RICK KRANZ

With new 300 and Charger, Chrysler sheds Mercedes halo

Rick Kranz is product editor for Automotive News

With so much attention focused on Sergio Marchionne and Fiat, the story behind the 2011, second-generation Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger sedans has been lost.

Neither car is a warmed-over version of the previous-generation sedan, merely dressed up with new sheet metal and a spiffed-up interior.

And the Daimler link? With one exception, it's gone, and that remaining connection is on its way out, too.

When the first-generation 300 appeared in 2004, and when the Charger followed, much was made of the fact that the sedans shared a range of Mercedes-Benz E- and C-class components.

The steering column, front seat frames, five-speed automatic transmission, rear suspension architecture and more came from the Mercedes parts bin.

The collaboration was done to improve the perception of the 300 and Charger and allow some of Chrysler's lineup to bask in the glow of Mercedes' engineering excellence.

The 2011 Dodge Charger SRT Photo credit: Chrysler

It also was a way to cut product development costs because the parts already were engineered. Some 300 and Charger owners laughed they were getting a bit of a Mercedes for a Chrysler price.

That's not the formula for the 2011 300 and Charger, says Tom McCarthy, the 300's chief engineer.

I spoke to McCarthy Thursday at a press event Chrysler held at its proving grounds in Chelsea, Mich.

Chrysler staged the event to showcase the 2011 Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and Ram lineup.

It was an unusual step. Normally at this time of year an automaker would be taking the wraps off the 2012 lineup.

But because of the late introduction of some of its 2011 models, and budget cuts that have downsized fleets for media, many journalists still have not driven Chrysler's 16 new or revamped models.

McCarthy said the 2011 300 and Charger have a new rear suspension, steering column, seat frames, wiring harnesses and switches. The list goes on. Even the chassis is new.

"I think a lot of people just assumed it was a carryover chassis from the previous car," he said. "It is not. It is all new."

While development of the second-generation 300 and Charger started under Daimler, the Mercedes connection is nearly gone -- the lone exception is the five-speed automatic transmission. That comes from the German automaker. But that soon will be replaced with a ZF transmission, which Automotive News reported more than a year ago.

McCarthy's message: Both cars have been redesigned with fresh parts.

"I think some of that story got lost," he said.

He's right.

Instead of products, the public is more focused on headlines with the words "Marchionne," "Fiat," and "bailout."

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