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Published: Wednesday, 6/16/2004

Chrysler pays homage to Cherokee in lines of 2005 Liberty Renegade

BY JULIE M. McKINNON
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
Matthew Nyquist helped design the Renegade, which includes exposed fender fasteners. Matthew Nyquist helped design the Renegade, which includes exposed fender fasteners.
LONG / BLADE Enlarge

CHELSEA, Mich. - The 2005 Jeep Liberty Renegade has a taller grille, flatter hood, more prominent fog lamps, and other rugged features designed to draw a particular audience back to the sport-utility vehicle: Men who bemoan the loss of the Jeep Cherokee.

As part of the Toledo-made Liberty's freshening for the 2005 model year, the compact SUV's Renegade model to be sold at dealerships this fall will have an exterior that is more distinct from the Sport and Limited versions.

All three models will benefit from some customer-driven changes, such as a flatter-folding back seat and power window switches placed further forward on the center console so they are in a driver's peripheral vision. But the Renegade also takes some design cues from the long-lived Cherokee it replaced as well as from the iconic Toledo-made Jeep Wrangler.

Liberty chief engineer Richard Reuter, who has been with the Toledo-born Jeep brand for 31 years, said Liberty still faces some backlash from male off-roaders who favor a solid front axle as the Cherokee had. Between 35 and 40 percent of Liberty buyers are men, compared with 55 percent of Cherokee buyers, according to DaimlerChrysler AG statistics.

Mostly cosmetic changes have been made to the already off-road capable Liberty to attract their attention, Mr. Reuter and others said yesterday. The 2005 Renegade does have rock rails, four skid plates, and

all-terrain tires with wider treads for off-roading, as well as tail lamp guards, exposed fasteners on fender flares, and an optional overhead light bar.

"It will probably resonate with the Cherokee buyers, with the old square front end," said engineer Matthew Nyquist, who worked on the Liberty.

Chrysler yesterday showed reporters various 2005 vehicles at its Chelsea Proving Grounds testing and engineering facility. Among them were the Dodge Ram Power Wagon and Ram SRT-10 Quad Cab. The media first got a look at 2005 Liberty models in November.

Chrysler has yet to formally announce the upcoming rebirth of the Dodge Charger muscle car and a new full-size SUV called the Jeep Commander, but company officials have acknowledged their place in the product pipeline.

Company officials, including Dieter Zetsche, Chrysler's president and chief executive, remained tight-lipped about other upcoming developments at the Toledo Jeep Assembly Plant. A $2.1 billion expansion is planned for the plant that in 2006 will yield a redesigned Wrangler and a Dodge expected off the Liberty platform, along with a fourth vehicle off the redesigned Wrangler platform.

Mr. Zetsche called the 2005 model year important for the Liberty, because the new Renegade and the addition of a diesel engine option for Sport and Limited models will broaden the SUV's appeal. The 2.8-liter diesel version improves fuel efficiency by 25 percent, to 21 miles a gallon in the city and 27 miles a gallon on highways, and reduces carbon dioxide emissions by 20 percent, the company said.

Pricing has yet to be set for any of the 2005 Liberty models, and officials declined to comment on how many would be made.

Contact Julie M. McKinnon at:

jmckinnon@theblade.com

or 419-724-6087.



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