This year Chrysler did not even hold an official press conference as the company focused on what ifs including a Lancia and two Fiat 500s

A tale of two eras

To observe the changes going on with Chrysler, one only has to compare the following quote by Jim Press, vice chairman and president of Chrysler LLC that was made in January of 2009 with one made by current CEO Sergio Marchionne earlier this week.

Last January, Press pointed out that Chrysler faced “an unprecedented period of challenge” during the second half of 2008. “We learned a helluva lot and so we’re in a stronger position for 2009,” Press emphasized. “We don’t see much growth in the market,” but he was “confident that we will see a better year” in 2009.

Contrast that statement with a quote from Marchionne made at this year’s Automotive World Congress:

The grave danger of this moment is that we retreat into denial once more—that we mistake a better economic climate for better business models.

The cliché is correct.

A rising tide lifts all boats. But if only temporarily, a rising tide lifts sinking boats too—and if it deludes their captains into believing their vessels are seaworthy, a rising sea can be even more dangerous than a raging storm.”

Righting the ship

Righting a boat the size of Chrysler will take some time. There is new product in the pipeline as well as a new engine plant in Dundee, Michigan that is slated to open at the end of the year that will build engines for the American-built Fiat 500 due to go into production in 2011. But until those plans reaches fruition, Chrysler is stuck with making the best of its current models.

For 2010 the Chrysler exhibit was, when compared with previous years, definitely low-key. Gone was the signature Jeep waterfall and the splashy, if expensive, array of concept vehicles.

In their place, the company offered three new Jeep models that amounted to minor cosmetic changes on existing Liberty and Wrangler vehicles as well as a rebadged Lancia as Chrysler’s token “concept” vehicle.

Jeep Liberty Renegade

The Renegade name is resurrected in an attempt to “Butch-up” the Liberty. The package includes fog lamps, skid plates, tow hooks, “Mineral Gray”  16” wheels, dark metallic wheel flares, side sills, front and rear fascia, side moldings and license plate bar (rear) as well as black headlamp surrounds. Silver accents are applied to the lower fascia and roof rack and the hood features satin black graphics. The only engine option is Jeep’s venerable 210 hp 3.7-liter V-6 that produces 235 lb.-ft. of torque.

Jeep Wrangler Islander

For those Jeep owners who have always longed for “Tiki Bob” hood decals and embroidered seat logos, your ship has come in. Available in white, silver and black, the Islander sports 17” wheels shod with 32” tires, black side steps and latitude and longitude coordinates that represent, according to the press blurb, “an actual location” (as opposed to, we assume, the planet Vulcan).

Dark gray seats with “Surf Blue” inserts, blue stitching added to the leather-wrapped steering wheel and rubber floor mats complete the $1,120 package.

Jeep Wrangler Mountain

Based on the “Sport S” version and available with either the Wrangler or Wrangler Unlimited 4x4 models, the “Mountain” features its own hood decal with latitude and longitude coordinates that feature another “actual location” (memories of “students, get out your geography books, please” comes to mind). In addition to the aforementioned decal, more “Mineral Gray“ wheels, this time 17-inchers, are thrown into the mix along with tubular side steps, black tail lamps and a special fuel-filler door.

Inside, owners will find embroidered “Mountain logos” on the seats along with graphite HVAC rings. Color choices include Rescue Green, Deep Water Blue or Black Chrystal with a package price of $1,850 over and above the base Sport S.

Fiat 500 BEV and Abarth

Two of the three Fiat vehicles present are 500’s, one being the high-zoot Abarth edition and the other an electrified concept, the BEV.

The Fiat 500 BEV is this year’s mystery concept car. Under the hood is some type of electric motor but, other than that, there is no information or explanation regarding any of its other inner bits.

Although there was also no information regarding the Fiat 500 Abarth, with it being a production vehicle the specs are readily available. Residing under its bonnet is a turbo version of the normally-aspirated 500’s 1.4-liter engine that produces 133 horsepower and 152 lb.-ft. of torque. A revised front fascia, rear spoiler, 16” wheels and dual tailpipes round out external differences.

Inside, drivers will find aluminum pedals, firmer sport seats, a leather-wrapped wheel and shifter.

Chrysler Delta Whatever

Somewhere in the midst of the Chrysler display, sitting all by its lonesome with, again, absolutely nothing to indicate what it might be is a Lancia Delta complete with Chrysler grill, alloy wheels with a Chrysler center logo and another Chrysler wing logo stuck smack dab in the middle of the rear hatch lid.

It can't be called a concept, since the Lancia Delta is a production vehicle in Europe and is, in our opinion, one of the most sophisticated and beautifully-styled vehicles in Fiat’s lineup. In actuality, it represents what might be if there is still enough time for Marchionne to right the boat.