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The 5 Cars That Killed Chrysler...This Time

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2007 Dodge Nitro

2007 Dodge Nitro

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While we wait for Chrysler to emerge, hopefully leaner but not that much lighter, from its bankruptcy—perhaps with some fashionable Italian loafers and a rejuvenated Dolce & Gabbana wardrobe— started thinking about the company’s product missteps in recent years. No, not the Dodge St. Regis or the TC by Maserati (shhhhh!), but the very recent past.

What’s gone wrong—this time—from a product perspective? Here are five of them:

2009 Chrysler Sebring

2009 Chrysler Sebring

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Chrysler Sebring: No contest here. The Sebring sedan, along with its Dodge Avenger sibling and its Sebring Convertible variant, were somehow a step behind the instant they arrived, beginning for 2007. These models have been almost universally panned by reviewers—mostly for being behind the curve in performance and lacking in interior quality—and they have a lackluster repair record to boot, with Consumer Reports rating the Sebring the worst in reliability, of all the models surveyed, in 2008, with lots of recalls affecting its rollout as well. This is a huge, bread-and-butter, money-making segment that hosts the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Nissan Altima, Ford Fusion, and Chevrolet Malibu; Chrysler clearly cut corners on the Sebring and placed its wagers on some admittedly innovative features for the options list but skimped on interior materials and cabin quality, with noise and vibration, to some, a step backward. The name change for the Dodge sedan, from the benign Stratus to the renaissance-fair-worthy Avenger, probably didn’t help either.

2007 Dodge Nitro

2007 Dodge Nitro

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Dodge Nitro: Nowhere does the term half-baked apply so well as with Jeep’s Nitro. Closely related to the Jeep Liberty, an off-road capable vehicle with niche appeal, the smallish Nitro is a truck-based SUV that’s not intended for off-roading. The Nitro was brought to market at the same time as GM, among other companies, was admitting that there wasn’t a future for mid-size truck-based SUVs, gobbling up product development and marketing money that could have been used for more fully realized vehicles. Factor in the 15-mpg city rating, 3,500-pound tow rating (the same as many car-based crossovers), and the unimpressive performance that has noted firsthand, and you have to wonder where the Nitro is coming from.

2008 Dodge Caliber SE

2008 Dodge Caliber SE

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Dodge Caliber: When gas hit $4 a gallon last summer and shoppers—still flush with jobs, real-estate money, and credit to spare—went to the dealership, many were disappointed to find that Dodge dealerships didn’t have any vehicles that topped 30 mpg. The Dodge Caliber, which gets ratings in the low- to mid-20s in its most popular variants—despite a roomy interior and some trick features like tailgate speakers and a cooler box—just doesn’t have the fuel economy or even the refinement of rival models. Dealerships were caught like deer in headlights, lacking fuel-efficient small cars at a critical time when shoppers were flocking to more fuel-efficient cars like the Honda Fit, Toyota Yaris, and Ford Focus—and GM had even rolled out a 37-mpg (highway) version of its Chevy Cobalt, the XFE. The Caliber just wasn’t frugal enough for most shoppers and Chrysler lost out at a critical time.

2008 Chrysler Pacifica Touring

2008 Chrysler Pacifica Touring

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Chrysler Pacifica: The Pacifica was a likable, well-designed family vehicle, its success ruined by ill-conceived marketing and a glitchy product rollout. With a roomy, attractive interior that combined Chrysler’s minivan seating expertise with a welcome upscale ambiance from then-parent company DaimlerChrysler, the Pacifica was a large, comfortable, and luxurious crossover vehicle that was even a little ahead of its time in 2003; it might still even today match up reasonably well versus GM’s full-sizers like the Buick Enclave. But everything else went wrong. Initially the Pacifica suffered from quality flaws, and it was at first priced too high, forcing Chrysler later to drop prices (and send resale values into freefall). In the end, Pacificas were benchwarming on dealer lots, some sold at a $10,000 discount.

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Comments (14)
  1. "Caliber comments"

    You are all wet on the Caliber mileage! Our '08
    Caliber SXT with the 2.0L engine averages 26-28
    mpg, and we have seen 30.4mpg as well!
    Friends that have them also report mileage over

  2. "Challenger is great!"

    The fact that you made fun of the only exciting product offering from all of Chrysler speaks volumes about how badly the inept management ruined the company! These disasters, save for the Challenger, were the result of incompetent project managers who know very little about making cars people want. This is what happens when bean counters run engineering firms! When cost is the ONLY thing that matters, crap like the Nitro and the Caliber happen! When companies don't allocate enough money for R&D and market studies to determine what vehicles people want and then design those cars, we get half baked compromise machines that no one wants! People didn't go out seeking to buy a Caliber. they went looking for one because it was cheap. $4/gal gas prices created unusual market conditions that drove people to buy cars that they normally won't. Even Today, GM makes more profit selling larger cars than small ones. When gas prices go down to normal levels, people go back to their normal shopping needs. They buy cars they want! Toyota couldn't sell the Prius fast enough but once gas prices went down, so did the sales of Priuses. I have a suggestion to the editor: how about you write about the top 5 managers who ruined Chrysler? Now THAT is a story I want to read!

  3. "Mr"

    I think the Challanger is a great car that brings back teenage dreams. Not just in me a 40 year old but in most 15 year olds! I think you would be better served by using the Crossfire as a really bad idea!


    The Challenger along with the Camaro and Mustang are the best ideas the big three have in an otherwise field of cookie cutter looking cars.

  5. "Crossfire, Mr"

    Joe A., good call on the Crossfire -- I considered it, but I don't think it killed Chrysler. Since it was essentially a regifted, thinly veiled version of the SLK, assembled by Karmann (and even had an all M-B powertrain), it's probably not fair to say that the Crossfire diverted much if any of Chrysler's U.S. resources from developing good cars. And I don't think we can say that it brought down Chrysler's reputation (didn't help it either in the end). It's simply the closest Chrysler came to selling a rebadged Mercedes-Benz.

  6. "Markerting, perhaps. Car,no."

    I can't argue with your evaluation of the Sebring/Avenger twins. I drove an Avenger, liked the styling and thought it was pretty nice,but the press needed something to hate from Chrysler and these twins were it. All the rest of the auto press fell into line fearing being out of step with the crowd. Look for much better mid-size offerings soon. I own a Pacifica, which are very popular on L.I.,N.Y. and absolutely love it. I've experienced a few other cross-overs from Lexus and Ford and the Pacifica is far better. This was a problem with marketing,not product. I've also owned two Crossfires,a coupe and a roadster and think they are a blast and an unbelievable value. I'm keeping the roadster forever. I've had absolutely no problems with any of my Chrysler products. Your opinion on the Challenger is not worthy of comment. By the way, Chrysler is not dead,sorry!

  7. "Challenger OK, but dissapointing"

    The new challenger is a beautiful car, as was the old challenger. They look almost identical. No modern interpretation. No innovation. No attempt at attracting current driving enthusiasts. Too big, too thirsty. Who designed this car, some Baby Boomer waxing nostalgic about hanging out at the supermarket parking lot?

  8. "Daimler Killed Chrysler!!!"

    These cars didn't kill Chrysler. Daimler sucking the life out of it and spitting it out did.

  9. "None of these cars 'killed' Chrysler..."

    Despite the fact that the five cars listed are either awful, irrelevant or even both.....they didn't 'kill' Chrysler. Certainly not on their lonesome.
    Long gone is the day when the cars themselves were the primary means of making profit.....the margins are just too small. The money roled in on financing, options and all the other added on goodies. Only a few select models made money through profit - mostly in the luxury and dinosaur (read big utes like the Ram) market - and these too were found wanting when buyers went away.
    This company failed due to a long series of bad decisions, unfortunate outcomes, stupid ideas and rampant greed from any number of players. The cars were just the models on the runway....pretty but useless. Especially when the rest of the show was organised and run like a carnival on crack.

  10. "Remember the Aspen !!!"

    Don't you find it strange the the last time Chrysler was in this shape the had the Dodge Aspen... And Now there is the Chryser Aspen. Did They think were would forget That All time recall king...

  11. "Subcaliber"

    I can agree Chrysler would have been better off with a true followup or advanced Neon rather than the Caliber. Compared to the Neon, the Caliber mileage is well behind. Indeed, I still own a 1993 Pontiac Bonneville that returns 31.2 mpg on the highway. That's better than a lot of these small cars!

  12. "Daimler"

    I agree rocket88, what does 4 out of the 5 cars here have in common. They where concieved and launched during the Daimler era! No wonder cerberus was suing daimler. The only car i disagree with is the Challenger. This car is a shot in the arm to Dodge. Also the Pacifica was a good car, customers love them and they are reliable. They where ahead of there time. Also they where so heavly daimler influnced that chrysler lost money on every car they sold. Daimler killed the quality inside and out on these cars and also killed the gas milage. My fathers neon gets 35mpg! What does the Caliber get? Diamler knew this and I think the wanted Chrysler gone.

  13. "more on the Crossfire"

    Nice piece, Bengt. I agree entirely with your take on the Crossfire, and in fact I'd heard that Auburn Hills had no more than *15* people working on the *entire* Crossfire program. The entire design, productionizing, and validation was jobbed out to Karmann.
    And, yes, the Sebring/Avenger is truly as bad as the reviews. Grim interior, atrocious handling, bad assembly and, above all else, the styling of the Sebring ?!?!? I would love to know who green-lighted that camel of a car.
    Ended up with a Caliber rental recently. It's a very nice econobox ... for 1994. For 2009, not even close. And, I'd argue that choosing a CVT only added to the alienation, because there's so little sound insulation that the disconnect between engine speed and road speed is noisily, painfully, obtrusively obvious.

  14. "Sharing the blame"

    Ultimately, the blame goes to the managers -- whether Daimler or Chrysler - that didn't benchmark these designs and gave them the green light.
    My gut feel is that Daimler is ultimately the one most responsible.
    My basis for this is the fact that Chrysler is seeking a partnership with Fiat for its next generation of small vehicle engines.
    But consider this -- Daimler -- who owned 20% of Chrysler -- sells the small Mercedes B Class in Canada -- but not in the US. The B class has a variety of engines -- 1.5L, 1.7L, 2.0L gas and diesel, including turbo. Why wouldn't they share this with Chrysler? There would be no cannibalization of Mercedes US sales because they didn't market the B Class in the US.

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