The 2012 election season leaves nothing untouched — even cars. Chrysler's two-minute-long Super Bowl XLVI spot starring actor Clint Eastwood had conservative pundits crying foul, while Obama's administration was quick to praise the ad and defend the 2009 auto bailout. In response to questions about the ad's political nature, Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne told Detroit's WJR-AM radio station on Monday that Chrysler is "as apolitical as you can make us" — and Eastwood, incidentally, doesn't even support Obama.
Chrysler division President Saad Chehab, who has lived in Detroit for more than 25 years, said the ad was just about being "damn proud" of the automaker's Detroit heritage. Chehab characterizes the automaker's current "Imported from Detroit" tagline as a "love letter" to the city.
"We're proud of this city of Detroit, and we want to go to the highest mountain and say it," he told Cars.com at this week's Chicago Auto Show. "If it's political to say I'm proud to be American, so be it."Reality complicates things, however. Chrysler came under the control of Italian automaker Fiat in 2009, and a number of cars — the Chrysler 300, Dodge Charger, Dodge Journey and Fiat 500 — are assembled in Canada or Mexico. Arguably, Chrysler is the least American of the Detroit Three.
Chehab fired back.
"Grand Cherokee is made in downtown Detroit — downtown Detroit, on Jefferson Avenue," he said, adding Chrysler is the only automaker with an assembly plant within Detroit city limits. "Chrysler 200 is made in Sterling Heights, Michigan, about 15 miles up the road. Most, if not all, the parts made in the 300 are made by folks in this country. In Indiana, we make the engines."
Cars assembled in Canada's Toronto area and the Detroit suburb of Windsor, Ontario, are "a way of being efficient" when the opportunity presents itself, Chehab said.
Room to Expand
Absent scuttled models like the PT Cruiser, Aspen and Pacifica, the Chrysler brand is down to just three vehicles. The 200 will be redesigned, but the name — a departure from the Sebring that preceded it — should remain the same.
"Right now I don't know of anything different," Chehab said.
Is there room for more? Absolutely, he said, but Chrysler needs to be careful. It starts with a hatchback that plays in the same segment as the Dodge Dart — the compact class, or C-segment — but has a different body style.
"The idea is that there's a discussion about a C-hatch for Chrysler and a C-sedan for Dodge," he said. "The group has to complement each other. We're in the same showroom."