DETROIT – Chrysler appears finally serious about competing in the midsize sedan market as it debuts an all-new Chrysler-brand 200 at the North American International Auto Show.

The automaker touts the quality, design and affordability of the ’15 model that will vie with heavy hitters in the largest and most competitive auto segment in the U.S.

The outgoing 200 hardly stands out from the crowd, and its relatively so-so sales  prove it: 122,480 units last year, a 2.4% decrease from 2012, according to WardsAuto data.

That compares with segment leader, the Toyota Camry, with 2013 sales of 408,261, the Honda Accord (365,986) and Ford Fusion (295,280).

“The current iteration of the 200 lags the competition in just about every way, and Chrysler will look to this redesign to bring their mid-size entrant up to snuff,” says Alec Gutierrez, senior analyst at Kelley Blue Book.

With the upcoming 200, Chrysler is ready “not just to compete but to trump the competition,” Al Gardner, the brand’s president and CEO, says at the unveilings of the premium-level 200C and sporty 200S.

On the sidelines, he tells journalists the new car will change public perceptions by shedding the 200’s image as an also-ran in a field of fleet-footed competitors.

“Do we need to change the perception? Absolutely,” Gardner says. “The reality is, you build a product they love and give them a value proposition, and the rest of the stuff takes care of itself.”

Speaking of prospective buyers, Gardner says, “Whatever their age, they are going to get into this car and go, ‘Wow.’”

He pledges the automaker will build the 200 to perfection at an all-new assembly line in Sterling Heights, MI. “This is a plant story as well as a new-product story. A flagship car requires a flagship facility.”

Chrysler spent $1 billion building the new assembly line next to one currently producing the existing 200 and the Dodge Avenger.

The new plant features 1,000 robots, fully automated body and paint shops and an all-new metrology center with 3-D scanning “to assure perfect fit and finish,” Gardner says. “This is not just an overhaul of an existing facility.”

The incoming 200’s exterior presents a new face for the Chrysler brand, the automaker says, pointing to a sloping hood, angular grill, dramatically raked roofline and chiseled sides.

The car is on a platform Chrysler shares with the Dodge Dart, Jeep Cherokee and Fiat Giulia.

Like the Cherokee, all 200s get Chrysler’s new 9-speed automatic as standard. An E-shifter rotating dial replaces a conventional transmission gear selector and frees up room on the center console for storage and cupholders.

An on-demand all-wheel-drive system comes standard with a 295-hp 3.6L Pentastar V-6. Front-drive models are powered by the automaker’s 184-hp 2.4L Tigershark 4-cyl.

The base model starts at $21,700, which is $95 less than the outgoing model. The 200C carries a $25,995 sticker and the 200S will run $24,495 when new models  go on sale in the second quarter.

Although Chrysler is owned by Italian automaker Fiat, Gardner touts the 200 as “a U.S.-built car designed for an American public that recognizes and wants quality, innovation, technology and all at a reasonable price.”

He adds: “We don’t want to wrap ourselves in the American flag. This is about building the best product for the U.S.”

sfinlay@wardsauto.com