Chicago — Chrysler brand CEO Al Gardner said he’s focused on launching a new mid-size 2015 200 this year and said the brand could add future models.
Chrysler has three current vehicles — the Town & Country minivan, the 200 and the larger 300. Last year, Chrysler brand U.S. sales were down 2 percent to 302,000, while overall Chrysler Group U.S. sales jumped 9 percent to 1.8 million.
“The reality is Chrysler brand needs to be relevant and relevant is not necessarily playing in midsize, large car and minivan (only),” Gardner said on the sidelines of the Chicago auto show referring to the three products. “Are there opportunities outside of that? There are always opportunities. (Future product) has to sit on the showroom floor and it cannot compete with Dodge, Jeep and Ram.”
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV has “four brands in the showroom. I’m not going to build a Chrysler SUV,” Gardner said, adding that his top priority is the launch of the 200 sedan. “I’m Chrysler focused 100 percent. I’ve got sales targets and share targets and profit targets I’ve got to hit — and in simple terms, it’s going to keep me busy.”
Gardner said the two-minute Chrysler 200 Super Bowl ad featuring Bob Dylan has been a success.
The ad has been seen on YouTube more than 4.5 million times. “We like to do this every year with something new and exciting,” Gardner said, referencing prior Super Bowl ads that featured Clint Eastwood and Eminem.
Chrysler will start building the 200 in Sterling Heights in the second quarter of 2014 and will start selling them at the end of the quarter. Chrysler has taken some flack for part of the ad that suggested some products should be made elsewhere. Chrysler first showed the 200 to its dealers two years ago in Las Vegas and it got a standing ovation. Chrysler is launching a special edition 300S and a 30th anniversary special edition Town & Country.
“When it’s made here, it’s made with the one thing you can’t import from anywhere else. American Ride,” Dylan says in the ad. “So let Germany brew your beer, let Switzerland make your watch, let Asia assemble your phone. We will build your car.”
Gardner acknowledged the criticism.
The Chrysler 200 is designed “to stand for something and mean something to people and it appears that it did mean something. ... We’re an American built car company and we want to build that product.”
Dylan was extensively involved in writing the script — and Chrysler knew it might get some criticism. “At the end of the day, we knew exactly what we had,” Gardner said. “We spent a long time talking about the pros and cons.”
Chrysler modeled and designed the 200 off the Ford Fusion — which it considered the best midsize domestic car.
The new 200 will have a nine-speed transmission vs the six-speed in the Fusion and the Chrysler 200 all-wheel-drive system won’t result in any loss of fuel economy.
It’s priced on Fusion and contented on Fusion but it takes on the others (Camry and Accord)... We know we have to go head to head and beat them all,” Gardner said.
Gardner says it has learned lessons from Hyundai and Kia in launching their midsize cars. “If build a great product and you market the heck out of it and you price it right, then not only does it launch you vehicle, but it relaunches your brand,” Garnder said. “I give Hyundai and Kia a ton of credit because they built cars like the Sonata to the market that were ahead of their time.”
Chrysler thinks it you give buyers “the value proposition they are looking for plus some” they will give you a chance.
The mid-size segment is growing and accounted for 2 million vehicles last year.