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From the Detroit Free Press:

New-look Sebring to make its debut

Revamped model faces tough rivals

June 21, 2006

BY JOE GUY COLLIER

FREE PRESS BUSINESS WRITER

Chrysler Group is expected to unveil this week a new version of the Chrysler Sebring, filling in the last piece of a product rollout that includes 10 new cars and trucks this year.

The Auburn Hills automaker won't officially comment on the redesigned Sebring, but Chrysler executives have hinted at it. At a luncheon earlier this month, for instance, Eric Ridenour, Chrysler Group's chief operating officer, declined to talk about the new Sebring but said details likely would be discussed Thursday.

The Sebring, a midsize car last redesigned for the 2001 model year, needs a new look, industry analysts say. The Sterling Heights-built car's sales peaked in 2001 with almost 118,000 sedans, coupes and convertibles sold in the United States. By last year, sales slid to 90,321.

"As Chrysler knows, their vehicle was overdue for a change," said Jim Hall, vice president of industry analysis for AutoPacific Inc. in Southfield.

But even a redesigned Sebring faces challenges. The midsize car market is one of the most competitive segments, led by three of the nation's 10 top-selling vehicles: the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord and Nissan Altima, which is getting its own redesign this year.

The Ford Fusion, introduced last fall, has added another strong competitor to the field that already includes the Chevrolet Malibu.

"Midsize is a brutal part of the market," Hall said. "There's nothing you can do to guarantee car sales in the midsize market."

The new Sebring is significant because it moves Chrysler Group another step toward reshaping its entire lineup. In the last five years, the division has replaced the Jeep Cherokee with the Liberty, introduced a radically changed Chrysler 300 and added new vehicles such as the Dodge Charger, Dodge Magnum and Jeep Commander among other improvements in its product lineup.

So far this year, Chrysler Group has started production of the all-new Dodge Caliber and Jeep Compass. The all-new Dodge Nitro and Jeep Patriot are slated to follow.

Providing another fresh look in the lineup, the new Sebring probably will not reach dealers until late in the year.

Depending on how far Chrysler has pushed the design, the new Sebring should hold its own and give Chrysler a modest boost, said Erich Merkle, director of forecasting for IRN Inc., a Grand Rapids research and consulting firm.

But he agreed the market is tough. A new Sebring likely would not have the same impact as the Chrysler 300 and the Hemi-powered 300C, which has been a big hit in the large-car market.

"You're going to be hard-pressed to produce another 300C," Merkle said.

10 NEW MODELS

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Chrysler Group is launching 10 new or redesigned vehicles this year. They include:

* Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 (January)

* Dodge Caliber (February)

* Jeep Compass (Summer)

* Chrysler Aspen (Fall)

* Dodge Ram 3500 Chassis Cab (Fall)

* Jeep Wrangler (Fall)

* Jeep Wrangler Unlimited (Fall)

* Dodge Nitro (Late fall)

* Jeep Patriot (Late fall)

* Chrysler Sebring (Not available)
 
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