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Daimler Chrysler's Crossfire Turns a Lot of Heads - 2003-11-19


Since 1998, when Daimler-Benz took over the Chrysler corporation, auto industry observers have waited for the so-called "synergy", the true blending of the two companies, to take place.

A recent book about the auto industry The End of Detroit by Micheline Maynard had this to say about the merger between Chrysler and Daimler-Benz: "It took months of negotiations, delays and discussions to sort out, but going forward, Chryslers will be part German under their skins, the first being the Crossfire."

Senior Product Manager for Chrysler Passenger Vehicles, Scott Slagle, agrees.

"We refer to this car as the 'baby' of the merger," he said.

The Detroit editor of Road & Track magazine, Matt DeLorenzo, fills in some Crossfire details.

"It really is a blend of the two cultures," said Matt DeLorenzo. "You're looking at a vehicle that was designed by Chrysler and makes extensive use of Mercedes componentries, from the engine, rear axle, suspension bits and transmission. And it's actually built by Karmann in Germany."

The little Chrysler coupe is a distinctly American design and, furthermore, Mr. DeLorenzo says, he really likes it.

"More for Chrysler's input than Mercedes," he said. "The parts that Chrysler did - the styling and the chassis tuning - they did a very good job. The car is very stable. It's very neutral in the corners, it's a lot of fun to drive. But most of all, it's such a striking-looking vehicle. When you look at this thing, there's nothing on the road like it."

Some refer to the Crossfire as Chrysler's "halo" car, the vehicle that will bring attention to the brand, as the Viper sports car has done for Dodge. Road & Track's Matt DeLorenzo says, yes, but there's a difference.

"Crossfire isn't as outrageous or won't get as big headlines as the Viper," continued Matt DeLorenzo. "It does it in a more quiet and understated way, but nonetheless I'm sure there are a lot of dealers who are happy to have this two-seater in the lineup to kind of draw attention to the entire Chrysler line."

It's been reported that the Crossfire and a sports wagon "crossover" called Pacifica are the vehicles to take the Chrysler brand "up-market" into more expensive - and profitable - vehicles. Chrysler's Scott Slagle says it's true, but that does not mean very far up-market.

"It's not in the same lines as BMW or Lexus," he said. "That's not our goal for Chrysler brand. But we do want to have premium accents and it's more about the product. So when you use the product, when you grab the steering wheel, it feels like it's a quality vehicle."

We spent a week with a Crossfire and it does feel like a quality vehicle, peppy, fun to drive, not a real sports car, but sporty enough to enjoy. And it is an extraordinary attention-getter. Everywhere we drove, people reacted, smiling, asking questions about the car who makes it, what's the price, which, by the way, is just over $34,000.

We asked journalist DeLorenzo who are the target customers?

"It's very distinctive and I think the buyers who will gravitate to it won't necessarily be sports-car or performance enthusiasts," he said. "But they will tend to have a lot of high-style in their lives. And these are the kinds of 'influencers' that Chrysler really, really needs to reach. And, over the long run, I think they might find some success in doing it."

Television ads for the Chrysler Crossfire use the words, "crafted in Germany, turning heads everywhere." And that sums it up for a slick-looking little coupe that bears the DNA of both Stuttgart and Detroit.

Photos courtesy - Daimler Chrysler

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