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Dodge 100th Anniversary – We Drive the Old Ones

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Chrysler Group had its annual new product preview last week at its Chelsea, Michigan proving grounds.  The highlight of that event was the introduction of the new 2015 Ram Promaster City a small van to compete with the Ford Transit Connect and the Nissan NV200.  On the second day, the gaggle of automotive journalists and analysts was transported to Meadowbrook Hall north of Detroit and near Chrysler’s headquarters in Auburn Hills.  This event was to celebrate the Dodge 100th Anniversary.  We were given a brief history of the brand and description of ten historic concept Dodges on display from the first Viper concept to the Dodge Demon concept from 2007.  Following the presentation of these concepts we were given the opportunity to drive and/or ride in 26 Dodges from the past ranging from 1915 through 2008.  1956 Dodge Custom Lancer

When all the cars were cranked up there was probably more air pollution rising from Meadowbrook Hall’s auto court than was emanating from the Los Angeles freeway system.  Ah, memories.

The first car I was drawn to was the 1956 Dodge Custom Royal Lancer powered by a HEMI V8 and dripping with chrome.  This coupe was grey metallic over coral reminding us of a time when contrasting two-tone color schemes were very popular (remember the 1956 Ford Crown Victorias in black and yellow or black and red?).  In any event, a brief lap of the Meadowbrook estate (now home to Oakland University) demonstrated how great the package was in the old cars, but also what a challenge they could be to drive.  Even though “Power Steering” and “Power Brakes” were pressed into the horn ring and brake pedal respectively, the car steered like a truck without power steering and braking took forever.  The package of the car was amazing probably because the interior was designed for when people wore hats – huge headroom in the rear seat.  So, the 1956 Dodge was my favorite.

The most surprising vehicle was the 1984 Dodge Caravan – the first of the minivans.  It was surprising how small it was.  It even deserved the moniker “minivan” because, compared with today’s minivans, the original Caravan was very small.  The seating position was great and visibility outstanding.  No wonder they sold so well, but the driving dynamics were very reminiscent of cars from the ’70s and early ’80s.  How quickly vehicles have evolved for the better.

As I was cranking up a 2003 Viper for the lap around the estate a woman approached and asked if she could ride along.  Certainly!  She mentioned “family” a couple of times and when I asked what she meant, she volunteered she was the great granddaughter of Horace Dodge – one of The Dodge Brothers – the founders of Dodge.  She seemed to get a real thrill out of the sound and power of the Viper.  It was her first chance to ride in one.  Maybe later in the day she got to drive it.


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New York Auto Show – A3 and Cherokee Most Important

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The 2013 New York International Auto Show was full of important reveals this year… renewed crossovers –  Toyota Highlander, Acura MDX, an all new Range Rover Sport, the new BMW 335GT, freshened Dodge Durango, the all new Cadillac CTS and many more.  The most important, however, were the Audi A3 and the Jeep Cherokee.  Why?  Both vehicles are very important to their brands and have the potential to generate substantial sales.

Audi Takes the Safe Route with A3: The 2015 Audi A3 really was not at the New York Auto Show.  The A3 will be officially introduced at the Shanghai Auto Show in late April 2013, but there was a reveal for about 120 journalists the evening before the first press day.  It will be launched in the USA in early 2014.

The smaller Audi A3 has anchored the Audi lineup with a five-door hatchback (“Sportback”) that never had much sales potential in the USA.  American buyers continue to perceive liftback cars as cheaper, flimsier and less desirable.  In Europe, the five-door is the preferred bodystyle primarily because European car-owners do not have the American-style family fleets where there is a vehicle for every purpose. For a one vehicle family,  the hatchback can carry out a multitude of duties.

Recognizing that to really succeed in the USA market, the 2014 Audi A3 becomes a much more traditional three-box four-door sedan.   This gives Audi an opportunity to really step up sales in the face of the upcoming front wheel drive Mercedes-Benz CLA and the already-on-the-market BMW 1-Series.  Audi did not stray from its own winning formula.  Audi DNA is present in the exterior styling and the interior with an A8-like sweep at the front of the instrument panel.  Very nicely done, but not one obvious risk.

The A3 comes with four 4-cylinder engine choices – 170HP 1.8L turbo, 2.0L turbo (we’re guessing at about 230HP), 150HP 2.0L turbo diesel and high output 2.0L turbo (we’re guessing at about 275HP).  The high output goes in the S3 model.  The Sportback will return in the 2014 calendar year with e-tron plug-in hybrid technology.

The A3 will not be a Spartan A-Segment car.  Audi is positioning it as a fully-featured Audi – just smaller.  It will offer Audi’s MMI system, 4G LTE connectivity and even Audi’s Bang & Olufsen audio system.

One key takeaway from the A3 reveal is that the car is the same size as 1994 model year A4.  A very successful car with solid sales results, the A4 was key in establishing Audi as a very desirable premium brand in the USA.

Something tells us that the A3 will not be an inexpensive car with its impressive standard equipment load (leather seating, bluetooth, rain sensing wipers and panoramic moon roof standard).  With the slightly larger Mercedes CLA announced at a sub-$30,000 price we are wondering where the new A3 will be positioned?

Jeep Cherokee Returns While the Audi A3 is a low risk opportunity for volume growth, Jeep’s new Cherokee is at the polar opposite on the risk scale.  Jeep describes the Cherokee’s styling as “polarizing” and it certainly is.  Mike Manley, President of Jeep cautioned journalists in a December briefing before the Detroit Auto Show that “you might not understand” the vehicle.  This was somewhat reminiscent of Wayne Cherry’s (head of GM styling in the late ’90s) statement that “you are too old to understand the (Pontiac) Aztek.  In Manley’s defense, he describes the styling direction for the Cherokee as “something that will be fresh in 2019”.  So Jeep has not taken this path lightly.  It is a calculated step.

What is so polarizing about the Cherokee?  First, it takes the name of one of the most successful SUVs ever produced.  The 1980s Cherokee was the first high volume SUV to add a 4-door bodystyle to the lineup and soon proved that 4-doors, not 2-doors, were the way to go.  The Cherokee had the seven vertical slot grill that is part of Jeep’s DNA, but it had rectangular headlamps that, while modern for the time, broke away from the traditional round headlamps Jeep used.

While the new Cherokee is relatively conventional from the A-Pillar rearward, its front end design is the most surprising and, yes, controversial.  Instead of round headlamps, the Cherokee has horizontal units styled into the front fascia and fenders.  Cherokee still has the seven vertical slots in the front fascia – part of Jeep DNA since the beginning – but they now are bent in the center giving the vehicle a more aerodynamic appearance.  The story of the capability of the vehicle is being lost in the commentary about its front end styling.

Under the skin, the Cherokee uses the same Alfa/Fiat platform used by the new Dodge Dart.  It has a 9-speed automatic transmission and three advanced 4×4 systems.  The Trailhawk model is fully “Trail Rated”. Think of Trailhawk as the Cherokee Rubicon.  Powered by a 184HP 2.4L Multi-Air TigerShark 4-cylinder engine, Jeep claims a cruising range of up to 490 miles and highway fuel economy of 31mpg.  The optional 3.2L Pentastar V6 gets 271HP.

Cherokee has a full array of Chrysler’s latest features available from its UConnect information system with an 8.4-inch center screen and programmable instrument cluster, new steering wheel controls, parking assist systems, blind spot monitoring, cross path detection and adaptive cruise control with stop and go capability. These features are becoming the price of entry in mid-size vehicles and even some smaller entries.

When Bob Lutz was a Chrysler he once said (of the early 2000’s Peterbilt style Ram pickup), “I don’t care if people love it or hate it as long as 15% of them love it enough to buy it”.  That may be the case with the new Cherokee.  A Polarizing design will certainly get people talking and writers writing.  So far, it seems that the negatives are outweighing the positives on the Cherokee.  It won’t take long to tell if the vehicle is a sales success.  It begins production in April 2013.


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Dodge Charger – AutoPacific’s Most Ideal Large Car

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AutoPacific’s Ideal Vehicle Award (IVA) recognizes the vehicle that best hits the target its buyers demand.  Winning an IVA shows the product planners, engineers and designers of the manufacturer understand what their target customers want and have created the vehicle to best meet their demands.

Charger Edges Out Platform-Mate Chrysler 300 for IVA Win: The 2012 Dodge Charger comes closest to the ideal of any Large Car.  The Charger is 31 rating points higher than the second place Large Car – the Chrysler 300 – its platform-mate.  Having eighty-percent or more of owners rating a characteristic ideal is outstanding.  Getting a score of ninety-percent is even more impressive.  Ninety-percent or more of Charger owners rate these characteristics ideal:  exterior size, passenger roominess, cargo space, ride and handling and ease of getting in and out.  These also are primary reasons a person buys a Large Car.  Eighty-percent or more of Charger owners find these additional characteristics ideal:  interior lighting, driver’s seat comfort, tires, interior storage compartments and safety features.

A Few Shortfalls – Many Could Have Been Corrected by Selecting Available Options: Charger is an expressively styled car, but about 21% of the owners want even more daring styling than it now has.  Hand-in-hand with this expressive styling comes somewhat restricted visibility.  About 21% of the owners would like better driver’s seat visibility.  Over 30% of the owners want more distinctive wheels than they now have.  Over 30% of the owners want more/better infotainment/entertainment technology.  Of course, with the broad span of the Charger’s lineup, owners could have optioned up to more distinctive wheels and the uConnect information system.  About 27% of Charger owners want more power and acceleration – clearly, they did not opt for the HEMI V8.

You can find an Autobytel review of this IVA award winner at  http://www.autobytel.com/auto-news/awards/consumer-s-ideal-cars-revealed-in-2012-iva-awards-112116/

For a complete summary of all AutoPacific 2012 Ideal Vehicle Award results contact karin.turner@vehiclevoice.com and title your email “IVA Results”.  A copy of the results will be emailed to you within 48-hours.


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Dodge Challenger – Wins AutoPacific Ideal Vehicle Award for 2012 Sporty Cars

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AutoPacific’s Ideal Vehicle Award (IVA) recognizes the vehicle that best hits the target its buyers demand.  Winning an IVA shows the product planners, engineers and designers of the manufacturer understand what their target customers want and have created the vehicle to best meet their demands.

Challenger Edges VW Eos for IVA Win: The 2012 Dodge Challenger comes closest to the ideal of any Sporty Car.  The Challenger edges out the second place Volkswagen Eos (retractable hardtop convertible) to win in this class.   Having eighty-percent or more of owners rating a characteristic ideal is outstanding.  Eighty-percent or more of Challenger owners find these characteristics ideal:  exterior size, cargo space, exterior styling, driver’s seat comfort, ride and handling, ease of getting in and out and safety features.

A Few Shortfalls – Most Solved by Selecting Available Options. Being a Sporty Car, Challenger is about style, power and handling.  About 40% of Challenger owners want more power and acceleration – guess they did not opt for the optional HEMI V8.  About 29% of Challenger owners want more distinctive wheels than they have now.  About 29% of Challenger owners want more infotainment technology.  Perhaps each of these shortfalls could have been solved by selecting available options.

You can find an Autobytel review of this IVA award winner at  http://www.autobytel.com/auto-news/awards/consumer-s-ideal-cars-revealed-in-2012-iva-awards-112116/

For a complete summary of all AutoPacific 2012 Ideal Vehicle Award results contact karin.turner@vehiclevoice.com and title your email “IVA Results”.  A copy of the results will be emailed to you within 48-hours.


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Jealous George – No Detroit Auto Show This Year

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North American International Auto Show Logo

An annual pilgrimage for the auto industry is to attend the press days at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit each January.  Unfortunately, this year I cannot attend because my physicians caution that I should not be heaving carry-ons into and out of overhead bins and baggage carousels.

So, I’m jealous.

One of the primary businesses of AutoPacific is to keep on top of what is the latest in the auto industry worldwide, so AutoPacific will still be well represented at Detroit.

I asked each of our staff members to remind me why I should or should not be jealous of them attending instead of me.  Read below the break for their input.


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Dodge Challenger Wins AutoPacific Ideal Vehicle Award for Sporty Cars

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The Dodge Challenger is the top ranked Sporty Car in AutoPacific’s 2011 Ideal Vehicle Award Research.  Sporty Car owners are always seeking more and even though the Challenger won because its owners did not want much changed, there are some substantial areas they want changed.  First, almost 50% want more power.  This is characteristic of the Sporty Car buyer and Challenger buyers are no exception.  Challenger owners want better visibility – a characteristic sacrificed by the aggressive styling of the car.  They also want more infotainment technology.  They most like its exterior size (although some want it smaller), cargo room and seat comfort.  The Challenger handily outpointed the second place Volkswagen Eos for the Sporty Car trophy.


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Chrysler Raises Sights for SRT

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Willow Springs Raceway

At AutoPacific we’ve been doing a lot of EV research.  A lot.  So it was with a smile that we accepted the Chrysler Group’s offer to come to Willow Springs, north of Lancaster in California’s high desert.  No EVs here.  No range anxiety discussions. The Chrysler Group hauled a load of journalists and analysts to Willow Springs to remind us that anxiety should remain a small part of the driving experience. Exhilaration is better.

Once we were settled, Ralph Gilles, CEO, SRT Brand and Motorsports, announced that Chrysler has officially elevated its in-house performance division – the Street and Racing Technology (SRT) team – to a separate company brand to build high-performance vehicles for Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge. The Chrysler public relations team was on hand the let us take a few of the latest SRT vehicles for laps on the famed racetrack. Not a bad day.


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2010 Dodge Nitro Wins AutoPacific Vehicle Satisfaction Award for Mid-Size SUV

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Dog_10_NitroDetonator.jpg
The Dodge Nitro is top rated by its owners in the Mid-Size Sport Utility segment. Characteristics that were particularly highly rated include overall seating capacity, rear seat comfort, interior storage compartments and audio system performance.
This personality-packed Dodge is a little larger than its Jeep Liberty counterpart and customers clearly appreciate the larger interior that results. Dodge has been applying lessons learned from the minivan business to all segments, with proof it matters here: Nitro’s clever storage options contributed to its win. The 2010 VSA win follows Nitro winning the 2009 Owner Recommendation Award.
For a complete list of winners and description of the Awards, click here.


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Autopacific Announces 2010 Vehicle Satisfaction Awards

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AutoPacVSAlogo10.jpgNational Survey Reveals Cadillac as Top Premium Brand, Buick as Top Popular Brand, Ford Motor Company Has Most Awards with Seven, Suzuki Kizashi as Top Car and Lincoln MKT as Top Truck
TUSTIN, Calif. (May 20, 2010) — AutoPacific today announced its 14th Annual Vehicle Satisfaction Awards (VSA) to help consumers make informed vehicle purchase decisions.
“While the auto industry is showing signs of improvement, more than ever before, manufacturers need to be able to differentiate themselves. Proof of satisfied customers is as good as gold,” says George Peterson, president of AutoPacific. “We’ve found that more than 25% of new car buyers are positively influenced by owner-based awards like the VSA when deciding on a new car or truck.”
AutoPacific’s Vehicle Satisfaction Award is an industry benchmark for measuring how satisfied an owner is with his/her new car or light truck. This study by the Southern California-based automotive research firm summarizes the results of over 42,000 new vehicle owners.
“Vehicles that score highest in the Vehicle Satisfaction Awards are delivering value and satisfaction across a wide range of attributes,” says Peterson. “The winners perform well in 48 separate categories that objectively measure the ownership experience.”


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PickupTrucks.com and AutoPacific Announce the Most Significant Trucks of the Decade

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PickupTucks.com and AutoPacific have taken a look at all the new trucks sold in the past 10 years and made their picks for the most significant trucks of the decade. The trucks that made the list introduced cutting edge technologies and pushed the segment into new territory.
“Despite the economic challenges of the past two years, it’s hard not to look back at the last ten years without calling it the decade of the pickup truck,” said PickupTrucks.com editor Mike Levine. “Sales of full-size pickups hit 2.56 million units in 2004 and Ford’s F-Series trucks remain the nation’s best-selling vehicles, 33 years in a row.”
Though there are many trucks that had a significant impact in the last decade, it’s clear that the 2009 Ford F-150 earned the title of “Most Significant”.
“On balance, we thought the 2009 Ford F-150 was the most significant pickup of the last decade,” said Jim Hossack, vice president of consulting for AutoPacific. “It sells in high volume, owners like it and its body, chassis and powertrain are all first rate. Features abound, and there are more models, series and options than can be counted. It’s a good looking truck and suitable for the widest possible range of tasks and uses.”
After the jump are those trucks deemed most significant, in no particular order.


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