Chrysler is accelerating the relaunch of its big sedan, the Chrysler 300, to November from early 2011. The scoop, by colleague Jeff Bennett, underscores Chrysler’s plight: it doesn’t have enough hot new models; the launch of new Fiat-based vehicles is off in the future; and meanwhile Chrysler’s brand identity is dying on the vine. What is Chrysler? What does it stand for? Ten to 15 years ago, the answer was clear and simple: world-class sport-utility vehicles and minivans. Today? That’s a head-scratcher. How will the 300 fare this fall in what’s likely to be a still-weak economy, with consumers worried about their jobs, paychecks and a resurgence in the price of oil? Here’s my thinking: A revamped Jeep Grand Cherokee is due to hit dealer lots in May. It will do well among people with secure jobs who like riding big and high and don’t mind getting walloped at the gas station. It will command a robust price, thanks in part to a new engine with improved fuel efficiency, and it will help Chrysler regain some of its dwindling identity. The 300, however, will do only so-so at dealerships. As a result, the price will have to be relatively low, eating into Chrysler’s profit margin. But on the bright side, the 300 will buy Chrysler time while it scrambles to produce what it can only hope is an alluring line of small Fiat cars.
Posted by Gabriella Stern on March 29, 2010