The first of the new redesigned Jeep Libertys had barely begun to roll of the assembly line and Daryl Richardson declared the vehicle a winner.
The word Jeep sells. When the buyers see this new vehicle, I think they are going to fall in love with it, not only for the appearance, but for the styling, said Mr. Richardson, a 33-year Jeep employee.
Employees at the Toledo Jeep Assembly complex next to I-75 began building the all-new Liberty yesterday, a week later than initially projected by DaimlerChrysler AG.
With a boxier and brawnier look, the new Liberty draws comparison to the classic designs of the traditional Jeep brand and harkens back to the Cherokee, a vehicle that the Liberty replaced six years ago.
The overhaul of the Liberty was extensive: Nearly two inches were added to the wheelbase and the head and leg room were increased. It also has more cargo space.
An optional full-open canvas roof, called a Sky Slider, is available. It can be opened from the front or back to expose both front and rear-seat passengers to the elements.
Jim Bailey, 58, who is among the employees who conduct a top-to-bottom inspection of the vehicles before they leave the plant, said buyers will find subtle changes.
The truth is Liberty is a Jeep. It is the best vehicle you can buy, said Mr. Bailey.
At a towering 6-feet, 6-inches, Mr. Richardson, 61, said the larger interior is among the reasons the new Liberty will be a hot seller on the showroom floor. It has got a lot of room, he said.
The new Libertys, which will be available in four to six weeks on dealer lots, will have sticker prices below the 2007 models.
Prices will start at $20,990 for the base two-wheel-drive Sport model $1,270 less than the 2007 model. The beginning price for the top-of-the-line two-wheel-drive Limited model is $720 below last year s model at $25,175,
Four-wheel-drive versions of the Sport begin at $22,600, while four-by-four versions of the Limited start at $26,785.
Last year, Toledo Jeep began production of the Dodge Nitro and a totally redesigned Jeep Wrangler, but defects and other quality issues slowed the launch.
Chuck Padden, a senior manager at the plant, said the experience gained with those vehicles was invaluable.
We are always trying to learn from the past. I think we are really well prepared in what we got going on with this Liberty, he said.
David Cole, of the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich., said automakers are reluctant to compromise the quality and integrity of a vehicle by ramping up production too early in the launch of any new product.
It s like a fine wine. You don t want to open the bottle before its time, he said.
Because the new Liberty is less cute than the model it replaced, it should be able to attract more male buyers, said Catherine Madden, an auto analyst with Global Insight Inc. in Lexington, Mass.
This new design has put the kibosh on calling it a chick vehicle, she said. Yet, it stills feel sporty. That was a huge concern with the first Liberty, that the Jeep heritage had been destroyed.
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