Chrysler keeps its changes under wraps

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DETROIT --- Chrysler Group has struggled after coming out of bankruptcy last year but plans several new or updated models after being acquired by Fiat.

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The Fiat 500 minicar will go on sale at Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge dealerships in December. It will come in four models, including a convertible and an electric  Associated Press
Associated Press
The Fiat 500 minicar will go on sale at Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge dealerships in December. It will come in four models, including a convertible and an electric

Under new CEO Sergio Marchionne, Chrysler won't announce details of new models until shortly before they hit showrooms.

Dealers, however, were given a sneak preview recently in Orlando, Fla. Chrysler executives revealed 15 new or updated models to about 2,400 dealers.

Dealers at the meeting, representing 90 percent of Chrysler's sales, weren't allowed to bring cell phones. Reporters were barred.

Chrysler hopes the new cars and trucks will boost sales and make the company profitable for the first time since it left bankruptcy protection.

New cars are important to Chrysler because it still is heavily reliant on truck sales for its revenue, even though the U.S. market has been shifting to smaller vehicles.

Here's a roundup of the changes for the 2011 model year:

Chrysler

300: The big sedan gets a major update including exterior sheet metal and a redesigned interior.

200: Many Chrysler dealers are hurting as customers bypass their showrooms for newer models from other automakers. Nowhere was it more evident than in midsize cars, a big part of the market in which the Chrysler Sebring fell far short of competitors.

"In the past, the factory kind of begged you to take the Sebring. If you did it, you were kind of just doing it to be a team player," said Frank M. Byers, Jr., of Byers Auto Group in Stuart, Fla. "I think the 200 will really change that."

Sebring and renamed it the 200. It restyled the outside and upgraded the interior and gave the car a new, more efficient V-6 engine, improved handling and made it quieter.

Engineers hope to refine the slow-selling car, quieting its noisy engine and eliminating hard plastic surfaces that make the interior look cheap. It will get an updated body.

TOWN & COUNTRY: The minivan is to be updated.

Dodge

NEW SUV: Dodge will get a new one, possibly named the Aspen, to replace the old Durango sometime later this year. It's based on the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee, which just hit showrooms in June.

It will have a different body, but share the chassis and engine with the Jeep, which is now powered by a standard 290-horsepower, 3.6-liter V-6 or an optional 360 horsepower, 5.7-liter V-8. Pricing and other details have yet to be announced.

CHARGER: A new version expected, but few details.

AVENGER: Significant update of the slow-selling midsize car, much like the Chrysler 200, that includes engine quieting, a nicer interior and new exterior sheet metal.

Jeep

GRAND CHEROKEE: The rugged sport utility vehicle, which the company hopes will lead Chrysler's aging model lineup out of its sales slump, arrived at dealers in June.

It's powered by a standard 290 horsepower, 3.6-liter V-6 or an optional 360 horsepower, 5.7-liter V-8 that can run on only four cylinders for better efficiency. It has a far more luxurious interior than its predecessor, and it's more refined on the highway.

In an effort to keep Jeep's off-road customer base happy, it has an air suspension system that can raise the undercarriage to clear rocks, stumps and other obstacles on the trails. Starts at $30,215.

WRANGLER: The traditional Jeep from the World War II days gets a new, more comfortable interior and removable hard top. The new interior has more storage areas, a new instrument panel and a lockable console. The vehicle also will have larger rear windows for better visibility.

The company says engineers were able to significantly reduce interior noise, long a problem in the rugged vehicle. Production started in August, and the new Wrangler is due in showrooms.

PATRIOT: The small sport utility vehicle will be updated but look much the same as the 2010 model.

Fiat

500: The Italian minicar, due for introduction at about 165 dealers nationwide in December, will come in four models.

The standard 500 will be made in Mexico and equipped with a 1.4-liter, four-cylinder engine made in Michigan. There also will be a rag-top convertible, a souped-up Abarth version and, in 2012, a fully electric 500.

Fiat, which took control of Chrysler after its bankruptcy last year, will distribute the 500s through selected Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep dealerships. It will be the brand's first appearance in the United States since the 1980s, when it pulled out after being beset by quality problems.

Further details about pricing, equipment and gas mileage haven't been released.


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