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Correspondent: Katherine Zatz
Chrysler’s Northeastern regional rep, Lisa Barrow, took charge of the Dart unveiling, introducing Ann Wagner and Matt Wagner, each of whom gave their take on the Dart.
Ann Wagner, the head of C and D segment vehicles product planning — a position which takes in the bulk of the market — talked about the styling of the Dart; she seemed to know a great deal about the car beyond that, not surprising given her position.
Mat Liddane, “vehicle line executive” for C and D segment vehicles (engineer), emphasized the 600 hours it spent in the wind tunnel, the laser enacted welding designed to reduce drag, and other aerodynamic measures; he also spent a great deal of time explaining the options, including the numerous color and interior choices, not to mention the configurable “analog and/or digital” dashboard. He said there should be at least one version of the Dart that everyone likes.
Editor’s note: our correspondent was told to get a copy of the VIN for one of our most prized sources, but this proved to be harder than it sounded. The prototype Dart, the first one made according to Kathy Graham, had no VIN at all. It apparently wasn’t driven to the show.
Jim Morrison, director of Jeep marketing, talked about the diesel-powered Jeep Grand Cherokee, saying it was production-ready. He didn’t say how many units they would produce, but Chrysler already makes a diesel Grand Cherokee in its Detroit plant, exporting it to other markets. It boasts a new VM Motori V6 diesel displacing three liters, and easily outperforming the prior Mercedes 3-liter V6. He also showed off the new Jeep Grand Cherokee trim line for which the company is having a naming contest. Both Grand Cherokees were present, along with other vehicles from the Jeep line.
Hyundai, Volkswagen, Ford, GM, Mazda, and the Boise State University all had presentations on the first day of the show, along with Dodge, Jeep, and Fiat. After the show, Keith Crain, publisher of Automotive News, was given a lifetime achievement award. Toyota showed the 2012 Camry; our suggestion for a launch tune would be “meet the new Camry, same as the old Camry.”
Before the manufacturer announcements, David Sandalow, Assistant Secretary for Policy and International Affairs of the Department of Energy, spoke about the jobs saved by the rescue of Detroit automakers (in the last year, 100,000 auto jobs were added or regained), and the role of energy in economic recovery.
The U.S. Government’s national highway transportation safety administration had a display promoting safercar.gov, which lists all recall information for all cars. The agency hopes to get more people to visit safercar.gov and find out whether their car had any active recalls; automakers do notify all owners of recalls, but people move or buy used cars without notifying the manufacturer. Recent studies showed that rental companies often don’t bother bringing cars back to the dealer to have recalls addressed, so those who buy second-hand fleet cars are also prime candidates for visiting safercar.gov. The site also lets people file complaints and see ongoing investigations, not just for cars, but also for tires and child seats.
To entice the car show crowd into visiting their display and then, hopefully, their web site, NHTSA was showing off their 1973 Chevrolet, the first car to be sold with an airbag; the Chevrolet was only available to government fleets, but later in the same model year, GM made the Oldsmobile Toronado available with an airbag, the first retail car to be so equipped. Airbags were an old idea at the time, but not until independent American inventor Allen Breed developed a method for detecting a crash did they become practical. Ford built experimental airbag-equipped cars, but did not sell them to the public until 1984; GM, having started in 1973 with Oldsmobile, added them to full-size Buicks, Oldsmobiles, and Cadillacs in the mid-1970s, making passenger airbags optional as well. In 1988, Chrysler made driver-side airbags standard across their entire domestic car lineup (including Plymouth and Dodge).
The 1973 Chevrolet itself was originally owned by the government, and sat for around 30 years after its tour of duty was done; then it was refurbished by car-enthusiast government workers, who also retrofitted some safety features such as the child seat in back.
WASHINGTON AUTO SHOW INFORMATION:
The Washington Auto Show has more than 700 new cars, trucks, minivans, and SUVs. It is in the Washington Convention Center, which covers two city blocks and has a Metro stop (Mt. Vernon Square, off the green and yellow lines).
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