A reprieve for Durango? Could be
DETROIT -- The Dodge Durango -- one of only two vehicles in Chrysler Group's current 18-model lineup with lower sales through August -- will get a new nose, a new tail and a new transmission for the 2014 model year.
The Durango will be outfitted with the prominent "racetrack" taillights now found on the Dodge Charger and Dart, said dealers who were shown the seven-passenger crossover at Chrysler's product show last week in Las Vegas.
Up front, the Durango's prominent grille will be toned down and its lower air dam shortened, while underneath, the rear-wheel-drive crossover will be given Chrysler's TorqueFlite eight-speed transmission to improve fuel economy, dealers said.
The changes come as Chrysler decides what to do with the Durango.
Demand for its assembly line mate, the Jeep Grand Cherokee, continues the rocket ride the Grand Cherokee has been on since introduction in the summer of 2010. That puts production pressure on Chrysler's Jefferson North Assembly plant in Detroit, where the company is rushing to add a third shift before December.
"I think part of it is price point," said Don Lee, president of Lee Auto Malls, which has two Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep-Ram stores in Maine. Chrysler dealers, the vast majority of whom carry both Dodge and Jeep, have the Durango on their lots "sitting right next to a Grand Cherokee, and a customer will veer toward the Grand Cherokee almost every time."
The Durango has a base price of $29,990 with shipping while the Grand Cherokee has a base price of $28,420 with shipping.
A Chrysler Group spokesman declined to discuss future product plans. But earlier this year, Chrysler-Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne said he was considering dumping the Durango in favor of a seven-passenger Jeep -- the Grand Wagoneer -- that might bring in more sales and more profits.
Through August, U.S. Durango sales were off 21 percent to 27,066. They were down 45 percent in August, when dealers sold just 2,884. The Jeep Compass is the only other vehicle in Chrysler's lineup with lower sales for the year, but the Compass was down only 4 percent through August, to 28,368.
Analyst Rebecca Lindland of IHS Automotive said the product interventions on the Durango were expected, given its arrival in late 2010. But she said the crossover's lack of sales gains isn't a concern for Chrysler, which is allocating its marketing dollars elsewhere and has limited capacity for additional Durango production.
Lindland said Chrysler is focusing its marketing effort this year on launches of the Dodge Dart and the Ram 1500 pickup.
"It's a matter of where they're going to spend their marketing dollars," she said.
"Not every product can be up all the time. We're a little bit spoiled because they've been doing so well."
You can reach Larry P. Vellequette at email@example.com.