro Detroit, with its automotive expertise and extra capacity, is ideal to serve a growing demand for accessories -- and is better than low-cost countries like China and India where parts makers have shifted their manufacturing of high-volume parts.

"For extremely trendy aftermarket parts and accessories, because of the volume -- the volumes are low -- there is no better place in the world to do it than Detroit," he said.

That's because in fast-changing niche markets, suppliers don't have time to wait for shipments from other countries.

Typically, automakers take in about 10 weeks of inventory from suppliers in low-cost countries so there's enough time to ship more over.

Some trends don't have 10 weeks.

"By the time we worked all that out, we would have probably missed the market and a competitor would have swept in and grabbed the business ... and then you've got to be off to the next thing," Chetcuti said. The need for speed works to the advantage of metro Detroit.

"When you get into a very niche product with high visibility and a high profile, people are willing to pay a little more for the product," Chetcuti said. That offers the revenue to pay for higher labor costs in Michigan.

Timing will become all the more important for American Expedition Vehicles as it tries to catch the eye of trendsetters.

Chetcuti said, "We'd like to have a Paris Hilton effect and get beyond the rock-crawling market."

The low-volume business model can be a profitable one, but it won't work for every auto-parts maker, said David Andrea, vice president of business development for the Original Equipment Suppliers Association.

"The core market will still remain high-volume production for the mass market," he said.

Jim Press leaves Toyota to join Chrysler as president

Jim Press

Dale Jewett
Automotive News
September 6, 2007 - 9:25 am EST UPDATED: 9/5/07 10:03 a.m. EST

Jim Press, Toyota Motor Corp.'s top executive in the United States, today was named a vice chairman and president of Chrysler LLC.

In his new job, Press has the same title as Tom LaSorda. Chrysler said LaSorda will be responsible for manufacturing and suppliers, while Press will be responsible for sales and marketing, product strategy and service and parts. Both will report to Chrysler CEO Bob Nardelli.

Press worked for Toyota for 37 years.

Press will leave as president and chief operating officer of Toyota North America and a director of the Japanese automaker on Friday, Sept. 14.

Press is the second high-ranking Toyota executive to defect to Chrysler in the last month. In late August, Lexus division vice president of marketing Debra Wahl Meyer, joined Chrysler as the company's chief marketing officer.

Press joins Chrysler after 37 years with Toyota and two months after DaimlerChrysler AG sold a majority stake in the carmaker to private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management in a $7.4-billion deal.

"Part of my new responsibilities will be strengthening and energizing the dealer body," Press said in a statement. "This is something I was passionate about at Toyota and will be passionate about at Chrysler."

Meanwhile, Toyota named Shigeru Hayakawa to replace Press as president of its North American operations.

You may e-mail Dale Jewett at

PRESS RELEASE: Press leaves Toyota for Chrysler
Chairman and CEO Robert L. Nardelli teams former Toyota chief With Vice Chairman and President Thomas W. LaSorda

"World-class supply and demand leaders"

Joins Nardelli and LaSorda in new Office of the Chairman and On Board of Directors of Chrysler LLC

Press to run North American Sales, International Sales, Global Marketing, Product Strategy, and Service and Parts

AUBURN HILLS, MICH. -- Chrysler LLC Chairman and CEO Robert Nardelli today announced the appointment of James Press as Vice Chairman and President. Press, who was President and Chief Operating Officer of Toyota Motors in North America Inc. and a Director of the parent company, will now be responsible for North American Sales, International Sales, Global Marketing, Product Strategy, and Service and Parts for Chrysler LLC.

"Tom LaSorda and I are thrilled that one of the most successful executives in the history of the auto industry has joined our leadership team at the New Chrysler," said Nardelli. "Our top team now consists of a world-class ‘supply’ leader in Tom and an equally world-class ‘demand’ leader in Jim."

"I’ve known Jim for many years and know that he will hit the ground sprinting," said LaSorda. "I look forward to partnering with him and Bob as part of the Office of the Chairman."

Press joins LaSorda as a Vice Chairman and President, reporting to Nardelli. LaSorda’s responsibilities will continue to include Manufacturing, Procurement and Supply, Employee Relations and Global Business Development and Alliances.

"I am grateful for the support and opportunities I received during my three-plus decades at Toyota," said Press. "I relish this new opportunity with the Chrysler team to be a part of the resurgence of a true American icon here and around the world. Part of my new responsibilities will be strengthening and energizing the dealer body. This is something I was passionate about at Toyota and will be passionate about at Chrysler."

Press joins Chrysler after 37 years with Toyota, where he most recently served as the first non-Japanese President of Toyota Motor North America Inc., responsible for sales, engineering and the company’s 15 manufacturing plants with 41,000 employees in North America. He was also the first non-Japanese executive selected to the Board of Directors of Toyota Motor Corporation.

During his tenure at Toyota, the company grew from an upstart new company selling 100,000 vehicles per year to the second largest auto company in the United States.

Automobile Quarterly
Automobile Quarterly
This Day in Auto History:

A Stearns 30-60 with seven passengers on board becomes the first motor vehicle to reach the summit of Pikes Peak, CO under its own power for the entire distance
Stewart James Wolfe of General Motors and American Motors is born in Kings, NY
V. G. Barford, Chief Designer for J. I. Thornycroft & Company, Ltd., dies at age 66
Richard Vryling Le Sueur, President of the Imperial Oil Company, Ltd., dies in Toronto, ON, Canada at age 64
Rudolph C. Norberg, President of the Willard Storage Battery Company 1928-1941, dies at age 77

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

Family values

New Chrysler minivans have enough fun video and seating features to keep everyone amused on trips

These are uneasy days at Chrysler: new ownership, a new boss and a new union contract in the works.

One thing is certain, though: The company that invented the minivan still builds the best minivans you can buy. Take that to the bank. Chrysler will.

The new 2008 Dodge Grand Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country minivans are equal parts vehicle and playroom, with a distinctive and attractive new exterior design wrapped around the kid-friendliest features on the road.

Minivans are serious business for Chrysler. It builds about 4 out of every 10 minivans sold in the United States and relies heavily on the kid carriers for profits.

Serious, grown-up stuff, but a minivan succeeds on its ability to keep the munchkins and moms happy.

Nobody does this better than Chrysler, as its new minivans prove.

Open the sliding doors and children's faces light up like they just cleared the turnstiles at Cedar Point.

The 2008 Grand Caravan and Town & Country have so many unique and appealing features the kids barely know where to begin. It's like choosing which roller coaster to ride first.

Should they face each other and play cards in the one-of-kind swiveling second-row seats? Or they could have lunch at the removable picnic table between the second and third rows of seats.

Or watch "High School Musical 2" on the two video screens, since the new minivans are the only ones equipped to receive three different channels of kid-friendly programming from Sirius' new satellite TV service.

Or watch a DVD on the same video screens. A third small screen in the dashboard also shows the video when the van is in park.

It's a tough choice for kids, but nothing like the challenge parents may face getting the little ones to leave the minivan at the end of a trip. The plea for "five minutes more" may have just moved from the TV room to the driveway.

I took a Grand Caravan SXT to the homes of several friends with young children. The responses were identical every time. The kids loved it. The parents were pleased but nervous, afraid their children were developing Champagne tastes on a juice-box budget.

Not so much.

The minivan I drove sells for $32,390. Not spare change, but you can easily pay thousands more for a Honda Odyssey, Nissan Quest or Toyota Sienna.

And none of them even offers the swiveling seats, picnic table or satellite TV.

Prices for the 2008 Dodge Grand Caravan start at $21,740 for an SE model with a 175-horsepower 3.3-liter V6 engine. The Grand Caravan SXT comes with a 195-horsepower 3.8-liter V6 at $26,805. All prices exclude destination charges.

The Chrysler Town & Country lineup starts at $22,460 for an LX model with the 3.3-liter engine. The Touring model gets the 3.8-liter engine and a $27,700 price tag. A top-of-the-line Limited stickers at $35,670 and features a 251-horsepower 4.0-liter V6. The 4.0-liter is available as an option on the Grand Caravan SXT.

The 3.8- and 4.0-liter V6s come with Chrysler's new six-speed automatic transmission. The Grand Caravan and Town & Country are the only minivans with a six-speed automatic. The smooth gearbox provides excellent performance and helps the minivans achieve good 16 m.p.g. city/23 m.p.g. highway in EPA fuel economy tests.

Despite the weight added by the new features, the Dodge and Chrysler's fuel economy matches the Odyssey, Quest, Chevrolet Uplander, Hyundai Entourage and Kia Sedona.

The front-wheel-drive Sienna averaged 1 m.p.g. better in the EPA's city and highway tests. That would save its driver $126 a year, according to the EPA's calculations.

An all-wheel-drive Sienna has slightly worse fuel economy than the Dodge or Chrysler, which offer only front-drive models.

The 3.8-liter in the Grand Caravan I tested provided plenty of power that was complemented by firm brakes with good pedal feel, responsive steering and a smooth, quiet ride.

Interior room is excellent, particularly head and shoulder room, both of which increase dramatically thanks to the vans' crisp and upright exterior design. That styling is a notable departure from the egg-shaped body Chrysler pioneered and other successful minivans have followed.

The vans' solid and substantial new look drew appreciative comments from men and women alike. The new design fell short in one place, however. A crease in the metal of the D-pillar -- between the rear window and the tailgate -- looks good, but leaves the trailing edge of the rear windows raised slightly above the metal. It's a design issue rather than an assembly problem, but the result is the same: a piece that looks poorly fitted.

In addition to the unique new Swivel 'n Go rotating second-row seats, the minivans can be ordered with Stow 'n Go seats that fold out of the way under the floor or with a removable second-row bench seat.

All three seating arrangements come with the big under-floor storage bin Chrysler introduced. The rotating Swivel 'n Go seats are easy to manipulate and scored five stars -- facing either front or rear -- in crash tests.

I had to move the front seats forward to turn the Swivel 'n Go seats around. That's not a problem, but the lack of memory for a seat that's likely to be moved frequently is a small drawback, as is the lack of twilight-sensing headlights.

A one-touch power folding rear seat is optional, and the manual rear seat can be flipped over to face out for tailgating. The optional picnic table can be attached to the rear bumper or between the second and third rows of seats.

There's not much leg room for adults when the middle seats face rear, but the layout works brilliantly up to at least 12 years old.

The optional rotating seats are available in all models for $225. Getting those seats and the removable picnic table costs $495.

The driver's seat is very comfortable. The controls and gauges are all within easy reach and the materials look and feel good, particularly a soft, wide area at the base of the windows that's ideal for resting your elbow as you drive.

The overall feel of space and comfort is reminiscent of a luxury sedan more than a minivan.

The new Town & Country and Grand Caravan won't relieve all the stress at Chrysler these days. No one vehicle will. But if Chrysler brings this level of innovation and excellence to the rest of its new vehicles, its workers should be as happy and secure as a child in one of its new minivans.lick thumbnails to zoom


(ERIC SEALS/Detroit Free Press)

The vans' solid and substantial new look drew appreciative comments from men and women alike.

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  • (ERIC SEALS/Detroit Free Press)

    The exterior is a departure from the egg-shaped body Chrysler pioneered.

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Minivans fill a need with easy access for families

VIDEO: Mark Phelan reviews the new Chrylser minivans


2008 Dodge Grand Caravan SXT minivan

Vehicle type: Front-wheel drive seven-seat minivan

Reasons to buy: Unique interior features, value, comfort

Shortcomings: Lack of some common features, rotating rear seats lack adult legroom.

Rating: **** (out of four stars)

Key: **** Best in class, *** Above average, ** Competent, * Below average

Front-wheel drive seven-seat minivan

Base price: $26,805 (excluding destination charges)

As tested: $32,390

Standard equipment: Antilock brakes with brake assist; electronic stability control; curtain air bags; power adjustable pedals; tire pressure monitor and warning light; variable intermittent windshield wipers; rear variable intermittent windshield wiper and washer; three-zone climate control system; rear-seat climate controls; eight-way power driver's seat; second-row underfloor storage compartment; 60/40 flat-folding third-row seat with tailgate function; Yes Essentials stain and odor resistant fabric seats; power front windows with express up/down for driver and express down for passenger; power second-row windows; power locks; remote keyless entry with engine immobilizer; tilt steering column; cruise control; AM/FM stereo with in-dash MP3-compatible CD player; leather-wrapped steering wheel; overhead ambient lighting; swiveling rear reading lamps; overhead storage bins; overhead console with conversation mirror; illuminated front cupholders; illuminated vanity mirrors; universal garage door opener; steering-wheel mounted audio controls; rearview day/night mirror; dual glove boxes; interior assist handles; floor and cargo area carpets; fog lamps; power heated fold-away sideview mirrors; 16-inch aluminum wheels; compact spare tire.

Options: Heated front seats; heated second-row seats; sliding front center console with four cupholders and two-level storage; 20GB hard drive for videos, music and photos; parking assist rear video camera; ambient lighting; removable rechargeable flashlight; power tailgate; roof rack; 506-watt premium sound system with nine Infinity speakers and subwoofer; Swivel 'n Go second-row seats; light shale seats; removable picnic table; DVD player with two rear video screens, remote control and wireless headphones; power folding third-row seat; one-year service with Sirius satellite radio; Sirius satellite TV with children's programming.

Specifications as tested

Engine: 3.8-liter OHV 12-valve V6

Power: 195 horsepower at 5,200 r.p.m.; 230 pound-feet of torque at 4,000 r.p.m.

Transmission: Six-speed automatic

Fuel economy: 16 m.p.g. city/23 m.p.g. highway

Wheelbase: 121.2 inches

Length: 202.5 inches

Width: 78.7 inches (excluding mirrors)

Height: 68.9 inches

Curb weight: 4,483 pounds

Where assembled: Windsor

Comparative base prices (not including destination charges)

(Prices for 2008 models not available)

2007 Honda Odyssey EX-L w/rear entertainment: $32,695

2007 Hyundai Entourage Limited: $28,895

2007 Nissan Quest 3.5 SE: $33,900

2007 Toyota Sienna XLE Limited: $35,465

Motor Trend Images: 2008 Dodge Viper