DaimlerChrysler Canada President Mark Norman
DaimlerChrysler Canada President Mark Norman. Click image to enlarge

Story and photos by Paul Williams

The 2005 North American International Auto Show in Detroit was a memorable event for the Chrysler Group (Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep). Not only did they come away from the show with North American Car of the Year honours (Chrysler 300C), but the company dazzled with the glitziest, most energetic reveals of the show.

DaimlerChrysler Canada President Mark Norman told Autos that the North American Car of the Year award “is a validation of what customers have told us they want in Canada and the U.S.”

Specifically, he explained, the combination of styling, performance and quality in the 300C and other new Chrysler Group vehicles is a result of the company’s access to DaimlerChrysler’s global resources.

“Engines from the U.S. and Mexico, technology from North America and Europe, styling by Canadians and Americans (Montrealer Ralph Gilles is the designer of the 300) contribute to the success of the brand,” he says.

Mr. Norman made special mention of the workers in the Brampton, Ontario plant who build the 300 sedans and Dodge Magnum sport wagons.

“They’ve done a heck of a job adapting to the new manufacturing processes. We’ve gone from front-wheel drive to rear-wheel drive and reworked 80% of the existing plant resources, and they’ve been terrific at making the change.”

The Chrysler Group’s Detroit “reveals” included one concept (the Jeep Hurricane), two vehicles that may be produced (Jeep Gladiator; Chrysler Firepower) and one new production vehicle, the Dodge Charger.

Dodge Charger debuts in Detroit
Dodge Charger debuts in Detroit

Dodge Charger debuts in Detroit
Dodge Charger

Dodge Charger debuts in Detroit
Dodge Charger and Dodge Magnum

Chrysler Firepower
Chrysler Firepower

Jeep Hurricane
Jeep Hurricane
Click image to enlarge

Of the carbon-fibre bodied Hurricane, Mr. Norman said, “It’s an outrageous concept that pushes the outer edges of the Jeep envelope.” With a Hemi V-8 engine at the front and at the rear, and wheels that articulate so the vehicle can turn 360-degrees in one spot, the Hurricane “demonstrates that people in this company love cars, and build vehicles that express this passion.”

The diesel-powered Jeep Gladiator is based on the Wrangler (TJ) Unlimited platform and recalls past Jeep pickup models. It’s a style that seems a natural for the Jeep line.

The Chrysler Firepower, Mr. Norman’s personal favourite, “Demonstrates Chrysler’s ability to combine clean design with performance and beauty.” Based on the SRT-8 drivetrain, “It would be a great value,” he said. “We’ll build it depending on the reaction we get from the public. So far, we’re getting a really strong positive reaction.”

Work has already started on the Dodge Charger in Brampton, Ontario. Like its namesake from the 1960s and 1970s, the Charger is will appeal to people who look for excitement from their car. A modern “muscle car,” with its Hemi V-8, the aggressive-looking Charger cuts a coupe profile even though it’s a four-door sedan. The 250-horsepower 3.5-litre V-6 is also available in the Charger.

Although Chrysler Group has introduced many new products over the past two years, Mr. Norman indicates that this isn’t the time for slowing down.

On the contrary, “We’re looking to gain momentum,” he says.

And with the focus on big, powerful vehicles, does this mean the company is leaving behind the compact sector, so important to the Canadian market?

“You’d be wrong to think that,” he says without providing specifics. “We’ll be maintaining our presence in that segment.”

The 2005 North American International Auto Show opened to the public on January 15 and closes January 22.

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