Nine years on from the creation of DaimlerChrysler, it does seem extraordinary that so many of the company’s vehicle and engine families have little shared technology. Can that really be true? Of course there has been much integration but the fact remains – not only current models, but crucially, many future Mercedes-Benz and Chrysler Group vehicle programmes are still going in different directions.
In those nine years, much has changed, of course. For a brief while, DaimlerChrysler seemed to be pursuing the strategy of handing down obsolete Mercedes-Benz vehicle architectures for its North American subsidiary. It was always denied but there were some major similarities between the LX architecture introduced by the Chrysler 300 in 2004 and the Mercedes-Benz W210 platform. The arrival of the R230 SL-Class in 2001 preceded the W211 E-Class, the volume model on that components set. And a highly intelligent policy it was. The 300 series has been a conspicuous success though the car is coming up for its third birthday, sales are beginning to soften and Chrysler dealers would prefer not to have to wait much longer for the mid-cycle facelift that’s due.
Other Mercedes-Benz hand-me-downs have not fared so well. The R170 SLK-Class, a car that went out of production in early 2004, had been rebodied in 2003 to give Chrysler dealers a car they hadn’t asked for, the Crossfire hatchback. The convertible which followed a year later also failed to get pulses racing, with road testers the world over noting the contrasts between the latest, tight-handling SLK and its fairly ordinary predecessor. Suddenly the public was being told that the brand new Crossfire, a good looking car in either bodystyle, admittedly, was not quite up to the mark as it had to make do with yesterday’s technology. And crucially, what drives sales in this sector, is novelty and brand image. Just look at how sales of the Mazda RX-8, Nissan 350Z and Honda S2000 tailed off in only a few years after each was launched.
The Crossfire is still with us, though there was no 2007 model year coupe or convertible in North America – a sure sign of a glut of unsold cars. It would be surprising if the assembly contract with Karmann weren’t brought to an early end in 2008. Such has been the damage to Chrysler Group brands by last year’s overproduction and feverish discounting in the US that it’s doubtful if the company is seriously entertaining thoughts of another ‘halo’ car.
Looking for more evidence? The Pacifica, a decent enough crossover that has sold moderately well, was unable to command the premium prices that the company initially set for it. Though it was updated for 2007 with new engines (still a four-speed auto for the base version, though) it is not expected to remain in production much beyond next year. Its RS platform is being phased out and there are no plans to launch a replacement – indeed, the 2008 Chrysler and Dodge minivan ranges that introduce the RT architecture will come only in long wheelbase form. Where that leaves the next generation Chrysler Voyager for Europe, no-one’s saying, other than that the current model will be assembled by Magna Steyr until the end of this year.
Where the real synergies could be, you might be forgiven for thinking, is in DaimlerChrysler’s SUVs. Alas, no. Just why Jeep’s WK platform (Grand Cherokee, Commander), introduced in 2004, even exists when the Mercedes-Benz W163 architecture could have been used, seems odd to say the least. It becomes stranger still when you consider that these large 4x4s share no engines, apart from one diesel and even that has had to be re-engineered for its appearance in the Grand Cherokee CRD/Bluetec. In the USA, SUVs don’t have to handle like sportscars, so an outmoded platform would have worked. And surely, with the branding people giving their stamp of approval to a small Jeep on a Mitsubishi car platform, how could there be any difficulties with a slightly soiled M-Class architecture? Indeed – they could have looked to what Skoda has done for some years in Europe – a quiet campaign of suggesting it’s a cut-price version of a more expensive vehicle.
Instead, DaimlerChrysler saw fit to create a new platform, the W164, for not just the second generation ML-Class, but the GL- and R-Classes that are built alongside it at Vance in Alabama. Yet, even overlooking that decisions, why consign the old platform to history when it could have been re-engineered to create mid-sized and large Jeep and Dodge SUVs?
These are the vehicles that really should be sharing just about everything. They could be vastly profitable but instead Chrysler Group is hindered by a variety of engine families and platforms for its pickups and SUVs. If Nissan can engineer not only the mid sized Frontier and full size Titan pickups but the Pathfinder and Infiniti QX56 off the same Alpha-F architecture, and all with shared engines, then why does Dodge need three platforms (ND: Dakota, HB: Durango, DR: Ram 1500, 2500 & 3500)?
There is something even more striking about the current Chrysler Group’s platforms than the astonishing fact that there are 14 of them, and that is that many of the three brands’ current and future models do not and will not be DaimlerChrysler designs. Former subsidiary Mitsubishi is the source for the Chrysler Sebring sedan and convertible plus the P T Cruiser replacement, as well as the Dodge Caliber, Nitro, Avenger and a Ford Edge rival that’s due next year. Jeep is also part of the strategy, with the Compass and Patriot both sitting on the Mitsubishi ‘C’ platform, that’s shared with the 2008 Lancer sedan.
Should any company be looking at Chrysler Group and thinking ‘can we separate these three brands from DaimlerChrysler?’, the answer would have to be no, as there is little need. The current synergies are with Mitsubishi and the ties there are even stronger when you consider the Chrysler-MMC-Hyundai-Kia shared four-cylinder engine project. And where else is DaimlerChrysler looking for future Chrysler Group products? To China and the supply deal with Chery Automobile. So any buyer of the Chrysler Group would not be acquiring a subsidiary of Mercedes-Benz but instead a company focussed on North America that’s reliant on several Asian partners not one European master.
Glenn Brooks also works as a consultant to just-auto on the Production Life DataBase, a model level database showing the production life of 1803 current and future models produced (or to be produced) globally by 205 brands from 130 groups.