DETROIT AUTO SHOW -- 1994

Chrysler wows Detroit show

JA, Patriot, Neon steal the spotlight

Originally published: Jan. 9, 1994

When you're hot, you're hot.

Chrysler Corp. proved again last week that it still knows how to leverage good news by stealing the limelight at the North American International Auto Show press preview for the third consecutive year.

The automaker used the unveiling of its new JA models, the 1995 Dodge Stratus and Chrysler Cirrus, to capture a lion's share of pre-show attention from reporters and industry executives from around the world.

The JA even drew accolades from some import officials.

Chrysler's Neon, shown for the first time at the Frankfurt show in September but priced last week, added to the excitement. And the company pulled a techno-logical tour de force with a display of its new turbine flywheel-powered racing car, the Patriot.

Wall Street was sufficiently impressed by Chrysler's new products and strong prospects for 1994 to send its stock climbing nearly 5 percent to $ 56 a share on Tuesday, Jan. 4, the day the Stratus and Cirrus were unveiled.

Chrysler pulled off the publicity coup despite some first-class hardware dis-played by competitors -- who were unable to leverage their offerings the way Chrysler did. Other potential show-stoppers included:

•Volkswagen's Concept 1. The vehicle is a retro Beetle for the 1990s designed at Volkswagen's studio in Simi Valley, Calif.

Volkswagen said it is looking at three different economy powertrains for the vehicle.

•Cadillac's LSE. It represents the division's vision for an entry-level, rear-drive luxury sedan for the mid-1990s.

The platform for the show car was engineered and manufactured by General Motors of Europe in Russelsheim, Germany. Its engine is a double-overhead-camshaft 3.0-liter V-6 delivering more than 200 horsepower.

•Ford Division's 1995-model, front-drive Windstar minivan.

Its car-like qualities, dual airbags and front-drive powertrain make it a strong challenger to the Chrysler minivans.

Ford also unveiled the Aspire, a replacement for the subcompact Festiva.

STARTING EARLY

In 1992, Chrysler stole the show - and subsequently a good portion of the market - with its then-new Jeep Grand Cherokee, which Chrysler President Robert Lutz drove through a plate glass window at Cobo Center. Last year, Chrysler dropped its now hot-selling full-sized Ram pickup from the ceiling at Cobo.

This year, more than 300 reporters got their first taste of the show early Monday morning at the design dome of the Chrysler Technology Center, 35 miles north of Detroit. There, Chrysler showed off several concept cars and discussed production plans for two new limited-production models, the Viper GTS and Prowler.

Monday afternoon, Chrysler impressed attendees with the low base price of $8,975 for its Neon. The highest-priced Neon sport model will sell for less than $13,000, said Arthur Liebler, Chrysler vice president of sales and marketing.

But it was Stratus and Cirrus that riveted those at the preview.

'I think there's no question they were the hits of the show. They really do set a new benchmark for the compact/mid-sized segment,' said Joseph Phillippi, an analyst with Lehman Brothers in New York.

Chrysler acknowledged the enormity of the JA's task in attacking what Chrysler President Robert Lutz called "the bastion of import strength" by using a take-off on TV's old "Mission Impossible" show to introduce the cars.

Actor Peter Graves presided over three film clips which began with Chrysler executives parodying a "Mission Impossible" team and concluded with a serious recap of details and planning that went into the new cars.

IMPORT FOCUS

Chrysler brushed aside domestic competitors such as the Ford Contour, Mercury Mystique and General Motors' models without a word in its single-minded focus on import leaders such as the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry.

Richard Colliver, senior vice president of the Honda Automobile Division, stood through the entire performance for a look at the JA.

At a Wednesday press dinner, James Olson, Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. group vice president of external affairs, raved about the JA cars and their great design and sophisticated body stampings.

The Stratus and Cirrus will go into production at the Sterling Heights, Mich., plant July 18 and be put on sale in late September or early October.

The JA will replace the Dodge Spirit, Plymouth Acclaim and Chrysler LeBaron, though perhaps not immediately. Chrysler wants to keep Acclaim as a low-price entry model until a Plymouth version of the JA can be brought out in the fall of 1995.

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