One of the ways to make money in this industry is to come up with exciting new models without spending a lot in the process.

A key way to do that is to use what you've already got.

A good example is the new Dodge Charger. Under the skin it is pretty much a Chrysler 300. But no one walking into a Dodge dealership will ever mistake them as the same car. All the sheet metal is dramatically different.

Many auto makers try to do this too cheaply. They save money by using the same body-side apertures (made with huge, expensive stamping dies) for different models that are developed off the same platform. But the body-side aperture dictates the rake of the windshield, the dimensions of the DLO (daylight opening) and the angle of the backlite (rear window). So it determines the overall silhouette of a vehicle.

By using the same body-side aperture you end up with a bunch of look-alike cookie-cutter models. Penny-wise, but pound-foolish.

General Motors Corp. did a great job with its GMT800 platform by developing a wide variety of pickups and SUVs off the same chassis. Chrysler Group is starting to follow suit, and you know that Ford will, too.

But they need to push this concept further. They need to explore making a passenger car on a pickup chassis. After all, an SUV is just a pickup with a wagon-type body on it. Why not make that body a passenger car instead of a wagon?

Pickups are the highest-volume vehicles at the Big Three. Lots of economies of scale there. That would help with costs.

And there's plenty of assembly capacity. Processed properly, these cars could run down the same assembly lines as the pickups — helping to fill those lines just as Asian pickups and SUVs are starting to eat into the Big Three's share of the truck segment.

Best of all, this would provide dramatic new proportions for the stylists to work with. These would be big cars, bigger than anything in the market. As we've seen recently, Americans love big cars with dramatic styling. Plus, with different springs you could lower the vehicle significantly, making it much easier to get in and out of than the big SUVs.

Done right, this kind of car could be classified as a truck. Remember the PT Cruiser, with its flat cargo floor and wide-opening doors, officially is classified as a truck. That significantly helps Chrysler with the truck side of its corporate average fuel economy.

Hmmm. An all-new segment, minimum tooling investment, more volume per platform, fill the assembly lines, higher truck CAFE. What's to wait for? Start the sketches!


John McElroy is editorial director of Blue Sky Productions and producer of “Autoline Detroit” for WTVS-Channel 56, Detroit and Speed Channel.