Daily Edition: August 19, 2004

August 19, 2004

ME-412 Could Live On Without Bernhard

A decision on the future of Chrysler's high-performance concept vehicle, the ME-412 supercar, is likely to be made in the next few months. "Within this year, we should be able to come to some conclusion," Chrysler Group CEO Dieter Zetsche told TheCarConnection,com during an interview this week. A running version of the two-seat supercar was recently rolled out for testing at the Laguna Seca raceway, on California's Monterey Peninsula, and as Zetsche proudly noted, it lived up to many of the pronouncements made when the ME-412 concept was previewed last January. Even though the hand-built prototype was limited to about 75 percent of its rated power, it easily launched from 0-to-60 mph in less than 3.0 seconds. There had been expectations the supercar project would be scrubbed after the departure of former Chrysler Chief Operating Officer Wolfgang Bernhard, who'd personally spearheaded the program. But the project has acquired a new patron saint, DaimlerChrysler Chairman Juergen Schrempp, who has been closely following the ME-412's progress in recent weeks. "We can count on the total support" of Schrempp, Zetsche said, if a solid business case can be made for the high-performance sports car. But while Chrysler engineers appear comfortable they can deliver on spec, the question becomes whether the ME-412 is right for Chrysler and can be counted on to pay its own way. Though it would certainly "spotlight" the brand, Zetsche cautioned that he would not justify the effort by charging it off "as marketing costs." The ME-412 would have to be a profit center, and that means coming up with the right balance of costs, volume and price. "It would be great if it were viable," said the Chrysler CEO, but "I don't know right now." If given the go-ahead, the ME-412 will be an outsourced project, stressed Zetsche. Outside suppliers, such as MSX and Roush, did much of the work on the prototype, and "it's an absolute given," said Zetsche, "if we did it, we would not do it in-house." -TCC Team

2004 Detroit Show, Part I by TCC Team (1/12/2004)
Chrysler supercar stuns show, Bronco comes fromBrazil.

Arvin Meritor

Liberty Likely First of More Chrysler Diesels

Though there are several potentially crippling hurdles, the new Jeep Liberty diesel is likely to be only the first in an expanding lineup of the fuel-efficient engines that Chrysler will bring to market over the next few years. CEO Dieter Zetsche told TheCarConnection that other diesel models are now under development, though how many actually make it to market will depend on factors such as new emissions standards, fuel quality and a government-sponsored study of the potentially carcinogenic effects of diesel particulates. Low-sulfur diesel will reach market later this decade, but about the same time that new rules go into effect at both the federal and California state level. These regulations will effectively require automakers like Chrysler to deliver diesels as pollution-free as today's gasoline engines. Zetsche said the technology should be available, but "the issue is whether in an economically feasible (form)." Chrysler has a particular advantage over its rivals, he suggested, because of the diesel hardware and know-how it can tap into at the sibling Mercedes-Benz division. Eventually, if the technology does prove out, Zetsche believes it would "not be unrealistic" to see diesels capture as much as a 10 percent share of the American automotive market. Asked about the hybrid-electric technology Japanese makers are focusing on, the Chrysler CEO admitted his company has been slow off the blocks, but is determined to catch up. A mild hybrid pickup will launch shortly and, said Zetsche, "we're developing hybrids that are more in the center of this niche." Chrysler could have an advantage, he asserted, because "we're promoting diesels, too. It's not a case of either/or." -TCC Team

Grand Cherokee, Diesels to Boost Jeep by Joseph Szczesny (8/16/2004)
Jeep survives because it's "authentic," says Bell.

Ernst & Young Daily Edition STD

Herbie Rides Again

Production is getting under way this month for the fifth Herbie The Love Bug film, which will come out next year, probably as a summer release.

The new Love Bug flick, Herbie, Fully Loaded, stars Matt Dillon and Michael Keaton, and features a Volkswagen beetle with a mind of its own mixing it up with racing cars.

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