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Chrysler Extinguishes Firepower

Prohibitive cost kills another high-profile Chrysler concept.

Chrysler Group is letting the flame go out on its Firepower concept, the Hemi-powered “grand tourer” that stoked performance ambitions for the auto maker’s core brand.

“We’re not doing Firepower,” Trevor Creed, senior vice president-design, says. “We just couldn’t find a viable way to do it.”

Reeling from the effects of bloated inventories, which led to a $1.5 billion third-quarter loss and an internal drive to shave $1,000 per vehicle-production cost, Chrysler is refocused on profitability.

Against this backdrop, the auto maker has said no product will enter its pipeline unless it has realistic profit potential. This approach killed the Jeep Gladiator concept earlier in the year, which debuted alongside the Firepower at the 2005 North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

And it even caused the Dodge Challenger concept – a can’t-miss product in the eyes of most industry observers – to undergo rigorous scrutiny before the auto maker declared it would build the muscle car in 2008.

The sleek, stylish Firepower features a 6.1L Hemi V-8 developed by Chrysler’s Street and Racing Technologies (SRT) performance group.

“It was a very striking concept,” Creed tells Ward’s, adding the Firepower shared no significant components with any other product in the Chrysler family. “(It) was built from the ground up,” Creed says. “And we needed to do that to get the unique look of (the) vehicle.”

But creating concept cars is “easy” compared with the task of engineering and building a production version that will succeed in the market, he adds.

The move to kill the Firepower doesn’t surprise industry experts.

“That makes sense to me,” says AutoPacific Inc. analyst Stephanie Brinley. To generate sufficient earnings from the Firepower, Chrysler would have been forced to charge “Viper money,” she says, referring to the 500-hp Dodge Viper SRT10 supercar that starts at $82,745.

Speculation by United Auto Workers union leaders called for the Firepower to be built alongside the Viper at Chrysler’s Conner Ave. assembly plant in Detroit.

“A (Chrysler) halo coupe is clever, but they’ve still got to fix some other issues,” Brinley says, noting she was impressed by the Firepower’s styling – interior and exterior – and its Ocean Deep Blue color scheme.

The car succeeded in generating buzz, but reaction was mixed. Last summer, when Firepower production seemed plausible, bloggers were upbeat about the design, with one poster calling it “awesome.”

However, others took note of Chrysler’s precarious financial position and declared potential Firepower production to be a “dumb move.”

Without the Firepower, Chrysler is left with the Crossfire as its flagship sports car. Built in Germany by Wilhelm Karmann GmbH using numerous components from the Mercedes-Benz SLK, the Crossfire is refreshed for ’07 after its ’06 run was cut short.

The 2-seater, with an anticipated starting price of about $31,000, features a new monochromatic look and many added safety features, such as passenger-seat occupant-classification technology that governs airbag deployment.

Meanwhile, another high-profile Chrysler concept still awaits its fate. The auto maker says plans for its upscale Imperial fullsize concept car, revealed at last year’s Detroit show, have yet to be determined.

Chrysler has said it would make a decision about production by year’s end. President and CEO Tom LaSorda tells Ward’s the auto maker may not make this deadline, but assures production still is being considered.

“I like it,” he says.

The Imperial concept is based on Chrysler’s LX platform, which also supports the Chrysler 300 sedan.

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