DaimlerChrysler SA is gearing up for the local launch of the eagerly-awaited Chrysler Crossfire in November. What are the company’s expectations of the model and is it the precursor of a host of revamped Chryslers bound for SA? Read on…

DaimlerChrysler SA is gearing up for the local launch of the eagerly-anticipated Crossfire in November. What are the company’s expectations of the model and is it the precursor of a range of revamped Chryslers bound for South Africa?

The launch of the Crossfire, which Chrysler Group chief operating officer Wolfgang Bernhard dubbed “one of the fastest concept-to-reality decisions in the auto industry”, is arguably DaimlerChrysler SA’s (DCSA) boldest move yet to entrench the American brand in this country.

The Chrysler Group accelerated the car’s launch by preserving key aspects of the concept vehicle and identifying Mercedes-Benz components to be used in production. For example, the sleek design, wheelbase and centre exhaust system were maintained from the original Crossfire concept, and powertrain and axle components are shared with Mercedes-Benz.

The Crossfire is powered by a Mercedes-sourced 3,2-litre 18-valve SOHC V6 engine that delivers 160 kW. The powerplant is mated to a five-speed automatic transmission and produces 310 N.m of torque. It has a front independent double-wishbone and rear independent five-link layout, with coil springs and gas-charged dampers all round. Wheels are 18-inch in front and 19-inch at the rear.

High ideals, limited numbers

Many motor enthusiasts in South Africa are already debating how the Crossfire will compare with cars like the highly-rated BMW Z4, Mercedes-Benz’s popular SLK, Audi’s legendary TT and the Nissan 350Z.

Speaking to CARtoday.com on Wednesday, DCSA’s media manager for Chrysler and Jeep, Guy Kilfoil, said that although the company was confident that the Crossfire would weigh-up positively against its competitors, the vehicle also served to showcase a new level of refinement and driving dynamism the South African public does not yet associate with the American brand.

“The Crossfire will add desirability to the Chrysler brand in South Africa. Because of its under-the-skin German engineering, it will have handling to match that of sports coupés that are currently on the market and those that will be launched soon, but also refinement comparable to that of the Mercedes SLK 320”.

Nissan SA general manager of marketing and communications Roel de Vries recently told CARtoday.com of the launch plans of the 350Z: “Because the vehicle is ‘a toy’ it will probably have a spike in demand in the initial stages and then show a steady decline… To counter this, we will import only as many cars as there is demand for and in the long run ensure that demand outstrips supply”.

Kilfoil told CARtoday.com that because of this apparent trend in the retail of sports cars, irrespective of their respective brands, DaimlerChrysler would make available only 140 Crossfires between November and March 2004 and expected to import between 25 and 35 units a month after that.

DCSA expected the manual version of the 3,2-litre Crossfire to retail for between R390 000 and R400 000 and the automatic at about R420 000, he said.

A taste of what’s to come? Yes and no

The Crossfire is a significant model for Chrysler because the brand has embarked on a programme to broaden its appeal in markets outside the US. It is also the first of at least nine new models that the company plans to roll out over the next few years.

Does that mean that South Africa will see the launch of production versions of vehicles such as the 300C, on which the first saloon from Chrysler Group’s next generation of rear-wheel drive vehicles will be based, or the 5,7-litre Hemi V8-engined 300C ‘wagon (due to be launched at the Frankfurt Show this month)?

“It is unlikely that Chrysler will enter the medium or executive saloon market in South Africa in the near future,” said Kilfoil, “but I can reveal that the successor to the Neon (Chrysler’s current car range in South Africa) will be a hatchback and compete with the Volkswagen Golf V and other models in the compact market”.

Component sharing crucial to development and launch of future models

“The Neon’s successor will share components with the Mitsubishi Colt, Mercedes A-Class and a similar Dodge model in the US (to a varying extent, Hyundai too, CARtoday.com notes) and this trend is set to continue with future models,” said Kilfoil.

Could that be the key to Chrysler’s strategy to expand its market share in South Africa? Chrysler (and Mitsubishi) are currently in the process of renewing their product lineups and the manufacturers’ new ranges will be developed and produced more cost-effectively due to the implementation of a “shared DaimlerChrysler parts bin” for the products, Kilfoil said.

“Those are the kind of models that can be brought into South Africa cost-effectively and will they undoubtedly play a role if Chrysler is to become a bigger volume brand on this market,” he concluded.

Original article from Car