The all-new, all-American Chrysler 200 sedan is ready for prime time [Detroit Free Press :: ]
(Detroit Free Press (MI) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) March 23--The 2015 Chrysler 200 is designed, manufactured and built in Sterling Heights and will be marketed with a huge dose of American pride in a strategy aimed at doubling sales of the car it replaces.
The new 200 -- which goes on sale before the end of June -- is by all accounts a vast improvement over the current model. But it competes with some of the nation's best-selling and most well-established cars.
But even with a better-looking exterior with an upgraded interior, the 200 will need a savvy advertising rollout to grab the attention of consumers who never before considered Chrysler or Dodge in this bread-and-butter segment.
-- Mark Phelan: 200 a glimpse into the Fiat Chrysler operation
Chrysler is planning to extend and adapt the "Imported from Detroit" tag line made famous in that 2011 two-minute Super Bowl commercial.
"We are not going to wrap the car in the flag," said Chrysler brand chief Al Gardner. "But we are going to say, 'Yeah, we are American; we are based and built out of Detroit.' "
'America has a lot of cachet'
The 200's design was inspired by such time-honored products as Chris Craft boats, Eames lounge chairs and Airstream trailers, according to Klaus Busse, Chrysler's head of interior design. In each case, materials ranging from wood to aluminum are used not merely for decoration, but are part of the structure.
"We wanted to take that kind of spirit ... and use these materials in a more honest way," Busse said. "America has a lot of cachet, no matter where you are in the world, so why not embrace the fact that you are from Detroit."
Meanwhile, most other midsize sedans -- including the Chevrolet Malibu, Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata, Nissan Altima, Toyota Camry and Volkswagen Passat -- are also assembled in America.
But the 200's introduction comes on the heels of the total financial integration of Fiat and Chrysler. In the end, domestic purity is in the eye of the consumer.
None of that detracts from the history, heritage and future identity of the Chrysler brand, Busse said.
"You should ask yourself also is Volvo Swedish (even though it is now owned by a Chinese company)? Is Bentley British (owned by Volkswagen) and is Rolls Royce British? Because none of these companies is owned by a holding of their own nation," Busse said. "So our mission isn't to ignore the nationality of the holding company, but to fully embrace the nationality of the product, and that is what we do with Chrysler."
Double the sales
Chrysler is making the 200 at its assembly plant in Sterling Heights, where it made the prior generation of the 200 and Dodge Avenger. With the Avenger now discontinued, the 200's ambition is to total 2013 sales of both models (93,842 Avengers and 122,480 200s).
"If you combine the 200 and Avenger volume today, you would say 'OK, we have a little over 6% share of the midsize car segment,' " Gardner said. "Our goal is to do that and then some. If not, why build it?"
Betting on style
Chrysler is confident the new car offers a little more style and panache.
"The reality is, the import competition builds a very, very solid car, but you get in it, and it ... is exactly what you expect -- a very solid car that is not going to break," Gardner said. "I am going to build you the wow factor for basically the same amount of money -- if not a little bit less."
The company will offer the 200 with the option of two engines and four trim levels. The 200S is a sporty model decked out in darker trim and with a V6 engine aimed at younger buyers, while its 200C will have more premium features.
The powertrains are either a 2.4-liter four-cylinder (184 horsepower and 173 pound-feet of torque), or a 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 (295 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque).
Based on a recent day spent driving the car around Louisville, Ky., the V6 engine brings out the sure-footed nature of the Alfa Romeo platform.
While the EPA hasn't yet certified fuel economy, the four-cylinder is expected to deliver 35 m.p.g. on the highway -- a 16% improvement over the 2014 model. That would be competitive, but not a segment leader. Rear-seat space is ample, but not abundant. Taller and larger passengers who tested the Chrysler 200 in Louisville complained about difficulty getting in and out of the car.
Chrysler will be the second automaker after the Subaru Legacy to offer an all-wheel drive option with a V6 engine. The only other automaker that offers a midsize sedan with all-wheel drive is the Ford Fusion, but with four cylinders.
About 90% of the2.3 million midsize cars sold in 2013 were equipped with four-cylinder engines.
"Frankly, we look at it from the standpoint that as good a car as that six-cylinder is, we can make a significant difference and get people's attention," Gardner said.
All-wheel drive tends to be popular in the Midwest where buyers want a car that can keep traction in snow. Gardner said he expects about 30% of 200 buyers to choose it.
Chrysler has learned from mistakes it made with the Dart, which arrived in showrooms priced higher than competitors, offered a dizzying array of trim levels and engine options that felt underpowered.
By contrast, the 200's four-cylinder base version was plenty powerful to tackle the rolling hills of Kentucky.
"The 200 ... starts going head-to-head with a base price (equal to) a Fusion and significantly below the Camrys and Accords of the world," Gardner said. "We think we can beat the competition at its own game, partly because we put more stuff in and partly because we have a better value proposition."
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Contact Brent Snavely: 313-222-6512 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @BrentSnavely
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