Chrysler designers were showing the new 1997 Jeep Wrangler to a group of hard-bitten, skeptical Jeep fanatics. The Jeepniks, says John Herlitz, Chrysler Corp. vice president of design, crawled underneath the Wrangler and poked around for about three minutes. When they emerged, they pronounced it a real Jeep. Recounts Herlitz: 'One of them said, 'We thought you guys would have neutered the last stud bull on the ranch.' '
BUT MOST DRIVERS WANT THEM NEUTERED - If there was any doubt whether future sport-utility buyers want more car-like handling, a recent study by AutoPacific Group, a California market research company, shows that demand for front-wheel-drive compact sport-utilities with car-like qualities could grow to twice the demand for rear-wheel-drive models. According to the Future Attribute Demand Study, manufacturers who have fwd and other car-like qualities will be able to retain aging baby boomers who have tired of the truck-like manners of many sport-utes.
57.8 PERCENT LESS FUN - David McCammon, Ford Motor Co. vice president of finance, braced himself as he opened the floor to questions at the earnings press conference last week. Chrysler had announced the day before that its first-quarter earnings doubled. Meanwhile, Ford's earnings fell almost 60 percent. McCammon said: 'I doubt this will be as much fun as Chrysler had yesterday, but let's go ahead anyway.'
A MATTER OF CONSCIENCE - Car dealer Norman Braman resigned from the University of Miami board after a Nation of Islam minister visited for a talk at the school last month, the Associated Press reported. The dealer also withdrew his financial support for a center for Holocaust and contemporary Jewish studies that is in the works at the university. Braman had considered contributing a seven-figure amount, according to the Associated Press. Braman is chairman of Braman Dealerships, which owns seven dealerships and reported sales of $390 million last year. According to the Associated Press, Braman said he could not continue to support a university whose leaders didn't take a clear stand against bigotry and racism.
COINCIDENCE? It didn't take Mazda Motor of America long to get into the swing of its parent company's closer ties to Ford Motor Co. On April 12, Ford announced that it had increased its share of Japan's Mazda Motor Corp. to 33.4 percent from the 25 percent it held since 1979. Four days later, Mazda announced a U.S. price hike, a practice at which Ford is quite adept. A Mazda spokesman insisted that the price hike had been in the works for a while.