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Chrysler banks on new 200

2014-01-13 20:35

MIDSIZE CHALLENGER: Alistair Gardner, president and CEO of Chrysler, introduces the 2014 Chrysler 200 at the Detroit auto show on January 13, 2014. Its job: take on Honda's Accord, Toyota's Camry and Ford's Fusion. Image: AFP

DETROIT, Michigan — Three years earlier Chrysler gussied up its antiquated Sebring sedan, gave it a new name and hoped it would make enough money to help the company survive.

It worked.

IMAGE GALLERY: 2014 Detroit show

The 200, bolstered by a Super Bowl ad featuring rapper Eminem, was noticed by Americans even though it leaned through turns and cruised noisily down the highway. Buyers mostly liked one thing - it was cheap. Huge discounts shrank its price to among the lowest in the market.


Whatever, the car still wasn't a top seller: only three percent of the market in 2013. In 2014, at the Detroit auto show, a resurgent Chrysler is rolling out a revamped 200, this time hoping it will compete with Toyota's Camry, Honda's Accord and Ford's Fusion and not just on price but also on style and fuel consumption.

The new 200, being unveiled at the 2014 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, is based on underpinnings designed by Chrysler's new owner.

In case you hadn't heard, that's Fiat. Yep, the folk who make the funny little 500 and other small cars.

The car is still uniquely American, Chrysler says, with a roomy interior and a quieter engine. Chrysler invested R10-billion at a Detroit-area factory to boost quality as it tried to carve out a spot in the largest and most competitive segment of the US market.

Chrysler CEO Al Gardner commented on the midsize-sedan market:  "It's brutal. You've got to be as competitive as you can."

Chrysler sold more than 122 000 200 sedans in 2013. That's not even a third of the Camry total for the year. Chrysler won't provide sales targets but is hoping the new 200 will score a larger slice of the market, especially since it's widely believed the automaker will cancel the 200's sister car, the Dodge Avenger, to focus marketing dollars on the 200.

Executives won't comment on the Avenger's future. Which, of course, tells you more than if they had...

The timing for the new 200 isn't ideal. Buyers are starting to shift away from midsize cars towards crossover SUV's; some analysts even expect the midsize car market to shrink in 2014 but Stephanie Brinley, an auto analyst with vehicle consulting firm IHS, said the 200’s styling would help it pick up sales if it drives and rides well.

Brinley said: "Visually it's where it needs to be and I think the interior is where it needs to be. It looked great."


The new 200 will be sold with a choice of 137kW 2.4 four or 219kW V6 - both pretty puny in today's turbocharged market - but they do come with a nine-speed auto that sports an electronic shift system operated via knob instead of a lever. One can only ask why - to everything.

Chrysler plans to cut the base sticker price of a 200 by R1000 to the equivalent of R241 000.

Chrysler 200 chief engineer Mitch Clauw said the company could cut the price because its assembly costs were lower since it’s is resuperstructured Dodge Dart and Jeep Cherokee.

Clauw said: "It allows us to give more value for the same cost.” Good luck, sir.
Read more on:    chrysler  |  detroit  |  usa  |  auto show  |  new models

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