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Published: Tuesday, 1/11/2011

Revived Chrysler shows off new Jeep, 300

Chrysler's Olivier Francois quotes a little of Detroit's own Eminem as he speaks about the new Chrysler 300 at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. Chrysler's Olivier Francois quotes a little of Detroit's own Eminem as he speaks about the new Chrysler 300 at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
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DETROIT — A year removed from having little more to show than carpet and cars, the domestic automaker with the biggest presence in metro Toledo reclaimed its place in Detroit during a pair of emotional press conferences on Monday at the media previews of the North American International Auto Show.

Chrysler Group LLC — with two assembly plants, a strategically important parts plant, and a globally important engine plant within 20 miles of Toledo — formally introduced several new product offerings, including an all-new Chrysler 300 sedan, a restyled Jeep Compass, and a series of specially badged Jeeps to commemorate the brand's 70th anniversary.

Recalling Jeep's legacy stretching back to 1941, Jeep brand President and Chief Executive Officer Mike Manley said Chrysler had committed to fixing deficiencies in its product lineup after emerging from bankruptcy, including improvements to the Jeep Compass.

The new Compass shown Monday will feature the vehicle's first-ever Trail-Rated badge, meaning some versions of every Jeep vehicle will carry the important off-road certification.

"Jeep's legendary heritage, iconic brand status, and capability have made it well-known and loved throughout the world, but that means we have a certain responsibility to the loyal following of Jeep enthusiasts. After all, it is their brand," Mr. Manley said.

New 70th anniversary-badged vehicles, including special editions of the Toledo-made Wrangler and Liberty, were on display but won't be rolled out to dealers until spring, Chrysler spokesman Chris Ellis said.

Earlier in the day, Olivier Francois, president and chief executive officer of the Chrysler brand, quoted Detroit hip-hop artist Eminem to introduce the completely new 300, on which cash-strapped Chrysler spent more than $1 billion.

"This is a story about how people react when their backs are against the ropes. And today, you will see what happens when we are backed into a corner. You will see the new Chrysler 300, and see that we came out swinging," Mr. Francois said.

In addition to a completely restyled exterior and vastly upgraded interior, the new 300 will boast Chrysler's 292-horsepower Pentastar V6 mated to a new 8-speed transmission that will help the large E-segment sedan achieve an estimated 30 mpg, Mr. Francois said.

The 300 and the 2011 Jeep Compass were the last of 16 new or refreshed vehicles overhauled in 2010 by Chrysler's design teams, an unprecedented top-to-bottom remake of the automaker's lineup completed in just 18 months.

The 2011 Jeep Compass is among the last of 16 vehicles to be overhauled in 2010 by Chrysler in an unprecedented top-to-bottom remake by the automaker. The 2011 Jeep Compass is among the last of 16 vehicles to be overhauled in 2010 by Chrysler in an unprecedented top-to-bottom remake by the automaker.
THE BLADE/ANDY MORRISON Enlarge | Buy This Photo

Although many of those new vehicles have begun to arrive in showrooms, the new 300 was eagerly anticipated by dealers.

"It's the flagship of Chrysler's car lineup. It's one piece of the puzzle, but it's huge," said Ralph Mahalak, Jr., who owns three Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep franchises nationwide, including the Monroe Dodge Superstore in Monroe. "I'm specifically going after everyone I know that's driving around in an import and telling them that they can't buy another car until they drive one of these. I expect to take in some quality import cars on trade for these 300s when people see them."

The new 2011 Compass will be powered by a 2.0 World Engine built at Chrysler's Global Engine Manufacturing Alliance plant in Dundee, the same plant that is building the new 1.4-litre FIRE Engine that will drive the all new Fiat 500.

U.S. production of the FIRE engine in Dundee allowed Fiat SpA to on Monday increase its share of Chrysler from 20 to 25 percent, under the terms of the 2009 agreement that brought Chrysler out of bankruptcy.

The U.S. Treasury now owns 9.2 percent of Chrysler, with the Canadian government's share at 2.3 percent. The United Auto Workers VEBA — the fund created in 2007 to provide health-care benefits to UAW retirees — owns the remaining 63.5 percent of the automaker.

Contact Larry P. Vellequette at: lvellequette@theblade.com or at 419-724-6091.



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