Monday, June 30, 2008

The American British Leyland

I have never drvien a Chrysler vehicle that I liked. So it is no great surprise that Chrysler is shutting its minivan plant.

I had the misfortune to rent a Dodge caravan from Hertz once. I was trying to rent a Ford Freestar and got the Dodge instead. For some reason the designers had overlooked the fact that it was unable to go round corners without a sickening lurch to the side. And despite a gas guzzling 3.3l V6 engine that managed only 16mpg there was no acceleration.

The Honda Odyssey we bought instead has the same sized engine but manages 255 hp instead of only 175. It also has an economy mode that shuts off three cylinders on the highway. That 45% improvement in horsepower comes from investment in engine design that Chrysler never made.

Unlike an SUV, a minivan is potentially a very fuel efficient mode of transport - if it is full. Last weekend I took 7 people from Boston to Pennsylvania in one van rather then two cars. It is not so fuel efficient when there is one drive and one child.

Chrysler was the auto maker that lobbied for the 'small trucks' exception to the federal fuel standards that made the SUV boom possible. It would be a fitting end for the company if it was to be the first to suffer bankruptcy now that the era of cheap oil is over and even Americans won't buy its shoddily built, antiquated gas guzzlers.

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