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That'll Fix It: Chrysler may drop Sebring name at next refresh


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That'll Fix It: Chrysler may drop Sebring name at next refresh

New products seem to be a scarce commodity at Chrysler, but a recent raft of reports emanating from Auburn Hills and, perhaps more importantly Turin, Italy, shows that storm clouds are gathering near The Pentastar's new product desert.

Chrysler brass recently gave members of the Economic Club of Chicago luncheon a sneak peak at the new Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger, along with information about the arrival of the Fiat 500 by the end of 2010. Now the Detroit Free Press reports that Fiat/Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne is talking major refresh for the Dodge Avenger and the Chrysler Sebring by the end of the year. And that's not all.

The Freep quotes Chrysler's multi-tasking CEO as saying that the Avenger/Sebring architecture has been torn apart and "You'll see a completely different animal. We're having a discussion about what name this animal should have. The jury is still out." The report goes on to say that it will be the Sebring that receives the name change, which makes sense considering the fact that Avenger sales have held up considerably (and relatively) better than the Sebring since both vehicles launched. Chrysler claims that the goal is to make changes where midsize customers will notice.

Stephanie Brinley at AutoPacific Group in Troy reportedly told the Free Press that Chrysler is somewhat limited in what it can accomplish with a refresh, but changes to ride and handling could be significant – and there's plenty of room for improvement. Another positive change could come under the hood of both vehicles, as Chrysler is working with Fiat on new engine technology, including the Italian automaker's Multiair tech, which may or may not find its way into the downtrodden sedans.

We have no idea if changing the name of the Sebring will wash away all the pain inflicted by a truly bad sedan, but we're thinking that at this point no changes could hurt more than the status quo. We're hoping the refresh is thorough enough to get us interested in The Pentastar's midsize offerings, but we're going to have to take a Missouri-style "show me" stance before believing it.



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Chrysler to drop Sebring name, change small, midsize models

Facing a drumbeat of doubt about its pace of new car development, Chrysler is dropping clues that changes in its small and midsize cars may be more substantial and arrive sooner, based on recent comments from CEO Sergio Marchionne.

For example, a "freshening" of the Chrysler Sebring and Dodge Avenger, due by the end of this year, now will include at least one new name -- Sebring will be dropped -- and more extensive structural revisions.

Then, last month in Italy, Marchionne said premium brands Chrysler and Lancia could "converge as early as the end of the year." That raises the prospect that the Chrysler-modified version of the Lancia Delta on display at the Detroit auto show could come to U.S. showrooms.

"In Europe, Lancia is an undersize, underdeveloped brand, with nothing bigger than the Delta," Marchionne said. "Chrysler, which has a true global reach, has nothing smaller. Put them together and you have a full line-up."

But fixing the underachieving Sebring and Avenger, sales of which tumbled 62% and 37%, respectively, in 2009, is even more important if Marchionne's turnaround is to gain traction.

Neglect and miserly cuts in product development spending by Daimler and Cerberus Capital Management left Sebring and Avenger exposed to superior competing cars. Chrysler plans a re-engineered midsize car from a Fiat underbody, but it won't reach showrooms until 2013. That means the near-term challenge is to transform two much-maligned models enough so consumers will reconsider the Chrysler or Dodge brands.

"We've rolled up our sleeves and have torn apart that architecture," Marchionne said. "You'll see a completely different animal. We're having a discussion about what name this animal should have. The jury is still out."

Chrysler's brain trust understands the urgency. Marchionne and Chrysler brand president Olivier Francois are focused on enhancing those characteristics of the midsize sedans that consumers will notice.

Stephanie Brinley, an industry analyst with AutoPacific Group in Troy, said Chrysler is somewhat limited in the changes that can be made, but even small changes can have an impact.

The changes "can make a big difference in a car's quality of ride and handling," she said.

If Chrysler can integrate Fiat's Multiair engine technology into its 2.4-liter engine, the base engine for the new midsize sedans, that could break through some of the skepticism.

Multiair adjusts timing of engine valves to maximize acceleration or fuel efficiency. Fiat and Chrysler officials said it can improve horsepower and fuel-economy by 10% -- delivering better low-end torque and reducing carbon emissions.

The technology will be part of the smaller 1.4-liter four-cylinder engines Chrysler will begin making late this year at its Dundee engine plant, and it will eventually be offered in the rest of Chrysler's engines.

But will it be ready for the Sebring replacement this year?

"We're doing things as quickly as we can, but I can't say anything specific," said Chrysler spokesman Rick Deneau.



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