DETROIT – The200 midsize sedan will receive a major overhaul for the ’14 model year, its brand president says.
“It’s coming now. Very soon,” Saad Chehab tells WardsAuto at the North American International Auto Show here, promising an all-new car and not a minor refresh. “Not this year, but soon after this year.”
A new version was shown last year at the auto maker’s annual dealer conference and received a standing ovation.
Asked whether the vehicle will retain the 200 moniker, Chehab says, “As far as I know right now, yes.”
The 200 was introduced in 2011 as a replacement for the Sebring. Last year,delivered 125,476 of the sedans, up 44.2% from prior-year, according to WardsAuto data. It was marketed heavily in the “Imported From Detroit” campaign that kicked off in 2011, but last year’s marketing budget was more conservative, Chehab says.
Still, the Chrysler brand – and the auto maker as a whole – saw sales gains last year, and executives are cautious about rocking the boat too soon with a new product.
“I’m more interested into maintaining what I have,” Chehab says. “You have to be realistic in the marketplace of where your place is in people’s heads and perception, even if they think you’re cool at the same time. At the same time, there’s a limit as to how much they want to spend for that.”
Chehab doesn’t indicate whether the new 200 will price higher or lower than the current model: “It will be consistent with the market at that (price) point and the competition. We’re not going to be pipe-dreamers. We’re going to be in the market competing with whoever is in that segment.”
The auto maker also is contemplating a makeover for the fullsize 300, but it may not launch at the same time as the 200, Chehab says.
“It could be around the same time, but I’m not positive exactly on the timing,” he says. “But it has to be within a realistic time of when it needs (a refresh). Part of the mistake of the old 300 is that we brought the 300 (out), and we just let it sit there. We didn’t do anything to it.
“That’s why this chameleon will continue to transform and reshape itself, in the special editions you see outside or a new iteration of the car.”
Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne says during the show the Chrysler brand will add neither a compact sedan nor a cross/utility vehicle this year, despite earlier plans cited in the auto maker’s 5-year business projection.
Chehab says Chrysler still is contemplating how to expand beyond its 3-vehicle lineup, but the emphasis remains on selling what it now has. “We owe it to these three vehicles first and foremost to have a plan of replacement of modifications or improvements, and then I can think of ‘What else can I go after?’
“That doesn’t mean we’re not looking at what else can I go after, be it the (C-segment) or the CUVs. There’s a lot of things we’re looking at, as long as there’s a prioritization of investments to the Chrysler brand.
“We’re a volume brand, not a niche brand. The brand has to walk before it runs, and today in truthfulness it gives you the luxuries and premium-ness at an affordable price. That what everybody’s perception of the brand is,” he says.
Marchionne also mentions the auto maker’s plans to go forward with one minivan, although it has not been decided if the Dodge Caravan or the Chrysler Town & Country gets the ax.
“The question that we are trying to answer is which of the brands can stretch downward or upward the most (in price) to maintain the volume that we sell” today, Chehab says.
“If it’s a Chrysler, can that brand stretch downward enough and capture the Dodge Caravan consumer, and vice versa? Right now, we play a dual role. We play a role of Dodge up to ($30,000), and ($30,000) and up is Town & Country, and we do a good job of balancing the two. The question is, which one does better to stretch the other way?”
Chehab acknowledges CUVs have diminished the relevance of the minivan.
“We have to take that into consideration and be with the times,” he notes. “So, whichever way that we’re going to come out, I know that we’re going to (have) the best answer possible without having to repeat the mistakes that we’ve made with having two of the same vans in the same showrooms.”
Town & Country sales totaled 111,744 units in 2012, while the Caravan delivered 141,468, according to WardsAuto data. New trim levels for the vans are available for the ’13 model year: The Town & Country gets Chrysler’s “S” trim, while the Caravan gets Dodge’s new Blacktop trim.
For ’13, Chehab looks forward to winning more import customers, but dismisses comparisons to Buick and Cadillac, two U.S. rivals aggressively pursuing premium-minded buyers.
“The perception (of Chrysler is), ‘It’s my alternative to the imports.’ We stand for something. That’s the difference. There’s a personality to Chrysler today.”