Officially, the Patriot and Compass are just concepts right now, but company insiders confirm the pair is actively under development and should reach market by 2007. “Today, they’re just concepts,” hinted Chrysler’s new CEO, Tom LaSorda, “but concepts designed to meet real-world needs. Both Jeeps will be based off the same architecture as the upcoming Dodge Caliber, a crossover previewed at the Geneva Motor Show last spring.
When Show Plans Go Awry
Auto shows have become lavish multi-media affairs, with trapeze artists descending from ceilings, talking robots wandering the halls, and PR executives losing sleep waiting to see if everything comes together. It looked like things would work out for Jason Vines, the creatively eccentric PR chief at Chrysler, during four flawless rehearsals. To reveal the new Jeep Patriot and Compass models, the automaker had a large crate lowered to the ground by a giant crane. Then, CEO Tom LaSorda and other Chrysler execs were supposed to claw at the crate with crowbars. But an over-anxious crane operator raised the top of the crate while LaSorda was still talking to the assembled media. He was forced to come up with a couple quick ad-libs. Of course, it wasn’t the first big flub at a major auto show. Balky doors have trapped executives inside new vehicles, microphones have often failed, mid-speech. And, shades of Janet Jackson, there have even been a few “uniform failures,” which have prompted photographers to work on their reflexes.
Gallardo Goes Topless
It might be hard to remember the time when the auto industry was getting ready to kill off the convertible. There are plenty of models going al fresco in Frankfurt
, and for those looking to feel some hurricane-force wind in their hair, Lamborghini unveiled the new Gallardo Spyder. The 500-horsepower V-10 found in the original Gallardo Coupe is being upgraded to put out a full 522 hp in the roadster. The cabriolet version features such niceties as a retractable rear glass window, but expect to pay extra should you prefer an ashtray, rather than a cupholder. According to Lamborghini CEO Stefan Winkelmann, the ’06 production run of Spyders is “nearly sold out.” Observers believe the convertible should help improve less-than-expected demand for the “baby Lambo.” The Italian automaker, a subsidiary of Audi AG, intends to take other steps, launching several other spin-offs of the Gallardo, including the new Special Edition, or SE, and what Winkelmann called the “ultimate” extreme version, the Concept-S shown in prototype form at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance last month.
Benz Quality Top of Zetsche’s List
“Mercedes has to be positioned as the number one automaker” by whatever measure of quality you choose, declared the automaker’s new CEO, Dieter Zetsche. Early this year, former Benz boss Eckhard Cordes issued the surprise assessment that the automaker wouldn’t try to compete in a world where complaints about cupholders could cost his company the lead in a J.D. Power study. Speaking for the first time as Cordes’ replacement, after leaving the chairman’s spot at Chrysler, Zetsche stressed that "It is our objective to be number one in J.D. Power." Mercedes has to meet local market demands, whatever they are. Quality is “not up to us to define. If it’s different from Japan to the U.S., we have to…respond accordingly.”
After just 12 days on the job, Zetsche politely declined to discuss some of the steps he might need take in the future, such as implementing job cuts at the company’s German assembly plants, but he made it clear that he intends to improve the luxury manufacturer’s competitiveness through a variety of steps. Cutting costs, Zetsche stressed, is “an enabler,” and not the total solution. The key to boosting Mercedes’ return-on-sales back to the targeted 7 percent, the mustachioed CEO emphasized, is by winning on the product front.
Zetsche’s move to Germanycame a bit earlier than expected, when Cordes resigned unexpectedly. But the 52-year-old executive had already been tapped to replace Juergen Schrempp, the CEO of Mercedes’ Stuttgart-based parent, DaimlerChrysler AG, at year’s end. In that roll, he’ll oversee all the DCX brands, including the slow-selling Maybach and struggling smart. For the moment, Zetsche said he’s not going to focus on the ultra-luxury Maybach; meanwhile he’s waiting to see if the smart turnaround plan takes hold. So far, the year-to-date results are “on track to deliver their promises for 2005,” Zetsche said during a meeting with journalists at the Frankfurt Motor Show. He added that the goal is to make a decision about bringing smart to the U.S.next year. But the product designed to get it there won’t be ready until 2007.
Zetsche made it clear he is a diesel fan, though he admitted there’s a strong emotional factor building in favor of hybrid-electric vehicles. So “You cannot be a responsible manufacturer and limit your focus to just one of those solutions.”
Zetsche’s recent move up the ranks at DaimlerChrysler is likely a bitter pill for Ford Motor Co., and especially for the Michiganautomaker’s Chairman, Bill Ford. In an unexpected revelation, the family scion told reporters he had tried to recruit Zetsche for Ford, apparently in 2003. Zetsche wouldn’t discuss specifics of their conversation, though he was openly surprised that Ford made the topic public. As for his long-term plans at Mercedes, Zetsche said there’s been no search to find a replacement once he becomes DCX CEO. A well-placed source later told TheCarConnection that Zetsche has said he plans to stay in both jobs, “indefinitely.” But the source added that he expected Zetsche will likely split his duties and find a new head for Mercedes by early 2007.