answered a lot of questions last month in Palm Springs, CA, the site it chose for the press introduction of its Sebring Convertible. Some of the company's responses were candid, but others were between-the-line nuances that illuminate future product plans.
The Sebring is a nicely styled vehicle that can comfortably accommodate four full-sized adults. It comes in two models, the JX and JXi. They are distinguished, mainly, by a 2.4L, DOHC, 16-valve, 1-4 engine making 150 hp for the base model. A 2.5L, SOHC, 24-valve, V-6 engine with 168 hp is for the JXi. And with a base price of $19,995, it seems a good bet thatwill continue to lead the convertible segment of the market.
Simple enough. But from there pragmatism and perhaps corporate politics come into play. Although the drop-top is dubbed Sebring, it does not share the same platform as it coupe stablemate. Rather, the car is based on the JA, Cirrus/Stratus, platform.
The Sebring Coupe is made byMotors of America Inc. at what used to be called Diamond-Star Motors in Normal, IL. Chrysler is contractually limited to no more than half the plant's production, 120,000 cars, so there isn't enough capacity to make the convertible. The plant also produces the Eagle Talon and Dodge Avenger for Chrysler.
It doesn't matter anyway, say Chrysler engineers. The coupe didn't provide enough body rigidity for a convertible. The stack house for the drop top would have been too tall and the assembly process for the underside of the coupe's drivetrain usesmethods not available at Chrysler's plants. Besides, one executive sniffed, "they don't have the capability to engineer a convertible."
That smear barely masks a growing animosity in the trenches between the two companies. The contract between Chrysler and Mitsubishi ends in 1999. It's no secret that neither side would feel a loss if it wasn't renewed. Some Mitsubishi sales staffers want that additional capacity to expand their North American operations. Meanwhile, some Chrysler hands are galled that a Japanese automaker produces two of their hottest models -- the Avenger and Sebring.
To stick with the Sebring Coupe's platform, Chrysler's engineers would've had to solve the stack house problem and add the capacity and the underside tooling somewhere else. So they considered and quickly discarded the Neon's platform because it can't handle a 6-cyl. engine.
That led to the JA platform, which houses both 4s and 6s. The convertible uses about a third of the JA's parts, a third are from other Chrysler cars and another one-third are unique. Translated, it means Chrysler took 29 months and a cheap $200 million dollars to bring an all-new car to market.
A valuable aside: When the time comes, the decision also gives Chrysler the means to tell the Mitsubishi bunch to take their plant and shove it,
The Sebring Convertible will be produced at Chrysler's Toluca, Mexico, assembly plant. It has an expandable capacity of 170,000, and specializes in low-volume runs of the Neon, Cirrus/Stratus and now the Sebring Convertible. Chrysler plans to sell about 60,000 of the new ragtops in the U.S. and European markets.
If the plant is successful as the sole source for the drop top, it's not a stretch to envision transfer of the production of the Avenger and Sebring coupe to Mexico at the end of the century.