Al Gardner, president and CEO of the Chrysler brand, unveils the new 200 model last month at the Detroit auto show. 'That car will beat the (Ford) Fusion ,' he says. (Charles V. Tines / The Detroit News)
When Fiat Chrysler Automobiles set about designing the all-new 2015 Chrysler 200, it looked at rival offerings from Toyota, Honda and Hyundai. But the car it really set its sights on was the Ford Fusion.
“We went head to head and decided that we were going to beat the Fusion on day one,” said Chrysler brand president Al Gardner, adding that his team dissected the Ford sedan and set about matching or besting it feature for feature. “We’re actually beating Ford at their own game, and I will tell you they are great.”
That says a lot about how much the automobile industry has changed over the past decade.
“Nobody five years ago would have said that,” said analyst Dave Sullivan of AutoPacific.
That is because American sedans such as the Ford Fusion were still viewed as also-rans in a segment dominated by vehicles such as the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord. When rival automakers started work on a new car, these were the vehicles they bench-marked.
The Fusion now rivals those vehicles in quality, safety and reliability. And Sullivan said it has something just as important going for it.
“It’s more of a design statement than Toyota, Honda or Nissan. It has more of a personality,” he said. “And I think that is what Chrysler was looking for.”
Chrysler believes its new 200 will turn a few heads, too. But Gardner said the team in Auburn Hills also tried take key features of the Fusion, such as its available all-wheel drive system, and better them. Then they put an even lower price on their vehicle.
The new Chrysler 200 will start at $21,700 when it goes on sale this spring. The Fusion starts at $21,970.
“That car will beat the Fusion — and that’s what it’s all about,” Gardner said.
Ford Motor Co. is confident its car can take the competition, but said it appreciated Chrysler’s interest.
“With the new Fusion, we set out to be best in class,” said Fusion Chief Engineer Todd Soderquist. “We’re flattered others are using our Fusion as the benchmark.”