Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Chrysler exec: Journey started on the inside

Jim Issner, who guided the Dodge Journey to production, says the new crossover was designed to “fit in customers’ lifestyles between the Caliber and the minivan.”

Jim Issner guided the Dodge Journey to production, then was promoted to become Chrysler LLC's vice president of advance vehicle engineering. He's a veteran of nearly three decades at Chrysler.

Issner spoke with Staff Reporter Bradford Wernle at the launch of the Journey in Las Vegas.

What was your overall target in designing the Journey?

We wanted a crossover for the Dodge brand, a vehicle that would fit in customers' lifestyles between the Caliber and the minivan, especially with the short-wheelbase minivan not being part of the new minivan program.

When we looked at the position between the Caliber and the minivans, we saw a lot of crossovers in the market.

What do you need to compete in that segment?

Storage and innovative features in the interior are the heart of opportunity in that market, which goes along with good ride and handling, excellent NVH (noise, vibration and harshness).

What features are you proud of on the Journey?

There are a lot of things I'm happy we did. I think we've got an efficient three-row package for seating seven people. We increased the wheelbase 4.9 inches, but the vehicle is only 1.7 inches longer overall than the Dodge Avenger.

Some of the thoughtful features like the storage bins give us an opportunity to have some things our competition doesn't have.

At what point did you decide to delete the 2.7-liter V-6 engine?

It was late in the program. We had a management ride-and-drive at Chelsea (Chrysler's proving ground in Chelsea, Mich.). The 2.7 didn't provide enough benefit over the four-cylinder. Having that extra powertrain seemed to be a confusion point for our customers. The right thing seemed to be to go with the 3.5-liter V-6. The decision to take out the 2.7 was the right thing to do for the product and the customer.

Why did you make the changes so late?

We went after the Journey with the idea we're going to come out of the box right.

You plan to sell the Journey here and overseas. That means you'll be competing with different vehicles, such as the Ford S-Max over there and the Ford Edge here. What kind of challenge is that?

If you create a unique product for the European market like the S-Max and the Edge over here, that requires significant capital investment. Our strategy would suggest we can compete with one vehicle in both markets. I guess the marketplace will tell us whether we've been successful.

But from a technical standpoint, there's nothing that would preclude me from doing that with a single vehicle. It's not so much a technical challenge as a marketing challenge.

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