LARRY P. VELLEQUETTE

Marchionne isn't one to name names

Larry Vellequette covers Chrysler Group for Automotive NewsLarry Vellequette covers Chrysler Group for Automotive News
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Chrysler Group CEO Sergio Marchionne may have a name problem that extends beyond people constantly mispronouncing his surname.

The always demanding and enigmatic Chrysler and Fiat boss seems to be pondering Shakespeare's iconic question — "What's in a name?" — as he considers the monikers of the first two Chrysler Group vehicles to be based on a Fiat platform.

The automaker still has not publicly revealed the name of its new Dodge compact sedan, which is set to get its official unveiling in January at the Detroit auto show.

For over a year, industry pundits and insiders had insisted that the compact Dodge would be called the Dodge Hornet, in homage not only to the well-received 2006 concept car that carried the name but also to an ancestry of vehicles stretching back 60 years to the original Hudson Hornet.

Last week, Dodge brand head Reid Biglund told reporters, "Hornet will not be the name" of the new compact. Indeed, according to the Chrysler-centric Web site allpar.com, Chrysler Group trademarked four names on Oct. 21: Hornet, Dart, Duster and Camber. Only the Camber name has not been used previously on a production vehicle.

An early look at the Dodge Caliber replacement. But what will the new compact be called?

Photo credit: KGP PHOTOGRAPHY

But the naming conundrum affecting the new Dodge compact is also having an impact on the naming of another vehicle that will share Fiat's CUSW platform: the 2013 replacement for the outgoing Jeep Liberty.

Last week at an announcement in Toledo, Marchionne said he and those overseeing the Jeep brand were still considering whether the replacement for the Liberty would keep the name the mid-sized SUV has carried domestically since 2001 or go back to "Cherokee." For overseas sales, the Liberty had kept the Cherokee name that last appeared domestically on the 2001 Jeep "XJ" -- the vehicle widely credited for starting the SUV craze in 1987.

"We're looking at the Cherokee name as well" as Liberty for the first Jeep to be built off a Fiat platform, Marchionne said.

Maybe Chrysler Group has realized that if the vehicles are well-made, affordable, and dependable, it can name them anything it wants, and they will sell.

You can reach Larry P. Vellequette at lvellequette@crain.com.

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