Tuesday, April 15, 2008

An alliance would suit Chrysler well


It's hard to imagine two automakers whose product lines dovetail more neatly than Chrysler LLC and Renault-Nissan.

If the companies' latest agreement presages a deeper long-term partnership, it's also hard to imagine a better outcome for Chrysler and its workers.

Chrysler will build a full-size pickup based on the new 2009 Ram for Nissan in 2011, Chrysler Vice Chairman Tom LaSorda said, using one of its strengths to provide a vehicle where Nissan is weak. Nissan's Titan full-size pickup has never lived up to the automaker's expectations, falling victim to low sales and high incentives.

Equally, Nissan's agreement to build a small car for Chrysler should give the Auburn Hills automaker its best small car ever, and will probably provide a badly needed subcompact to compete with fuel-efficient models like the Toyota Yaris, Honda Fit, Chevrolet Aveo and Ford Verve.

With a little luck, the small Chrysler could hit the roads before the much-ballyhooed Verve does in 2010.

Each automaker swears its models will have a unique design. The Chrysler may look like the popular Hornet concept car shown in Geneva two years ago.

Carry the logic forward, and it's easy to see other areas where Chrysler, Nissan and Nissan's French owner Renault can complement each other.

Chrysler builds the best minivans on the market. Nissan's Quest minivan is an also-ran. The Nissan Altima, on the other hand, is one of the most popular front-wheel-drive midsize cars in America, easily outselling the Chrysler Sebring and Dodge Avenger combined through the first three months of this year.

Nissan struggles to sell large SUVs, but is successful with its midsize SUVs. Chrysler helped create the upscale SUV market with the Jeep Grand Cherokee, but it lacks a winner the size and price of Nissan's Xterra and Frontier.

The symmetry flows up and down the product lines. From Nissan's portfolio of crossover vehicles to Chrysler's wildly successful rear-wheel-drive Chrysler 300 and Dodge Challenger sedans, each company is strong where the other is weak.

The companies fit together like dancing partners, even in areas like alternate fuels technology. Nissan's upcoming hybrid system and Renault's excellent diesels would help Chrysler, while the American company's sales volume and dealer network would help the Franco-Japanese company pay for the expensive technologies.

Executives at Chrysler and Nissan downplay any suggestion of a full-blown alliance, but engineers in Auburn Hills and workers at Chrysler's plants should keep their fingers crossed. They may never find another partner that needs what they do well and offsets Chrysler's weaknesses as well as Renault-Nissan.

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