Welcome Back, Chrysler


Back in January, I wrote about how Chrysler needs to find its mojo again after too many years of poor product and quality, thus making it nearly uncompetitive with pretty much every other automaker. And as we all know, Fiat and the U.S. government came to the rescue. Through the bailout package and the sale of the company from Cerberus L.P. to Fiat, allowed, yet again, for Chrysler to have a new lease on life.

I stated that Fiat was providing a lot of inspiration and cash flow to keep things running and along with the introduction of the new 3.6-liter Pentastar V6, Chrysler was finally fixing four years of bad product. All of that was happening just a few months ago. And just a short time later, Chrysler is proving, one new model and auto show at a time, that it's nearly on the brink of a full-fledged recovery. Without a doubt, the turnaround time has been extraordinary.

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From one model year to the next the Chrysler 300, for example, has gone from a good-looking sedan with poor interior quality, to an outstanding (and potentially class-leading) redesigned model that not only looks better, but nearly has the build and material quality of a Toyota Avalon. Fiat hasn't been shy in claiming their $1 billion investment to redesign and reengineer the car. However, that's a clear sign of the company's commitment to Chrysler's future. Could we say the same about Cerberus? Even in the DaimlerChrysler era, this level of investment wasn't seen this early on.

Granted, Chrysler did gain valuable access to various Daimler-Benz platforms which are still in use today by, coincidently, the revamped 300/Charger and even the new Jeep Grand Cherokee and Dodge Durango. However, Daimler-Benz never truly believed in the so-called "merger of equals." After all, it was Chrysler under former CEO Bob Eaton who approached them with the idea of the merger. And as time went by, Daimler began to view Chrysler as a thorn in their side. Unlike Fiat, they were already in the U.S. market long before Chrysler came into the picture.

Fiat had been wanting to reestablish itself in North American for some time, but simply could not afford to do so. In other words, Chrysler and Fiat need each other in ways the previous Daimler partnership did not. Fiat is clearly showing that it not only respects Chrysler, Dodge, and Jeep as automakers, but also their all-American histories. Daimler couldn't have cared less. They just wanted Jeep profits. Fiat not only "gets it," but they're also incorporating their latest engine technologies into new Chryslers.

Beginning with the new MultiAir engine, which is basically variable valve technology that controls air intake and increases power by some 10 percent and reduces fuel consumption by the same amount, Fiat is preparing for both tighter fuel regulations and customer demand for powerful engines. Will there be hybrids in the future? Likely, but MultiAir technology is great because it's compatible with both gasoline and diesel engines, meaning hybrids are not the only area of focus. Another sign of Italian affection?

The 2012 Dodge Charger will be offered with Alfa Romeo's 1.75-liter four-cylinder turbocharged gasoline engine that delivers 225 hp and 250 lb-ft of torque. Also powering a couple Alfa models and the upcoming 4C, it will be mated to an eight-speed automatic twin dry clutch transmission. Admittedly, the new Chrysler 200 and Dodge Avenger aren't the most exciting, but they were improved about as much as they could be until proper replacements arrive sometime in 2013. Perhaps best of all, Dodge is currently developing an all-new Viper, which never would have happened under Cerberus.

Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne installation of excellent leadership for the Chrysler and Dodge brands, led by Olivier Francois and Ralph Gilles, respectively, has also been a major contributor for the company's continued rebound. And now that Fiat is buying an additional 16 percent stake of Chrysler (for a total of 46 percent ownership), the future under the Italian sun is looking brighter than ever.