Chrysler at Dubai Autodrome

Good Times Roll

“Chrysler Shows Off Dream Line-Up as Sales Surge”

Chrysler is on a roll. With one of the strongest line-ups in its history, the auto maker is highlighting engineering refinements and competitive pricing for 2012. From the HEMI-propelled SRT8, the stand-alone Ram brand, the beasts of the Jeep stable to a Durango that buries its predecessor, the focus is on value and driving enjoyment.

No wonder there was a spring in the step of Chrysler gang at the Dubai Autodrome as they ushered us into their impressive armada. Chrysler, propelled by higher sales of Jeeps and other revamped cars and trucks, recently reported its first annual net income since 1997, capping a pivotal turnaround year that cynics thought would never come. Chrysler spent much of 2010 designing new vehicles and trying to spruce up those in the line-up that weren’t selling well.

Now those vehicles are in showrooms - but not for long as indicated by soaring sales figures in the Middle East and across the spectrum.

We didn’t get a crack at the Chrysler 300C SRT8, the Charger SRT8 or the Challenger SRT8. We did get behind the wheel of the Grand Cherokee SRT8 which will be just as at home smashing its way through the jebels of Oman as it is on the famed Rubicon Trail in the US.

If you are ‘performance minded’ and you like your Challengers and Chargers to earn their keep on the highways of the Gulf, you might soon be forced to have second thoughts about being a lead-foot. Hot laps with gun drivers were offered in a police pursuit vehicle, the Charger R/T. Word is the local constabulary might be in them before too long.

There’s so much going for Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge and Ram vehicles nowadays.

For example, Electronic Stability Control, which keeps you on the straight and narrow in all driving conditions, is now standard equipment on all Chrysler models for 2012. This anti-skid safety feature can make the difference between life and death.

Chrysler is also offering its Pentastar V6 VVT engine on all of its models for this year. It is both powerful and versatile and as aggressive as it is smooth, with outstanding fuel economy in all applications.

If more power is what you crave, the legendary HEMI V8 is available with the full-size 300 sedan. For performance enthusiasts, the SRT8 has some 470 horsepower on tap which could be bit of fun on the road from Dubai to Hatta for lunch on a Friday.

Chrysler is all about listening nowadays, taking in feedback from customers and experts wherever it can. Thus, all 2012 Chrysler vehicles come with exquisite exterior styling and welcoming interior features and innovations.

Some say the fun has gone out of driving. Not in the Arab Wheels office it hasn’t. Clearly, these folks haven’t driven the Dodge Charger. Without forgetting its heritage, the Charger offers thoroughly up-to-date technology, cleverly mated to good old-fashioned performance thrills. With HEMI engines available, and when it comes to getting down the road in a hurry, the Charger has few equals. How quick, habibe? The SRT8 model with the legendary 6.4-litre HEMI will get you from a standing start to freeway speed in less than five seconds.

For those with an eye on thrift, there’s also Dodge’s award-winning Pentastar V6, which offers the most standard power and best fuel economy in its class.  And for 2012, an all-new eight-speed automatic transmission is available and no fewer than 45 built-in safety features.

With best-in-class towing capacity and one of the roomiest interiors in the mid-size SUV segment, the Durango offers buyers a choice of two engines for 2012: the award-winning Pentastar 3.6 liter V6 and class-leading 5.7 liter HEMI V8. New for 2012, this latter engine is a six-speed automatic transmission, but either way, fuel economy is happily married to performance with the 2012 Durango.

Add an active all-wheel-drive system to the mix, and you have a roomy SUV that is as sure-footed as they come. How spacious is the Durango? It has more cargo space than the Ford Explorer, for example, with seating for seven, plus up to 28 different seating arrangements. As of this year, you can also get Fold-and-Tumble captain’s seats for second-row passengers and an accompanying centre console.

Back in the day, you could fit Durango fans in a phone box, but the latest offering has changed all that. It’s an excellent vehicle and it’s selling.

More than 10 million Ram trucks have been sold worldwide, so they’re doing something right. Ram is now a stand-alone brand as we reckon it should have been yonks ago. We had fun with the 1500 at the Autodrome. The Laramie is the daddy though and one of your correspondent’s favourite vehicles.

Authenticity is the key to Jeep. It’s not a made-up brand. Jeep is the real deal, a rough-nut that remains true to its roots and as capable, rugged and dependable as ever, even in the toughest driving conditions. Jeep is like having the biggest bouncer on side when things erupt in a club.

The history of Jeep, of course, dates back 71 years to the original Willys, a vehicle that soldiers depended on during and after World War II.

But while Jeep has a history and a heritage, the brand is as relevant in 2012, as a result of the big investments the Chrysler Group has made in Jeep products. Take the redesigned Jeep Compass. Some have suggested it resembles a mini Grand Cherokee. The Compass is another key reason why Jeep sales are so strong.

For all the cool metal at the Autodrome and off road, there’s no way anyone would have gone home without putting the Grand Cherokee SRT8 through its paces. Just don’t think you’ll ever get your Jeep, whichever one it is, to flinch. The iconic and world-renowned Jeep brand offers best-in-class capability and a legendary heritage like no other.

Jeep has been focused on designing vehicles with rugged looks, high quality and modern technology but ensuring that the faithful will never be alienated. Jeep has enriched its line-up, while remaining affordable and attainable and as capable as ever. That’s what the No. 1 SUV brand in the world should be doing. Arab Wheels has sampled the pleasure and pain of the punishing Rubicon Trail in a host of Jeeps and that’s when you realise you wouldn’t want to be in any other brand.

The heart and soul of the brand is the Wrangler, which retains its iconic design – immediately recognisable – but with a refined and comfortable interior and the new Pentastar V6 VVT engine.

We’re big fans of the Grand Cherokee and the SRT8 makes it extra special. Tough but luxurious, the Grand Cherokee delivers top-of-the-line comfort while remaining an off-road star.

Fiat assumed a much higher profile on the day and that’s set to continue. We got the chance to give a 500 some treatment through the slalom. More about Fiat and its burgeoning role in the Gulf in a coming edition.

But unless you’ve been on another planet you’d know that Chrysler is now privately held and majority owned by Italy’s Fiat SpA. The reason the Detroit boys and their kinfolk in the Middle East are so upbeat is that Chrysler earned $183 million last year, reversing a $652 million loss in 2010, its first full year out of bankruptcy protection.

Arab Wheels has been told Chrysler expects an even better 2012, here in the Middle East and around the world. The company predicts it will make about $1.5 billion this year and increase revenue 18 percent.

Chrysler Group Middle East recorded its best ever sales in 2011, closing the year with total sales of 15,246 vehicles, a year on year increase of 20 percent over 2010 (12,664).

Jack Rodencal, managing director of Chrysler Group Middle East, told ArabWheels: “Our product has radically changed and radically improved. We’ve got great cars. The SRT vehicles are very special.”

“We have touched everything and now we are seeing the scope of how we’ve changed. We’ll probably quadruple our business year-to-year. We know we’re offering value and the sales indicate the customers agree. The new Grand Cherokee is a huge success, people really like the new Durango. But the 300 will be the big one this year.”

The company’s global sales climbed 22 percent to 1.86 million last year. US sales growth was even faster, up 26 percent. Middle East sales are right up there with them, recording a 20 percent increase.

The Dart, which the tarps came off in Detroit, is likely to further boost Chrysler sales this year, and it will give the company a product to attract first-time buyers who generally stay with a brand if they like their first cars.

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