It’s Friday once again, which means it’s time for another round of my Five For Friday: Five Thoughts about the Auto Industry for May 9, 2014. Big news from Chrysler's yearly planning meeting dominates this week, including the humbling of SRT, Dodge's new performance focus, and Chrysler's electric minivan, and I also celebrate two manual transmission additions from Chevrolet and Jaguar - let’s look at my take on the most noteworthy and interesting automotive stories from the past week.
01. SRT Limps Back Home
It's an experiment that lasted only a few shorts years, as it was announced this week during Chrysler's five-year planning event that SRT would no longer operate as an independent division. Instead, SRT will find itself under the auspices of Dodge, relieving Ralph Gilles of his duties leading the performance-oriented brand, and stripping the SRT moniker from every non-Dodge model with the exception of the Jeep Grand Cherokee. The move comes after puzzlingly slow sales of the SRT Viper, a former Dodge product, as well as a lack of unique, SRT-only vehicles to help the division form its own identity. Aside from the Viper, all other SRT models were variations on existing cars and SUVs, with the proposed SRT Barracuda (which would have broken this trend) never seeing the light of day.
02. Dodge Catches The Performance Bug
The winner in SRT losing its status as an independent brand is Dodge, which gets to claim almost-exclusive rights to the SRT name to be used on vehicles like the Charger SRT, the Challenger SRT, and an upcoming Dodge Dart SRT. The latter will help lead Dodge towards a high performance future with a turbocharged V-6 option as well as standard all-wheel drive. Also helping round Dodge into a go-fast brand is the Viper, which will be repatriated as the Dodge Viper SRT, and the Grand Caravan, which will add to Dodge' character via its subtraction from the lineup in 2016 (and we won't be seeing a replacement for the Avenger mid-size sedan, either). Strangely, the Dodge Journey will continue to be offered, and the crossover will eventually gain an SRT model by 2017. The Dodge Durango SUV will also remain on sale, although there's no word on its SRT prospects.
03. Chrysler Wants A Plug-In Hybrid Minivan. Does Anyone Else?
Finally, one of the weirder aspects of Chrysler's planning press conference was the revelation that a plug-in hybrid version of its next-generation minivan is in the works. For 2016 the Chrysler Town & Country will offer the very first hybrid minivan, along with a plug-in charging system which the automaker says will allow the people mover to post fuel mileage of 75 MPGe.
Now, Chrysler has built electric vans before via its ENVI initiative, which was charged with engineering a number of different battery-powered models that sadly never made it into production (although a small fleet was field-tested two years ago in Michigan). I'm not doubting the brand's technical expertise so much as asking whether there's any real customer demand for what would surely be a more expensive Chrysler van, regardless of the perceived fuel efficiency benefits.
04. Jaguar F-Type To Debut Shift-It-Yourself Gearbox
Motor Trend's Jonny Liebermann has leaked the news that the Jaguar F-Type - one of the most well-received sports coupes and convertibles to have been produced in the last five years - will eventually be gaining a manual transmission to complement its existing eight-speed automatic. Of the few complaints that have been made about the F-Type, the lack of a traditional manual gearbox gas been one of the most prominent, as this tool of driver engagement is frequently seen as a necessary accoutrement in the sports car world. Liebermann also writes that all-wheel drive is in the future for the F-Type, which is in keeping with Jaguar's push to snag more cold climate luxury sales.
05. Chevrolet SS To Get Manual Tranny, Too
I'm a bit late on this one - but apparently, despite the recent buzz so are a lot of others, since Autoweek had it covered all the way back in February. The 2015 Chevrolet SS full-size sedan will also be featuring a manual transmission, which is an about-face from the 2014 model's auto-only policy. Although GM officials had been adamant that there wasn't enough of a market for the large performance car to warrant two transmission choices, it would appear that for whatever reason that logic no longer applies. In addition to a six-speed manual tranny, the Chevrolet SS will also be offered with GM's magnetic ride control adaptive suspension technology, a feature that will allow the relatively affordable, 415 horsepower automobile to deliver handling that can compete with sport sedans costing tens of thousands more.
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