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Car Talk

I honestly don't know what Daimler is doing to its American Chrysler/Dodge/Jeep subsidiary.

They killed off the Plymouth line a couple years back. What that accomplished other than to alienate customers and shrink their market share, I have no idea.

300CThey're trying to take Chrysler upscale, with new vehicles like the Pacifica, the Crossfire, and next year's 300C sedan. I like all three cars (although I discovered that, in person, the Pacifica looks more like a station wagon than it should. If they want to sell any, I mean), and I really like future-retro look Chrysler is pioneering. The problem is, they're trying to charge premium prices for, well, Chrysler products. And while the 300C will have a hefty Hemi engine, the Crossfire and the Pacifica are both a bit underpowered.

Yet if they up the power, Daimler runs the risk of making too good a Chrysler, cutting into sales of Mercedes cars. And they can't compete with GM on price. So taking Chrysler upscale looks like a big mistake.

That's the bad news. Here's the heartbreaking news:

Jeep has been wrestling with whether to offer smoother-riding, more carlike SUVs. The division now will try to straddle both worlds. It will keep its 4x4 models as "authentic" SUVs and will add a generation of less-rugged vehicles to compete against softer-riding sport wagons.

Making car-like Jeeps is like making broth-like stew. Sure, you can do it, but in the end, Jeep buyers will want to know where the beef is. Anybody can buy a tall Honda with all-wheel drive or a Ford Exorbitant, but Jeep buyers are a different breed. You buy a Jeep because you know what a Jeep can do: Damn near anything. What's next -- a Dodge Ram built to compete with Daewoo?

Jeep is an American icon, so it probably should come as a surprise that the Germans just don't get it.