V&R 10th Anniversary Stories: Hints from the 2011 NAIAS

The one thing about looking back over ten years of publication are the stories you encounter from the past. They could be a vehicle I worked with or a news story I covered. 

In this case, I have to go back to the oldest story on the site. It was a look at the 2011 North American International Auto Show in Detroit. I was not at the show, but it would help frame future remote auto show coverage of those that I did not attend. 

That year’s NAIAS hosted several debuts, such as the North American 2012 Volkswagen Passat that was to be assembled in Chattanooga, Tennessee. There were a few other debuts that were notable, so click on the hyperlink above to see what I covered. 

Photo courtesy of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles

My coverage of the 2011 NAIAS also focused on a talk that the late Sergio Marchionne had with the media at Cobo Hall (now TCF Center). He would have such talks to invited media every year at NAIAS. In fact, I was invited to the one in 2013, except I had a conflict in my schedule (with General Motors, my hosts). 

This was at the time when Marchionne was bouncing between running Chrysler and Fiat, prior to their merger as Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. The Italian-Canadian CEO had a vision for the Chrysler side of the business. I wanted to revisit that article and see whether his "hints" from that meeting became true or not. 

Let me start with something Marchionne talked about regarding Jeep:

“First off, he dropped a mention of a Jeep with honest cargo space – a pickup. Marchionne didn’t say it was a pickup, but I’m sure the RAM brand team wants a pow-wow over said vehicle. Then, another hint was dropped for a seven-passenger Grand Wagoneer – based on the Grand Cherokee and Dodge Durango. Wait…I thought the Durango was supposed to be the seven-seater of that platform! And, the Commander – didn’t that fail to grab sales outside of the Detroit area?”

Photo by Randy Stern

Let’s back up here a moment. First off, that pickup had been talked about for years afterward. It finally came off the assembly line in 2019 – the Jeep Gladiator

Granted, a mid-sized pickup truck from RAM would make more sense. However, this was a project that was designed to add more equity for Jeep. Sure enough, many Jeep waves welcomed the Gladiator in the past year or so. 

Also, the Grand Wagoneer will become a reality later in 2021. That, too, had been talked about for eons. However, what we will see is more of a sub-brand of Wagoneers to be produced on an all-new assembly line with prices headed towards $100,000. I am also crossing my fingers that the new generation Grand Cherokee would emerge sometime this year, as well. 

There is no need to question the Dodge Durango's existence. They just installed the Hellcat engine underneath its hood for 2021. 

As for the Jeep Commander, it was dead before the doors opened up at the 2011 NAIAS. A forgettable vehicle, to be honest.

Speaking of forgettable vehicles…

“Then, Marchionne addressed the Dodge Nitro. He apparently wants to see it gone. He’s not the only one. Most likely, its replacement will be on a Fiat platform – the C-Evo. Good point!”

Photo by Randy Stern

Today, I can honestly say that one of the worst vehicles I have ever driven was the Dodge Nitro. That, and its brethren, the Jeep Liberty. The Nitro was eliminated from the lineup in 2012. Praise, all deities! 

As of this year, Dodge no longer sell any SUVs or crossovers. However, Fiat did introduce an SUV/crossover on FCA’s “Small Wide 4X4 architecture” in 2015 – the 500X. This vehicle is more related to the Jeep Renegade and Compass than the Liberty/Nitro. In fact, it will become the one of two Fiat models remaining in North American showrooms by this summer. 

“Lastly, Marchionne also asked his company to decide which minivan will survive in 2013. The plan is to keep one regular minivan – either the Dodge Grand Caravan or the Chrysler Town & Country – and bring in a Fiat-based MPV to replace the lost model. This one’s a toughie – I like the concept, but choosing a brand over another for a minivan seems a bit illogical. Not sure what to think about this…”

First of all, the Dodge Grand Caravan continued to be produced at the Windsor, Ontario plant until this past summer. The Chrysler Town & Country soldiered on until 2016. 

Photo by Randy Stern

However, Marchionne was half-right about a Fiat-based MPV replacing one of the minivans. The Serbian-made 500L arrived stateside in 2013. While it made some sense for a while, several consumer publications gave it the distinction of being the least reliable vehicle sold in this country. 

Meanwhile, FCA developed an all-new minivan to replace the Town & Country. The Chrysler Pacifica arrived in 2016 to move the bar in terms of segment design, engineering, and innovation. Since then, Chrysler added the value-oriented Voyager to the lineup as the proverbial replacement for the Grand Caravan. 

These hints dropped by Marchionne have turned – or, are turning – into reality. I always knew that he had the foresight on how his businesses were to run and what they could produce towards fiscal and corporate excellence.

There was one thing Marchionne did talk about before his death – future collaboration with another automotive manufacturer. Sure enough, that is happening soon. 

Cover photo courtesy of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles

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