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Chrysler debates timing of new models

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Chrysler debates timing of new models



Chrysler product planners are considering moving up the launch of a new Chrysler 300 before a redesigned Dodge Charger near the end of this year, said sources familiar with the discussion.

Production on both models has been scheduled to begin later this year and early 2011 at the company’s Brampton, Ontario, assembly plant near Toronto, according to the product plan outlined last November by Joseph Veltri, Chrysler vice president of product planning.

The internal debate comes while CEO Sergio Marchionne is pushing designers and engineers to get all future models to market sooner than later. The lack of fresh product has slowed Chrysler’s ability to capitalize as much as competitors on the industry’s fledgling recovery.

That will begin to change by June with the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee and in the fourth quarter with the introduction of the petite Fiat 500.

But the 300 and Charger represent the heart of Chrysler’s car lineup.

Both cars are crucial to reviving the company’s weakest brands, Chrysler and Dodge. The Charger is key to bolstering Dodge’s identity as the provider of performance cars. The 300 is Chrysler brand’s flagship car and essential to re-establishing Chrysler as a credible competitor among luxury car buyers.

Although their underlying engineering structures are the same, the exterior sheet metal is quite different. Their interiors are different. For those reasons, normally an automaker would launch one model first before adding the complexity of the second to its assembly processes.

Leon Rideout, president of CAW Local 1285 in Brampton, said the Charger is still scheduled to go into production first.

But Jim Hall, a product development consultant with 2953 Analytics in Birmingham, said dealers have been pushing for the 300, because it will be priced slightly higher and people who have seen the new 300 in Chrysler’s design studio says it is stunning enough to take some sales away from competitors.

Chrysler sold more Chargers last year — 60,651 — than 300s — 38,606.

“The 300 looks like a lot more sophisticated and expensive car, which is what dealers are excited about,” Hall said.

Chrysler spokesman Rick Deneau declined to say which model will come to market first.

When the two current models were launched, the first generation 300 went on sale in spring 2004. The Charger came about one year later.

“So the Charger has a shorter life cycle now, regardless of which goes first,” Deneau said.



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