It’s an ongoing dilemma for carmakers: How long can a given model last before it needs refreshing? How long until you have to junk it altogether in favor of something completely new?
If you do decide to retire a familiar brand, you risk alienating drivers who loved the old model and there is no guarantee that new buyers will flock to its replacement. How long will it take — and how much will it cost — to build new brand loyalty?
Luckily for automakers, there’s a middle road: radical redesign.
A radical redesign treads a fine line between the two strategies, maintaining brand recognition without alienating loyal customers, while offering something new to people who have not previously driven the car. You don’t have to create a new assembly line and your advertising and marketing team doesn’t have to start from scratch.
Several major carmakers are shifting into that lane next year with radical retools of very familiar models. Here’s a sneak peek.
Jeep is billing the new Grand Cherokee SRT8 as the “ultimate performance SUV” and the most powerful Jeep ever. It doesn’t differ greatly from previous models on the outside, but under the hood it’s a different matter.
The vehicle’s 6.4-liter Hemi V-8 engine boasts special fuel-saver technology but doesn’t skimp on the muscle — an estimated 465 horsepower (compared to the old 5.7-liter V-8 and its 360 hp). That gives the Cherokee performance that’s almost sports-car worthy: zero to 60 in 4.8 seconds, a top speed of 155 mph and the capability to brake from 60 to zero in a meager 116 feet.
Also new on the 2012 Grand Cherokee is SRT-tuned adaptive damping suspension, electronic limited slip differential and revised gearing for better handling.
Given Chrysler’s penchant for model numbers rather than names, it’s not surprising that the Sebring convertible has morphed into the Chrysler 200 ragtop. Touted as a convertible that could take the whole family on holiday, the stylish Sebring certainly turned heads when it replaced the
LeBaron convertible in the mid 1990s.
The 200 convertible — which hit dealerships this summer — doesn’t stand out in a crowd like the Sebring when it was first introduced. But in many respects this is a better engineered, better performing car than its predecessor. The reworked version still seats four and boasts copious trunk space. But nearly everything else is new, including the interior and exterior. Also new are the suspension, a 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 engine, wider tires, a wider track and a lower profile.
A radical remake that’s not quite out of the starting gate is the Ford Focus ST, a performance variant of the standard Focus expected in U.S. showrooms early next year.
When it was first launched in the 1990s, the Focus was — dare we say it? — a bit bland. But the latest incarnation is aimed squarely at Generation Y, with flashy paint, larger wheels and tires, ground-hugging suspension and center-mounted double exhaust pipes. Under the hood is a brand-new 2.0-liter EcoBoost engine that can churn out 246 horsepower with better fuel economy than previous models.
One of the cars that has gone the longest without a major remake is the Corvette. Chevy adds a number of upgrades for the 2012 model year, especially on the high performance ZR1 and Z06 versions. “The big news for ZR1 are new Michelin Sport Cup tires that helped ZR1 cut six seconds off its lap time at the Nurburgring,” said Chevrolet spokesman Monte Doran.
But what Vette fans are really waiting for is the launch of the C7, the first radical remake of the vehicle in 13 years. Details are still sketchy: It could have a mid-engine layout with turbocharged performance in the 440-500 horsepower range, as well as a split rear window (a la the 1963 Stingray).
—Joe Yogerst, Custom Publishing Writer