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2010 Dodge Charger and the Rest of the Story

The 2010 police Charger is a complete carryover from 2009. So, what’s so newsworthy about this Charger? The answer is that the 2010 model even exists! A question on many fleet managers’ minds at the recent Police Fleet Expo was, “Will there be a 2010 Charger?” Well, we drove in the answer in mid-September, exactly when everyone’s 2010 models were supposed to come out. The Dodge Charger is here to stay, which was confirmed in Chrysler Group’s announcement in early November. And we have seen the re-engineered 2011 Charger, which is well on its way.

For 2010, the only new aspect of the police Charger is the new, longer powertrain warranty. The new 5-year/100K mile powertrain warranty matches General Motors’ 5-year/100K mile warrenty and exceeds Ford’s 5-year/60K mile warranty. While Chrysler’s new warranty specifically includes police and special service vehicles, this is actually a pretty low risk. The North Carolina Highway Patrol runs the nation’s largest fleet of police Chargers. With more than 700 Chargers in hard use, they have had zero warranty claims on the 5.7L HEMI® V8 and just one claim on the 5-speed transmission.

So, the biggest news from Chrysler Group for police officers and fleet managers is “business as usual.” Dodge is on-track to sell 15,000 police Chargers in the 2010 model year, which is about 25% of the police vehicle market. They are, of course, posturing to be a major player when the Ford CVPI exits in August 2011. The Charger is a proven RWD already in police use. For 2011, it will be improved in some critical areas but will still use the same basic Mercedes E-Class platform and bulletproof transmission.

We had a chance to put about 500 miles on a 2010 police package Charger V8. The optional 5.7L HEMI V8 produces 368 hp, compared to 250 hp from the standard 3.5L V6. Both police engines use the Mercedes NAG-1 5-speed automatic. All police Chargers have standard ABS, all-speed Traction Control, Electronic Brake Assist and a police-specific Electronic Stability Program (stability control). All come with a 160 amp alternator, heavy duty cooling, police-specific steering and 18-inch wheels and tires.

Highest Performance

The Dodge Charger is clearly the nation’s highest performance police sedan. In law enforcement, we have basically four options for police package sedans: Impala V6, Ford CVPI V8, Charger V6 and Charger V8. Using the Michigan State Police results for the 2010 models, the Charger V8 was first in acceleration, first in top speed, first in road course time, second in braking (the Charger V6 was first in braking) and third in fuel economy. The Charger V6 was also second in acceleration, second in road course time, second in fuel economy and third in top speed.

Heads-up. The Charger is also the smallest of the three police sedans. The front seat area is about 1 cubic foot (cf) smaller than the Impala and 2cf smaller than the Ford CVPI. The rear seat area is 1cf smaller than the Impala and about the same as the Ford CVPI. The trunk volume is about 2cf smaller than the Impala and 4cf smaller than the Ford CVPI. Even still, of the three brands of police sedans, the MSP rated the Charger the first in ergonomics (2009 vehicles).

Aggressive Miser-Mode

For 2009, in an effort to improve fuel economy, the driving parameters were opened up for when the Multiple Displacement System (MDS) would engage. The MDS now shuts down four cylinders sooner and keeps them deactivated longer. The original software calibration was way too restrictive. It was absolutely seamless and totally invisible to the driver, but really only engaged under light, constant throttle. MDS would deactivate cylinders during a steady cruise at 45 to 55 mph, and rarely under any other driving conditions.

The driver information center shows the status of the MDS. The “ECO ON” display means the MDS is engaged and the engine is operating on just four cylinders. The new MDS software forces the 5.7L V8 to run on four cylinders much more often. During our test, the ECO ON was illuminated when driving 75 mph on cruise control.

Some fleet managers may find the EPA estimates for the 5.7L V8 with the new “miser” fuel calibration a bit hard to believe. No one in law enforcement is likely to get 16 mpg city and 25 mpg highway when driving the 5.7L HEMI. However, the gas mileage is actually about 2mpg better than the older HEMIs under the same driving conditions and with the same driver.

The downside of the more aggressive “miser” MDS software is a bit less throttle response under very light throttle. After all, under these conditions you are now driving a 4-cylinder Charger, and it wants to remain a 4-cylinder Charger unless the driver gives it medium throttle or more. Then it becomes the fire breathing, stump-pulling, HEMI V8. The MDS does not engage when idling. When idling in Park, all eight cylinders are being used.

With the new software, instead of the MDS transition between 4-cylinder and 8-cylinder operation being totally seamless, the driver can now also sense the transition into and out of 4-cylinder mode. The torque band in 4-cylinder and 8-cylinder modes used to be perfectly matched for the transition. Now, the driver may sense a slightly different driveline noise (resonance) or feel. A quick glance for the ECO ON light will explain the sensations until the driver gets used to the transitions. Again, the benefit is about a 2-mpg improvement, and it’s worth it!

Full-Size Spare

The placement of the full size spare in the Charger has been a space problem since the Charger’s introduction. The floorpan where the mini-spare was stored was just slightly too small to accept the full-size spare. The tub recess was not large enough in diameter and the tire interfered with the trunk-mounted battery. Clearly, no one at the old DaimlerChrysler ever expected any one purchasing a Charger to ever want to carry a full size spare.

The first “factory” solution was horrible. The full-size spare was angled top to bottom and left to right and took up nearly the whole trunk. The remaining useable space in an already small trunk was extremely limited. Aftermarket companies provided a better patch for the problem than the nearly uprighted full-size spare installed by Chrysler’s Vehicle Completion Center. Many clever designs involving trunk trays placed the full size spare flat and horizontal in a forward location just behind the rear seat.

Why didn’t DaimlerChrysler engineering think of this mounting location before they designed the space-killing upright mount? They did. In fact, they mounted the full-size spare in exactly that location and then they ran federally-mandated rear crash tests.

The flat trunk tray mounting location used by some upfitters allowed the full-size rear tire to impact the rear seat enough for DaimlerChrysler to consider this crash test as a failure. The full-size tire, mounted horizontally over the axle, protrudes “enough” into the rear seat in mandated rear crash testing to prevent an OE from meeting FMVSS standards. Upfitters are not required to meet these federal standards. Whether they should or not is a different topic.

As a running change in 2009, and on all 2010 model police Chargers, Chrysler Group has designed a much better full-size spare mounting option. Angled top forward, but somewhat flatter, the bottom of the tire rests in the spare well. This results in much more space that can actually be used. Some space is available over the axle, and some space is in the well itself. Obviously, clever upfitting solutions for radio and emergency gear are still required.

So, too, is the honest assessment of the real need for the officer to change a flat tire. Many officers cannot actually change a flat tire. At any rate, the 2010 police Charger is available with a full-size spare that has a safer rear-crash mounting and allows a better use of trunk space.

Business of Bankruptcy

Let’s look back to earlier in the year. In late-April 2009, Chrysler Corp. declared bankruptcy. In early-May, all of its production facilities in America, Canada and Mexico halted output. The Dodge Charger is assembled in Brampton, Ontario, Canada. The 5.7L HEMI V8 is assembled in Toluca (Ramos Arizpe) Mexico.

Police vehicles and retail vehicles alike were stopped at whatever part of the assembly process they happened to be on May 4. Car carriers full of police cars ready to ship were unloaded and the cars placed in a massive parking lot. This essentially marked the end of the 2009 model year.

Just 40 days later, Chrysler Group exited bankruptcy now owned by a complex mix of business, government and union interests. The company was under a new alliance with Fiat SpA, had loans from the United States and Canadian governments, and a union pension fund was the majority owner. By September, the production of most Dodge, Jeep and Chrysler vehicles had resumed.

Shipments of already-built 2009 vehicles resumed in early August. The production of the 2009 models halted midway in the assembly was a difficult start-stop-start process for the rest of August and into early September. The 2010 Charger tested for this article arrived in mid-September. The startup was definitely a staggered start. Some assembly plants resumed production long before others.

Bankruptcy takes many different legal forms. The two most common are Chapter 7 and Chapter 11. Chapter 7 is the bad one. It means the business has gone out of business, period. The business is insolvent and all of its assets are sold to pay the creditors. Chapter 11, however, is the type of bankruptcy where the court steps in to briefly protect the company’s assets.

In Chapter 11, the company significantly restructures or reorganizes. It comes up with a court-approved plan to pay its creditors. Some assets may be sold. Some parts of the business may be spun off to raise money. Importantly, purchasing contracts, union contracts and franchise agreements are all opened to re-negotiation under the eye of the court.

Chrysler Corp. underwent Chapter 11 bankruptcy. This step was so planned and so structured that nearly all of the details of the new ownership were worked out before the bankruptcy was filed. The restructuring under Chapter 11 was tough on everyone involved. Creditors lost money. Many employees, both white and blue collar, lost their jobs. And nearly 800 dealerships, more than one in four, lost their franchise. As a rule, these were single marque dealers, i.e., Dodge-only or Chrysler-only. The multiple franchise dealers, i.e., Dodge-Chrysler-Jeep, either survived, or the franchises were shuffled somewhat locally.

Who is Fiat?

Fiat is Italy’s largest industrial company and operates in 61 countries. Half of Fiat’s 225,000 employees are outside Italy. In addition to Fiat Group Automobiles, Fiat SpA owns Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, Maserati, Lancia, Iveco (heavy commercial trucks) and Case-New Holland (agriculture and construction equipment).

Did you know FIAT is an acronym? It stands for (translated into English) Fabricator Italian Automobile Turin. Founded in 1899, its headquarters remains in Turin, Italy.

Fiat is the world’s sixth largest carmaker, immediately behind Ford. In order, based on 2008 volumes, not counting truck and SUV production, the largest carmaker companies are Toyota, Volkswagen, General Motors, Honda, Ford, Fiat-Chrysler, Nissan-Renault and Peugeot-Citroen.

In 1908, just over one hundred years ago, Fiat imported its first car to the United States. In 1910, Fiat opened a car assembly plant in New York; this was three years before Ford’s assembly line in Michigan. Of course, the Fiat cost four to ten times the cost of the $825 Ford Model T. In 1979, sales of Fiats in the United States peaked during the Iranian oil crisis, and then sales fell as oil became less expensive. In 1984, Fiat withdrew from the U.S. market and in 1996 Alfa Romeo left the U.S. market.

Who Owns What?

As Chrysler Group exited bankruptcy, the United Auto Workers’ (UAW) Voluntary Employee Beneficiary Association (VEBA) owned 55% of the new company. This is the UAW’s retiree healthcare pension retirement trust fund. The U.S. Treasury owns 8%, while the Canadian government owns 2%. Fiat SpA currently owns 20% and the U.S. Treasury is holding 15% in reserve.

Fiat did not provide cash for its share of Chrysler. Instead, it put up “intellectual property” like MultiAir fuel efficient engine technology, dual clutch transmissions designs and small car platform designs. (More on Fiat’s MultiAir technology, which will soon see police use, in a future issue.)

Chrysler would benefit from Fiat’s fuel efficient engine technologies and small car platform. Fiat would once again enter the North American market with an already established dealer network. Chrysler will also distribute some Fiat-marque vehicles, like the subcompact Fiat 500, which is expected in October 2010. The Fiat 500 is expected to be built at Chrysler’s plant in Toluca, Mexico and sold in Chrysler-brand showrooms.

Fiat can increase its 20% stake up to 35% (the 15% held in reserve) by hitting various performance targets. These goals, or combinations of these goals, include building Chrysler Group vehicles, powertrains or components in the United States based on Fiat technology; selling Chrysler Group vehicles (Jeep) in foreign markets (i.e., outside of the NAFTA zone); offering a car in the United States that gets 40 mpg or more (i.e., achieving regulatory approvals to produce fuel efficient engines in the United States).

Fiat also can acquire an additional 16% during the 2013-2016 timeframe, at its option. However, before Fiat can increase its share of Chrysler beyond 35% and gain a majority ownership of 51%, Chrysler must repay the government loans.

Dealer Woes Cause Delayed Shipments

GMAC Financial Services became the primary lender for Chrysler dealerships as part of the government-brokered restructuring. After Cerberus Capital Management (yes, ex-owner of Chrysler) took over both Chrysler Financial and GMAC Financial, Chrysler dealers faced some tight finance policies.

Some Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep dealerships found GMAC very difficult to work with. To the point, GMAC had zero tolerance for delayed payments from dealers, especially those with temporary financed floor plans. Of course, delayed payments and gentleman’s agreements are the clear pattern and practice of most municipalities!
That put the most fleet-oriented dealerships at immediate loggerheads with GMAC, who held the trump cards. If the police car was not on the dealer’s lot during a random inspection by GMAC auditors, and an invoice was not sent to the police department for the cars, the auditor simply asked for full payment…while he waited.

These short-term finance policies are one of the reasons it may not have been so smooth and easy for police departments to take delivery of Chrysler police cars right away. Absolutely every piece of paperwork had to be in place; there were no shortcuts whatsoever in the purchasing process. Given time to sort things out, most dealerships dumped GMAC and opted for banking institutions like Chase Auto Finance, Wachovia Dealer Services, Bank of America and Capital One Finance.

As we go to print in late-November, Chrysler Group announced that financially, it broke even in September and ended its first post-bankruptcy quarter with more cash on hand than it had at the beginning of the quarter. In a marathon length press conference, Chrysler indicated it would return to profitability by 2011 and pay back U.S. bailout loans by 2014. During this time it expects to introduce 21 new vehicles, including a 2011 model seven passenger crossover to replace the Durango.

Published in Police Fleet Manager, Nov/Dec 2009

Rating : 6.1

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Posted on : Feb 11 at 7:19 AM By Mike DalPezzo

Very informative - filled in some of the blanks that plagued us for our last delivery.

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