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The Chrysler Corporation Returns

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Chrysler is Back in Private, American Hands; Current Management Stays On
On Monday, May 14, DaimlerChrysler and Cerberus announced the pending sale of the Chrysler Group, including Chrysler Financial. Among the firestorm of conferences, board meetings, and announcements following, we attended a Chrysler press conference where the new Chrysler Corporation boss Tom LaSorda gave a short briefing and took some direct questions.

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Perhaps the most significant element of the change in ownership is not who makes up the management team, or even in which country home base now is. It isn’t whether or not Wolfgang Bernhard returns to Chrysler, or even who is the boss. It is that the new company is privately held.
The new Chrysler Corporation is not required to report quarterly (or annual) sales, profits, returns, management salaries, production, or most of the other indicators that Wall Street watches so closely. The negative of quarter-by-quarter reporting and evaluation is a tendency to think short term, which can be deadly for a business whose core products have a four- to six-year natural lifecycle. (Including LaSorda’s and other managers’ salaries, which he seemed nearly gleeful that he’ll no longer report.) When pressed, LaSorda cited short-term focus as the driver for the ill-fated sales bank strategy, and as something done to please the German bosses and done against long-term strategy and goals. As a private company, LaSorda says, they “will be able to run it as we want, without worrying about quarterly numbers and what people think of them.” Chrysler Corporation will not report quarterly earnings (nor management salaries/benefits), and LaSorda would not commit to continued reporting of monthly unit sales.
LaSorda expects a Cerberus to demand a similar level of governance than they are used to, and they will have to ultimately make money for them. They will also need, as LaSorda recognized, to clearly define goals and metrics for employees to be able to target and meet. But these elements need not be part of the public forum or debate, and ownership support for long-term over short-term objectives can significantly impact overall strategy.
LaSorda was clear and emphatic that the Chrysler Corporation’s management team will not change from that today at the Chrysler Group. No further job cuts are planned as a result of the new ownership, but the 13,000 cuts spelled out in February are still on the chopping block. Speculation will continue as to whether or not Wolfgang Bernhard is brought aboard again, but plans to make that change were vehemently denied.


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Mercedes-Benz SLR Roadster Promised for Fall 2007

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Top Down Conversation at 120HP
While neither VehicleVoice nor AutoPacific of course cannot recommend such speeds on the public highways that crisscross our nation, Mercedes-Benz promises that conversation will still be possible at speeds up to 120HP while in their new-for-2008 roadster version of the screamin’-fast 617HP SLR McLaren. Feast your eyes on the first released photos of this monster.

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The SLR roadster’s construction is nearly all carbon fiber, just like the coupe, which should help make for a strong, safe, and solid roadster, even at the 207MPH the vehicle is capable of. A retractable top complements the attributes the coupe had already sported, including its Formula 1 Silver Arrow-inspired styling, the 617HP engine, and aluminum engine frames. This is a semi-automatic top, which impressively closes or opens in less than ten seconds, is made of a new material, and will be offered in three colors. (It is semi-automatic in that there is a header latch that needs to be released before the electric motor kicks in and pulls the top the rest of the way.) Safety and structure are also beefed up with steel-reinforced A-pillars and two fixed rollover bars. Like the coupe, the roadster gets the AMG 617HP 5.5L V8 mated to a five-speed automatic with standard steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifts.
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2007 Mercedes-Benz CLK 63 AMG: New York Auto Show

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Halo Car for CLK Range is a Street-Legal Race Car
For the 2007MY, the Mercedes-Benz CLK 63 AMG replaces the CLK 55 AMG as AMG does away with most supercharged engines in favor of naturally aspirated units. The normally aspirated 6.3L 32v V8 delivers 475HP in the CLK 63 AMG and gets a seven-speed transmission. That isn’t quite enough for some, though, especially as the same engine delivers 503HP in the R 63 AMG and ML 63 AMG. Plus, Mercedes has an F1 Safety Car derived from the CLK. Why not make one you could buy, assuming the right income level?

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Pricing for the CLK 63 AMG Black Series has not been announced, introduced at the 2007 New York auto show, but on the stand it looked terrific, and the photos don’t do justice to the impact of the front bodywork and the seriously aggressive impression the car gives in person. This vehicle will be rare, expensive, and a serious toy for the rich boy racer in you. Not only does it look great, but the details on the transformation from CLK 63 AMG to CLK 63 AMG Black Series is just as impressive.
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Painted silver instead of black, but indicated by the black 63 AMG badge, as a street-legal version of the official F1 safety car the Black Series gets design and technology from F1, as well as 500HP instead of the CLK 63 AMG’s 475HP. The extra power comes from redesigned intake and exhaust systems. The Black Series gets larger intake ducts, an AMG sport exhaust with full-length twin pipes, and a recalibrated engine control unit provides quicker throttle response.
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2008 Mercedes-Benz CL65 AMG: New York Auto Show

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612HP Top CL Returns to Help Celebrate 40 Years of AMG
Mercedes-Benz‘ tuning arm AMG celebrates its fortieth birthday this year and uses the return of the CL65 AMG to help celebrate this landmark, revealing the new car this week at the 2007 New York auto show. As well as standard CL65 AMG, a mere forty examples of a 40th Anniversary version will be built. The 612HP (Euro spec, likely 604HP for the States) comes from the same 6.0L biturbo V12 as the SL65 and S65 AMG, mated to a five-speed automatic with AMG’s selectshift.

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The CL65 AMG, whether in 40th Anniversary trim or not, gets the AMG sport suspension (with Active Body Control as its base), an AMG body kit (including larger air intakes, side air outlets, round foglamps), twenty-inch AMG wheels, darkened headlamps, and AMG grille. The high-performance brake system uses twin sliding calipers, front and rear, to improve stopping power as well as resistance to brake fade. An AMG steering wheel and silver AMG aluminum gearshift paddles for the five-speed automatic transmission are among the interior touches. The RACETIMER system for measuring lap times is also included.
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The forty-unit run of 40th Anniversary Editions adds a unique Alubeam paint finish, a color-coordinated Alcantara roof and “40th Anniversary” lettering on the center console, complete with a “ONE OF 40” plaque. This is a first for a production car, though Mercedes has used the system for show cars. With this system, pigment particles are as small as 30 to 50 nanometers (versus 100 and 300 nanometers in conventional paint) and incorporated more evenly for more vivid and lustrous color (covered with a scratch-resistant clear coat). Inside, the 40th Anniversary CL65 AMG gets the Nappa leather in a diamond pattern of all CL65 AMGs.
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Though pricing hasn’t been announced, the SL65 AMG enjoys a price premium of nearly $40,000 over the S600. A similar jump is likely for the CL range, meaning that this beast could set you back $190,000 for the non-40th Anniversary Edition model. Exactly when the CL65 AMG arrives on U.S. shores may be revealed at the formal press conference, but as we’re still waiting for the CL63 AMG that Europe got a couple of months ago, it may be late in 2007 before we see the CL65 AMG. Not that it matters too much; at this price, the vehicle is essentially built to order. The price suggests that Mercedes will keep volume low and AMG as exclusive as they can, but these days Benz creates one or two AMG models for each line they offer. At what point does AMG lose some of exclusivity and just become another expensive, albeit fast and beautiful, toy?


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Mercedes GL450 Buying Experience – Nightmare at Fletcher Jones

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The following story tracks the actual sales and service experience of long time AutoPacific project manager Mary Beth Martin. Mary Beth’s husband leased her a new Mercedes GL450 from Fletcher Jones Motorcars. The GL450 is the top-of-the-line Mercedes SUV – not cheap by any means. Fletcher Jones is the largest Mercedes-Benz dealership in the USA if not in the world. Located in Newport Beach, California Fletcher Jones is admittedly a bit landlocked for the amount of business they push through the dealership, but that is a feeble excuse for the experience Mary Beth had when acquiring her new ride. Read on, the story will surprise you.

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Nightmare at Fletcher Jones Motorcars
Purchasing or leasing a new vehicle is a wonderful thing or at least it should be! My husband surprised me with a new Mercedes GL 450 as an early Christmas present. He said all I had to do was pick out the color (I had already told him what features I wanted on my next vehicle), sign (documents) and leave (December 5th). He had prearranged the deal with a salesman at Fletcher Jones Motorcars in Newport Beach, California.
I need to give you a little background information: my husband arranged to lease two vehicles in the deal, one for myself and one for his partner’s wife. Both vehicles were to be GL450s equipped the same way (or were supposed to be). We were to sign for the vehicles and Fletcher Jones was to bill my husband’s company. So I was all excited about my first luxury vehicle (my husband already has a S500, but my vehicle was a Ford Expedition schlepmobile) and since purchasing my Expedition had been wonderful I anticipated this to be even better (at least that is what the Mercedes and Fletcher Jones ads implied).
Read on for my story of woe…


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Chrysler Restructuring – Valentine's Day Massacre 2007

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DaimlerChrysler announced a massive restructuring of Chrysler Group on Valentine’s Day – February 14, 2007. Wags in the press have taken to calling this the “Valentine’s Day Massacre” of 2007.

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Chrysler Joins General Motors and Ford in Restructuring
Following years long restructuring by its crosstown rivals General Motors and Ford, Chrysler Group completes the Domestic Three in their attempts to restructure.
Still saddled with tremendous unsold inventory and a mis-match between capacity for traditional SUVs and big pickups and demand, Chrysler announced the closing of one SUV plant (Delaware) and reducing shifts on others.
The inevitable headcount reduction will total 13,000 hourly and salaried workers bringing the combined headcount reductions by the Domestic Three into the range of 100,000 workers. While operations all around the USA will be affected, selling a house in Southeastern Michigan will be a long and probably expensive task with a huge inventory of unsold homes offered at prices that can only come down.
DaimlerChrysler May Cease to Exist
You remember the “merger” back in 1998 that combined Daimler-Benz and Chrysler Corporation. Characterized as a merger that was indeed a take-over, the synergies anticipated from the match have not been realized. Sure there are the outstanding Chrysler 300, Dodge Magnum and Dodge Charger cars that use the IRS from a previous generation Mercedes, but that is a rare example.
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In statements surrounding the restructuring, DaimlerChrysler head Dieter Zetsche admitted that all alternatives were on the table including spinning off Chrysler Group. Rumors immediately arose that DCX was in talks with General Motors about GM absorbing Chrysler Group. Rumors.
So, this puts all three domestic auto makers in restructuring mode just as Toyota and Honda are beginning to get their second wind. It’s going to be a tough few years around Detroit.


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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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IIHS Top Safety Picks for 2007 Model Year

IIHS released the results of its 2007 Safety Pick Awards on November 20. VehicleVoice and AutoPacific feel that these results are important to communicate to our readers. Along with other awards for quality, satisfaction and performance, safety awards can and should be among the information sources a buyer uses when deciding which new vehicle to buy. After all, the Internet gives us almost perfect information.
While we do appreciate the safety value of electronic stability control, it will take years for the entire fleet to be equipped with ESC. For IIHS to eliminate all vehicles lacking ESC eliminates many otherwise safe vehicles from their analysis. This is too simplistic an approach.
2007 TOP SAFETY PICK award winners: award criteria are tougher; SUVs eligible for first time
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety announces 13 vehicles that earn TOP SAFETY PICK awards for 2007. Winners include 4 cars, 7 SUVs, and 2 minivans. This award recognizes vehicles that do the best job of protecting people in front, side, and rear crashes based on ratings in Institute tests. Winners also have to be equipped with electronic stability control (ESC).
WINNERS
Large car
Audi A6 manufactured in Dec. 2006 and later
Midsize cars
Audi A4
Saab 9-3
Subaru Legacy equipped with optional electronic stability control
Minivans
Hyundai Entourage
Kia Sedona
Luxury SUVs
Mercedes M class
Volvo XC90
Midsize SUVs
Acura RDX
Honda Pilot
Subaru B9 Tribeca
Small SUVs
Honda CR-V
Subaru Forester equipped with optional electronic stability control


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Blowing Off the Lot – the Hot Sellers

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Since we have identified the vehicles that have the longest days supply, we have been asked to show which vehicles have the shortest days supply. Which vehicles are so hot they just blow off the dealer’s lot? As with the slower moving vehicles where we arbitrarily cut off the days supply at 150 days, here we are using 50 days as the cut off point. The details are shown “below the fold”


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