Chrysler may alter Sebring, Avenger
From the Detroit Insider:
Friday, July 18, 2008
Chrysler may alter Sebring, Avenger
Automaker considers scrapping high-end models, adding features to mid-level versions.
Detroit News staff and wire reports
Chrysler LLC may eliminate the highest trim levels of its Dodge Avenger and Chrysler Sebring sedans while adding more luxury amenities to the mid-level models of those vehicles.
The revisions, part of a strategy called "Fight Back," mean less-expensive models would have standard features such as heated seats that are now offered only in costlier versions, according to a document sent to parts suppliers, Bloomberg News reported on Thursday.
The strategy may help sales of those sedans, two of Chrysler's more fuel-efficient cars.
The Auburn Hills automaker's truck-heavy line up has caused sales to slump even worse than its rivals. Chrysler sales are down 22 percent so far this year, while the industry is off 10 percent, according to Autodata Corp.
Consumers have largely sidestepped Chrysler's lineup for smaller, more fuel efficient vehicles.
Other automakers' midsized sedans, including the Chevrolet Malibu, Ford Fusion and Honda Accord, have posted sales growth of 10 percent or more this year. Sales of Chrysler's Sebring are down 30 percent this year, partially due to fewer sales to rental car fleets, while the Avenger has gained just 2 percent.
The two trim levels proposed to be eliminated, the Avenger R/T and Sebring Limited, are Chrysler's only midsized sedans to offer a 3.5 liter, V-6 engine, the largest, least-efficient powertrains offered in the sedans. With that V-6 engine, standard in the Avenger R/T, the sedans achieve 26 miles per gallon on the highway. With the 4-cylinder engine, the cars average 30 mpg on the highway.
Adding more features to lower trim levels, which come standard with a 4-cylinder engine, could entice gas conscious customers to buy Chrysler's cars, said Mike Wall, automotive analyst with CSM Worldwide.
"Given where fuel prices are at, I'm not sure that people are following the old progression that the higher the trim-level, the bigger the engine," he said. "(Chrysler) needs to hit what the customer wants, and that may be a 4-cylinder engine with leather seats and a navigation system."
Wall said simplifying the number of options and trim levels will cut costs and manufacturing complexity for Chrysler.
Chrysler spokesman Rick Deneau would not verify the "Fight Back" plan but did say "we will always look for ways to improve our product based on customer feedback."
Many car buyers are looking for nicer options on smaller vehicles, said Bill Golling, president of Golling Chrysler Jeep Dodge in Bloomfield Hills.
"We've been criticized for the quality of our interiors ... putting a premium interior in a mid-range car could go a long way to fixing that perception," he said. "If Chrysler is going to offer a better interior, at a better price, that sounds like nice formula to me."
Parts suppliers had until Thursday to tell Chrysler if it was feasible to adjust their production to meet the proposed plan, according to the document sent to suppliers.
Those documents said the Avenger R/T and the Sebring Limited would be eliminated and the 2009 mid-range Sebring Touring and Avenger SXT models would carry dual-exhaust systems, 18-inch aluminum wheels, and leather, heated and power seats as standard equipment. The base models would not change.
The document recommends prices of $21,750 for the SXT Avenger with the added features, or a 9.9 percent increase, and $21,670 for the Sebring Touring, a 3.4 percent boost. The 2008 Avenger SXT starts at $19,795 and the Sebring Touring begins at $20,865, according to Edmunds.com.
The document also shows a plan to improve the interior of its Dodge Journey small sport-utility vehicle. It says Chrysler intends to add extra storage areas, more comfortable seats, steering-wheel audio controls and a softer instrument panel. The Journey went on sale this spring.