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Published: Thursday, 11/5/2009

Area dealers voice excitement about Wrangler changes

BY JON CHAVEZ
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

Ralph Mahalak, Jr., has no doubt whatsoever that if Chrysler Group LLC goes forward with ideas to add varieties of the Jeep Wrangler, the new derivatives will be big sellers.

"The Wrangler in itself is a special product," said Mr. Mahalak, owner of the Monroe Dodge Chrysler Jeep Superstore in Monroe, Mich.

"You name it, it is it. It's an off-road vehicle, it's a convertible, it's a station wagon, it's a sporty vehicle, it's a prom date vehicle," Mr. Mahalak said.

New variations, such as a diesel-powered Wrangler or a Wrangler pickup, would just enhance the vehicle's reputation, he said.

During a presentation yesterday at its headquarters in Auburn Hills, Mich., Chrysler officials unveiled sweeping changes planned for Toledo-made sport utility vehicles and its entire brand lineup.

The automaker hinted that it has plans to expand the offshoots of Wrangler, but it wasn't specific except to say it would have a diesel-powered version and improve its trim and other offerings.

Of the diesel Wrangler, which enthusiasts have pushed for and Chrysler said would be available by late next year, Mr. Mahalak said, "There's no reason why they couldn't make one. It'd be fun and I don't think it would be expensive." Buyers would be lined up to buy one, he added.

Jerry Snodgrass, general manager of Baumann Chrysler Jeep Dodge in Fremont, said, "The most intriguing thing to us would be the pickup. Everybody's asking and wondering what's going on and what new products are the dealers going to get," he said.

Diesel-powered Jeeps make sense, but Mr. Snodgrass said a diesel Wrangler may not. "The Wrangler is used more for off-roading and I don't believe [diesel power] makes that big a difference for the off-road crowd."

Chrysler also said it would refresh the look of its Jeep Liberty and Dodge Nitro, keeping both vehicles in production through 2014.

Mr. Snodgrass said he wonders if it makes sense to have a lot of different models after Chrysler consolidated its dealerships. "Do we need the Jeep Patriot and the Nitro, or are they all the same car? For the smaller dealer, it's hard to represent all the models," he said.

Contact Jon Chavez at:

jchavez@theblade.com

or 419-724-6128.



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