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2007 Detroit Auto Show: Chrysler Nassau

Four-Door Coupe Hatchback: Awkward Bodystyle Answers a Question No One Asked
Chrysler has made it a tradition to introduce its most important, or sometimes just most fun, concepts at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit every January. This year, the Chrysler brand contribution is the Nassau. While it does play better in the tin than in photos, we’re not convinced it is a clear direction for Chrysler. After spending a few days at the show, we do confess that ours may not be the prevailing opinion. Even within the office, there were conflicting opinions on the success of the concept.

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Nassau takes the 300’s rear wheel drive platform and the SRT8 6.1L HEMI V8 and, with a nip here and tuck there, put a new body on it. Probably inspired in part by the Mercedes-Benz four-door CLS coupe, Nassau takes a stab at the four-door coupe look. Sort of. Instead of a traditional trunk, there is a stylized hatchback, effectively muddling it beyond recognition or clear identification. As Trevor Creed described in the presentation, it is meant to look like a British shooting brake, except that few Americans understand that idea. Shooting brakes were sporting vehicles with a hatchback for some functionality. In the States, we’re more likely to put a HEMI into our SUV than put a hatch on our sporty cars. I’m a wagon and hatchback fan more than an SUV fan, but didn’t find the Nassau as successful as it should have been. The Nassau’s design themes may appear on the next 300, but we wouldn’t count on the hatchback.
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Chrysler Group’s design teams often take refreshing risks and many of those have resulted in successful and well-received concepts, even if not production cars. The Nassau is likely to go down as one of the more mediocre attempts, unfortunately. My favorite view of the Nassau is from the front, despite adapted minivan grille it carries. Nassau balances the large minivan-inspired grille with a deep front fascia. The highly stylized headlights indicate Chrysler might move away from the rounded-bottom form headlights found, one way or another, on most of the current range, to a more elegant, trapezoidal shape.
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The rear roofline is fast and low, going for a sporting look. But instead it draws attention to the apparent lack of rear headroom. There is an elegance about many sporting wagons, but not in the profile of this crossbreed. Pushing the wheels out to the edges of the body makes for a sleek look and the surface lines on the bodyside do wrap nicely into the taillamps. The C-pillar shape reminds me of the Infiniti FX 45 (view image), but the subsequent glass aft of the pillar for the hatchback makes it look awkward. Also, the hatch opening looks smaller than a conventional trunk and the shape of the glass looks as though it would impede rearward vision, both elements that negate the typical goodness of a shooting brake or a hatchback.
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There is a very modern, high-tech feel to the interior, inspired by electronics and cell phones. Interior pushbutton switchgear was patterned after the Motorola Razr cell phone. The design makes for a cool concept interior, but not necessarily a production solution. The interior ambient lighting is a very nice, comfortable and modern blue; the gauges are stylish and easy to read.
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There are four bucket seats, with a center console running between passengers front to back. As a concept, the rear seats don’t fold down. The Nassau gets the poor headroom and cramped feeling of a low-roof coupe and the potential image penalty of a hatchback profile. Not to mention that trying to meld practicality with a luxury coupe concept seems rather pointless.
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Chery Lands Joint Venture with Chrysler

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It has been known for some time that Chrysler Group and Chery Automobile Company of Wuhu, China were negotiating for Chery to build a B-Segment car for Chrysler. It appears that the companies have now reached an agreement and all that is left is the approval by the various Chinese governmental bodies and the DaimlerChrysler Board.
Chery is the Real Deal – Chrysler Acquires Low Cost Manufacturing
Having visited the Chery facilities in Wuhu with Malcolm Bricklin’s Visionary Vehicles team in Spring 2005, I can confirm that Chery has the capability to build B-Segment cars for Chrysler. At the time, Chery factories, design facilities and engineering offices were rising in an industrial sector of Wuhu. All was world class. The most modern equipment offset by higher than normal direct labor possible through China’s advantage of low wage rates.
Bricklin’s relationship with Chery has ended and, anyway, was independent of anything Chery was negotiating with Chrysler.
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Likely Product – Dodge Hornet B-Car?
Chery and Chrysler have not confirmed that the product to be produced is the Dodge Hornet concept shown during the 2005 auto show season. It is reasonable that the Hornet would be the entry and would be sold in North America, Europe and other markets.
Chery Can Produce to Chrysler’s Blueprints
Chery is a very young car company and has been growing at a very rapid pace. One of the stated reasons Bricklin and Chery split was that Chery’s present products that would have to be modified to be imported into the USA did not meet the five-star safety standards Bricklin demanded without major, major changes that would have delayed the products. Assuming Chery will be manufacturing a Chrysler design, these challenges can be handled by the Chrysler design team and implemented by Chery’s manufacturing. Given the right set of blueprints, Chery should be able to produce a very competitive B-Car for Chrysler.


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Ward's 10 Best Engines of 2007

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WardsAuto.com has announced its 10 Best Engines for 2007. Let’s see how VehicleVoice agrees with the Wards’ results… they are presented in alphabetical order:

Audi AG 2.0L turbocharged DOHC I4 – Audi A3 –
We agree wholeheartedly with this engine selection, but Ward’s gives it short shrift by identifying only the Audi A3 as having this engine. It is also found in the Audi A4, Volkswagen Eos, Volkswagen GTi, Volkswagen Jetta and even the Volkswagen Passat. A real nice driving 4-cylinder turbo that is the workhorse of the spirited Volkswagen/Audi lineups.
BMW AG 3.0L DOHC I6 – BMW Z4 3.0si – BMW in-line sixes are always works of art. Smooth, effortless, always feel that they are putting out more horsepower than their ratings. Ward’s has selected the higher horsepower version found in the Z4 3.0si – it puts out 255-horsepower and has 220 pound-feet of torque. This engine is also found in the BMW 530 sedan.
BMW AG 3.0L turbocharged DOHC I6 – BMW 335i – We don’t really go with turbocharged engines much. There is usually no replacement for displacement. But the 3.0L Turbo in the 335i is a sweet piece. Turns the 335i into a Q-ship with near M3-levels of performance.
DaimlerChrysler AG 3.0L DOHC V6 turbodiesel -Mercedes-Benz E320 Bluetec/Jeep Grand Cherokee CRD – We appreciate the sentiment, but until a diesel can be sold in all 50 states, we won’t agree that it is one of the best engines. Diesels deserve a significant place in the USA automotive landscape, but regulations, technology, fuel costs, fuel availability have all conspired against widespread diesel acceptance.
DaimlerChrysler AG 5.7L OHV Hemi V8 – Chrysler 300C – Chrysler Group has built a franchise around the HEMI. The low cost, Mexican-produced, overhead valve, high output engine almost singlehandedly resurrected Chrysler from its early 21st Century doldrums. Don’t forget the HEMI can be found in all large, rear wheel drive Chrysler, Dodge products as well as the two largest Jeep entries.
Ford Motor Co. Duratec 35 3.5L DOHC V6 – Ford Edge/Lincoln MKX – Ward’s specifies the Ford/Lincoln Crossover Sport Utility Vehicles as the vehicles where the new Duratec 35 is found, but don’t forget the Lincoln MKZ (Zephyr) and the Mazda CX-9. While this higher output V6 is sorely needed by Ford and will eventually find its way through the Ford lineup, somehow the horses feel weaker than its 263-horsepower output suggests. We’ll reserve judgment on this one.
Ford Motor Co. 4.6L SOHC V8 – Mustang GT/Mustang Shelby GT – The 4.6L is the workhorse V8 for Ford’s rear wheel drive platforms. A very reliable, bulletproof powerplant, the 4.6L has proven to be very flexible up and down the horsepower scales. Driving the higher horsepower versions in the Mustang is a delight.
Mazda Motor Corp. 2.3L DISI turbocharged DOHC I4 – MazdaSpeed3 – A very willing and berserk powerplant in the MazdaSpeed3, the 2.3L Turbo provides more than enough power to generate nutso torque-steer in the MazdaSpeed3. Torque steer has always been a bugaboo in high output front wheel drive Mazdas and the combination of power and chassis dynamics in the MazdaSpeed3 may have set a new high (or low).
Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. 3.5L DOHC V6 -Infiniti G35 – We assume that Ward’s is referring to the higher output VQ found only in the Infiniti vehicles for 2007/2008. A significant upgrade from previous VQ V6s, the Infiniti has been finessed to new levels of power, smoothness and “engine music”. Still a bit of a lump in the fuel efficiency category, however. And the VQ’s refinement has pretty much been sub-par compared to the Audi, BMW and Lexus (Toyota) sixes against which it competes.
Toyota Motor Corp. 3.5L DOHC V6 -Lexus IS 350 – Another Japanese V6 putting out over 300-horsepower from 3.5-liters. Sweet, quick revving, quick. But unlike the Nissan VQ in the Infiniti, the Lexus 3.5L seems to lack the passion that really stirs the senses. Maybe it is the “engine music” thing. But it’s far more likely the effect of the Toyota engine’s astonishing refinement.


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Automobile Magazine All-Star Awards

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Automobile Magazine, hot on the heels of Autobytel, has just released their “2007 All-Stars Awards.” Just as with the Autobytel Editors’ Choice Awards, this is an award that you wonder what the validity is. Unlike the AutoPacific Vehicle Satisfaction Awards and Ideal Vehicle Awards released each summer, Automobile‘s award does not factor consumer input into the equation. In fact, AutoPacific’s awards are purely based on consumer ratings. Automobile‘s award reflects their own opinion. Not all bad, but when reviewing the results, it is wise to remember that these folks are enthusiast-biased to the max.
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Automobile Magazine Announces Its 2007 All-Star Awards
November 29, 2006
Each year, the editors and bureau chiefs of Automobile Magazine convene to test, evaluate, and debate the performance, significance, and pure enthusiast appeal of the cars that have made the biggest impact.
“This year, we increased the number of All-Stars from six to 10, which reflects just how brilliantly the industry is doing at providing enthusiasts with even more choice,” said Gavin Conway, editor-in-chief of Automobile Magazine. “As always, the hard part was deciding what to leave out of our constellation of All-Stars. In the end, these cars are what any connoisseur would have in their ‘dream garage.”
The 2007 Automobile Magazine All-Stars are:
* All-Star: Aston Martin V8 Vantage—This car could just about make the cut for its sensational looks alone, but it also offers a sublime driving experience and a truly inspirational engine.
* All-Star: BMW 3-Series—Remains one of the most complete cars on sale today, from its driving dynamics, quality of build, and the sheer pleasure of ownership it offers.
* All-Star: Chevrolet Corvette Z06—A friendly daily-driver that’ll leave Ferraris and Lamborghinis for dead, the Vette is an all-American hero.
* All-Star: Chrysler 300C—This one is a classic American: big V-8, rear-wheel drive, and a unique style that absolutely charms. Practical to own, too.
* All-Star: Honda Ridgeline—A clear winner with its unibody construction that gives a tight, rattle-free ride; Honda quality; and its very clever underbed trunk. [VehicleVoice note: Ridgeline had a sweep of all three AutoPacific awards for 2006… Vehicle Satisfaction Award, Ideal Vehicle Award and Motorist’s Choice Award]
* All-Star: Infiniti G35—Thanks to its superbly balanced chassis, terrific grip, and a punchy powertrain, this car challenges the dominance of BMW’s 3-series.
* All-Star: Lotus Elise—An undiluted driving machine that deftly combines light weight, electrifying performance, and near-telepathic chassis response.
* All-Star: Mazda3—Terrific to drive, stylish, spacious, and capable of 155 mph in turbo guise, this proves that small cars can aspire to greatness.
* All-Star: Mercedes-Benz S-Class—One of the best-built luxury cars on sale at any price, its features technology that truly makes life easier and safer.
* All-Star: Porsche Cayman—With an extra-stiff structure, Porsche engineers were able to deliver stability, grip, ride, and composure that are just about unmatched.
Criteria and Evaluation
The Automobile Magazine All-Stars are chosen by its staff, its worldwide bureau chiefs, and its contributors, following an intensive test drive of the year’s most innovative and important new cars. Vehicles considered for the All-Stars awards combine the following traits:
* Redefines an existing category or creates a new market segment
* Provides excellent value and performance for the money
* Exhibits an exceptional design
* Offers pure driving enjoyment


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LA Auto Show – 2008 Chrysler Sebring Convertible's Tricks Revealed in Los Angeles

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Just as Chrysler’s latest Sebring sedan is going on sale, the convertible was revealed in Los Angeles, with a little help from actress Jennifer Love Hewitt. The Sebring convertible known and loved by rental fleets everywhere has soldiered on for about ten years without drastic changes, serving as a comfortable touring convertible with room for four plus a little luggage. It is time for a new version, and recent interest in the segment means more competition and a raised bar for success in the field.

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The new Sebring convertible arrives in dealers in early spring 2007, eleven years after the Sebring replaced the LeBaron. Back in 1996, four-seat droptop options were few. Fast forward to 2007. Technology and convenience advances that keep these comfortable all year round and generally higher interest in convertibles has contributed to more offerings. Power retractable hardtops make as easy as pushing a button to drop the top and as comfortable as a fixed roof with the top up. Grand touring convertibles need not be a sacrifice in any weather.
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Chrysler has modernized the Sebring, and an optional power retractable hardtop just one of the new features. Though the loaded Limited pictured includes the hardtop, leather interior, and optional conveniences like MyGig and heated/cooled cupholders, an entry version with a 173HP 2.4L I4 and a vinyl softtop can help keep the rental fleets happy. Sebring will also offer a cloth softtop. Asked why so many top options, Chrysler executives give two reasons. The obvious one is price, but Chrysler’s research also found convertible owners and intenders for whom a hardtop cheats the experience. The hardtop will be optional at all trim levels. All tops are fully power-operated, with no manual lock, and get the hard tonneau covering the top and finishing the car’s overall look.
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Stuck to the Dealer's Floor – Inventory Numbers Tell the Story

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Which cars and trucks are planted to the dealer’s floor? In other words, which vehicles take the longest to sell? Who cars? Why does it matter, anyway?
Well, while it may not seem that important to you, it’s critically important to the industry s a whole… from the manufacturese, component suppliers, dealers and quite a few financial institutions. First, if you know the time it takes to sell a vehicle, you know how much it is dragging on the dealer’s floorplanning costs. Floorplanning is the term for the amount it costs the dealer to finance the a vehicle in inventory waiting to be sold. If a vehicle has been hanging around for weeks, he’ll be more likely to deal aggressively to get rid of it. Also, vehicles that have high days supply may be less popular. From that perspective, they may be the ones you want to stay away from.


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Ten Worst Cars for 2006 – Truth About Cars

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OK, on this one VehicleVoice is just the messenger. The Truth About Cars website has taken it on itself to identify the ten worst cars and trucks sold in the USA in 2006. Not really sure what their credentials are, but here is their press release… When we feel like commenting, see our notes following the press release writeup.
The Truth About Cars Website Names Its Ten Worst Automobiles for 2006
November 8, 2006 – PROVIDENCE, R.I.: The Truth About Cars website (TTAC) has revealed the ten winners of its first annual “Ten Worst Automobiles Today” awards. According to the site’s readers, the very worst vehicles sold in America today are… GM’s minivans.
For voting purposes, TTAC lumped all four of GM’s virtually identical people movers together: the Chevrolet Uplander, Saturn Relay, Buick Terraza and Pontiac SV6.
In his description of the “winner,” reviewer William C. Montgomery slated GM’s minivans for their “antique engineering, woeful looks, cancerous effect on not one but four GM brands and their abject inability to hold a candle to their foreign-owned competition.” In terms of dreadful driving dynamics, contemptible aesthetics and torturous ergonomics, no other vehicles sold in America can compete with these ridiculously-named ‘Crossover Sport Vans.'”
The automotive website’s readers voted the new Jeep Compass America’s second worst vehicle: a lackluster vehicle that betrays its storied brand’s heritage. According to TTAC’s description, it’s an “ugly, gangly, underpowered, mud-aversive half-breed” that “staggers into the light, turning all who see it– or heaven forbid buy it– into grotesque, bobble-headed morons.” The Compass “stomps all over Jeep’s reputation as America’s purveyor of authentic off-road vehicles.”
The rest of TTAC’s Ten Worst are the Jeep Compass (2), Buick Rendezvous (3), Chrysler Aspen (4), Hummer H2 (5), Chevrolet Monte Carlo (6), Subaru B9 Tribeca (7), Saab 9-7x (8), Lincoln Mark LT (9) and Chevrolet Aveo (10). Capsule reviews are below.
To create the list, The Truth About Cars asked its 40k daily readers to nominate the worst vehicles for sale in the United States during the 2006 calendar year. A selection committee comprised of ten TTAC writers selected 20 finalists from the readers’ nominations. Finalists were chosen for their crimes against aesthetics, engineering, ergonomics, driving dynamics and/or brand authenticity. The final ten “winners” were chosen by readers via an electronic poll.
Site publisher Robert Farago said his team created The Ten Worst awards as an antidote to the annual “love ins” provided by the mainstream automotive media. “The profusion of ‘best of’ automotive awards reflects the fact that the manufacturer-sponsored magazines and websites can’t tell it like it is,” Farago said. “TTAC is the home of take-no-prisoners automotive journalism. Our Ten Worst list says we’re not afraid to tell the truth about cars.”


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Chrysler Sebring: Is it Poised to Inspire?

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On Chrysler’s web site, they describe the new Sebring as “poised to inspire.” VehicleVoice and AutoPacific staff were among the groups of journalists that the Chrysler Group invited to Palm Springs, California, to experience first-hand the all-new Sebring, as well as the Aspen, to find out for ourselves.

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The drive route took us from Palm Springs, where we were staying at the Parker Palm Springs and sightings of supermodel Tyra Banks were rumored, to Borrego Springs, California, where we lunched at La Casa de Zorro Resort before dashing back. The roughly 160-mile round trip provided the opportunity to drive Sebring on twisty roads, flat straight state highways, Interstates, and through various elevation changes. The Sebring was a comfortable companion throughout the drive, whether driver or passenger.


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First Drive: Chrysler Aspen

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VehicleVoice correspondent and AutoPacific staff were among those the Chrysler Group invited to Palm Springs, California, to experience first-hand their first SUV, the Aspen, and their latest attack on the mid-size sedan market, the all-new Sebring. We covered the reveal of the Aspen at the 2006 North American International Auto Show and the Sebring in June at the Chrysler Proving Grounds, and now we’re able to share our first driving impressions. In this space, we tackle the Aspen.

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Why Add an SUV?
Chrysler noted that of the buyers that leave the Chrysler brand, 25 percent go on to buy SUVs. Of that 25 percent, 75 percent leave the company altogether, while about 25 percent go to Dodge or Jeep. Two years ago, the Chrysler Group decided to reskin a Durango and see if they can’t keep some of those buyers.
The Aspen gives Chrysler loyalists needing an SUV a reason to stay, though any new buyers it brings will be welcomed. As far as a theme, the 300 of SUVs is clearly the target. Differences between Durango and Aspen are all things customers can touch; suspension tuning is slightly different, but components, brakes, and steering components and ratios are all identical to Durango. Sheetmetal differences include the front clip (fenders, grille, fascia, lamps, and hood outer), rear door, rear aperture quarter, tailamps, and rear fascia. These changes give you an SUV with more pizzaz and chrome, and the Aspen looks best in strong colors that allow the chrome to pop. Black and blue were very nice; in silver, the chrome gets lost along with its personality.
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MyGIG: Chrysler Puts a Hard Drive in the 2007 Sebring

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Chrysler launches an all-new Sebring this fall and among the new options is a hard-drive navigation system. Other all-new cars with similar systems this fall include Mitsubishi Outlander (see image) and Lexus LS460/460L. Using a hard-drive navigation system, versus DVD or the old CD systems, gets faster navigation recalculation and better graphics and interfaces. But these systems bring an even more fun feature: The ability to store and play audio files from the hard drive. It’s like having a permanent iPod in your car; being a relative newcomer to the iPod world, I’m still enamored of almost all things iPod. All three vehicles arrive in dealers in October and November 2006. MyGIG gets a late introduction, but Chrysler expects availability by the end of 2006.
On behalf of VehicleVoice and AutoPacific, I was among the journalists and analysts with the opportunity to participate in a backgrounder and first-drive opportunity for Sebring (more later this month on the driving impressions). MyGIG first goes in Sebring, followed by Jeep Wrangler and Dodge Nitro. Availability will spread to other Chrysler, Dodge, and Jeep models as they are updated and this is the future of Chrysler’s navigation/audio systems.

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The beauty of MyGIG is its integration of features offered independently on other models. MyGIG integrates Sirius radio, UConnect Bluetooth capability, the navigation system, the 20GB hard drive, a USB 2.0 port, and an auxiliary jack for MP3 players. Operation is by voice controls or touch screen. It offers real-time traffic information and can re-route a destination based on that information, depending on preferences set by the driver. Chrysler is not first on the scene with these features, but MyGIG integration takes a significant step forward in performance and affordability. It also pulls Chrysler out of the also-rans into the lead in this department, as their prior GPS navigation was weak at best.
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