Chrysler Charting New Course from Motor City

April 2, 2011/Autoweb Classifieds

MOTOR MATTERS DOWN THE ROAD BY HERB SHULDINER

Aiming to regain its importance in the U.S. auto industry, Chrysler’s iconic Town & Country minivan is enjoying increasing sales.
Olivier Francois, who heads the Fiat brand called Lancia in Italy, became marketing chief for all Chrysler brands in the U.S. after Fiat took over Chrysler in 2009. The flamboyant Olivier, who is also President and CEO of the Chrysler brand, describes himself as a Frenchman who comes to Detroit via Italy.
His job is a challenge because Chrysler lacks “high mpg” models that are increasingly popular as fuel prices head towards $4 per gallon. Chrysler’s car portfolio relies mostly on the 300 sedans and the new 200 sedan and convertible.
The new 2011 Chrysler 300 is just coming out now, so dealers should start seeing first deliveries soon. A spokeswoman says it’s too early to gauge the success of the new 2011 Chrysler 300 and 200 models.
Chrysler is confident that the new 200, which is built on the Sebring platform, won’t cannibalize 300 series sales. Chrysler dealers are not fully stocked with 200 models yet. March sales will be much better, the spokeswoman promises.
After the imported from the Motor City Super Bowl commercial aired featuring the provocative musical rap artist Eminem, Edmunds.com said inquiries on their site for the 200 shot way up. So people are definitely interested in the vehicle.
The new Chrysler 200 is available in three trim levels: LX ($19,995), Touring ($21,995) and Limited ($24,495) models.

The LX will capture no more than 5 percent of sales, while the Touring and Limited models will account for about 40 percent of volume each, according to Chrysler. The S model, which will be the flagship and debut in late spring or early summer, will account for the remainder of sales.
Fuel economy for the 200 models with a V-6 engine is 19 miles per gallon city and 29 mpg highway. Equipped with the base model four-cylinder engine the Chrysler 200 earns EPA fuel economy ratings of 20 mpg city and 31 mpg highway. The 300 lineup is the newest in its segment and comes in Touring ($30,995), Touring L ($32,995) and Limited ($39,495) models.
In 2009, Chrysler announced a future product plan for the brand that included a new compact sedan (the 200 series). Francois declined to report on how Chrysler is progressing on its plans to offer new models due next year and beyond. He wants to focus on selling “what we have now,” a spokesman explained. Rumors circulate in the auto industry that the Chrysler brand will offer some smaller models based on Fiat and Lancia platforms in the coming years.
Will American buyers be interested in vehicles derived from Italian models? That’s a vital question Francois will have to wait for as these new vehicles go on sale further into this decade. Meanwhile, Chrysler continues to focus on succeeding on its new lease on life provided by the federal government’s bailout. — Herb Shuldiner, Motor Matters

Copyright, AutoWriters Associates Inc., 2011