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DaimlerChrysler: Hoping New SUV Sales Will Soar

Audio Topics:  Jeep Liberty

DaimlerChrysler: Hoping New SUV Sales Will Soar

John Birchard
Voice of America
July 28, 2001

Audio Version  327KB  Requires RealPlayer

DaimlerChrysler has introduced a new model in their popular Jeep sport utility vehicle (SUV) series.  The new Jeep is called Liberty.  The Liberty enters a market segment already crowded with tough competitors.

The Liberty replaces the Jeep Cherokee, the first of the mass market, four-door SUVs designed back in the 1980s.  The director of Jeep brand planning, Michael Kane, says automakers have learned a lot since then.  "Of course, you know technology has changed over the past 20 years.  And everything from manufacturing to content to features to equipment is really up to date in this generation (of vehicle)," he said.

The Liberty is bigger and heavier than Cherokee, but is priced lower, starting at $17,000 for the two-wheel-drive model and running up to around $26,00 for the fanciest four-wheel-drive vehicle.

Michael Kane says, unlike some other SUVs, the new Liberty is a real off-road vehicle.  "We really are after today's expanding SUV market consumers," Mr. Kane says, "plus at the same time we are true to all of Jeep's 'roots' in that the new Liberty is just as capable off-road as the Cherokee was."

Jeep has softened the ride of the Liberty with an independent front suspension, a first for the brand.  We found the ride to be vastly improved, but you won't mistake it for a car.  Liberty is quieter and better handling than any Jeep we've ever driven.  A 3.7 liter V-6, pumping out 210 horsepower, is the most powerful engine in the class.  But fuel economy suffers from the power and weight.  We averaged 24 kilometers per U.S. gallon.

The four-door, five passenger Liberty is classified as a small sport utility, meaning it competes with Toyota's RAV-4, the Honda CR-V and Ford Escape, among others.

Auto industry analyst Dan Gorrell of the marketing research firm Strategic Vision in Santa Ana, California, says Liberty is the right vehicle at the right time for DaimlerChrysler.  "Absolutely," he says.  "It's in a booming segment.  Consumers are demanding in small SUVs more variety and Chrysler has addressed that with the Liberty that is a very pleasant replacement for the sort of long-in-the-tooth [aging] Cherokee.

Chrysler Group began production of the new Liberty in April.  By the end of June, dealers had already placed 60,000 orders, an even better sales start than the company's popular PT Cruiser.  DaimlerChrysler could use some good news and the Jeep Liberty just might be the vehicle to generate it.

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