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Chrysler may sell next 300 before Charger

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Chrysler may sell next 300 before Charger

Automaker looks to regain lost ground



To satisfy dealers starving for new products, Chrysler may bring the 2011 Chrysler 300 to market ahead of a new Dodge Charger before the end of 2010, according to people familiar with the discussion.

Redesigned versions of both cars will continue to be assembled in Brampton, Ontario. Production of the redesigned models has been scheduled to begin later this year and in early 2011, according to Chrysler's plan outlined last November by Joseph Veltri, vice president of product planning.

The internal debate comes as CEO Sergio Marchionne pushes designers and engineers to deliver new models sooner. The lack of fresh product is the main reason Chrysler's U.S. sales, through the first two months of 2010, fell 3.3% from a year earlier while total U.S. light-vehicle sales rose 9.9%.

Chrysler plans to launch the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee in several months. A yet-to-be-named Dodge version of the SUV is to come to market late this year, as will the Fiat 500 minicar.

The 300 and Charger represent Chrysler's best hope for recapturing lost ground in the passenger car market, where much of its lost market share occurred before and during the company's 2009 government-backed bankruptcy restructuring.

The Charger must bolster Dodge's identity as a performance car brand. The 300, Chrysler brand's flagship car, was initially lauded by car reviewers after its 2004 debut. But competing models have come out since. The 2011 model is essential to restoring Chrysler's credibility among luxury sedan buyers.

Although both cars' underlying engineering structures are the same, the exteriors and interiors are quite different. Normally an automaker would launch one model first so workers can learn and improve the assembly process.

Chrysler initially planned to launch the Charger first because historically it sells more of them -- nearly 61,000 Chargers in 2009 vs. 39,000 for the 300.

But industry analyst Jim Hall of 2953 Analytics in Birmingham said dealers have been pushing for the 300 because it will be priced slightly higher and will generate more profit per vehicle.

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



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