Video: Hot cars

By Phil LeBeau
CNBC
updated 7/28/2004 6:16:21 PM ET 2004-07-28T22:16:21

With DaimlerChrysler set to report quarterly earnings Thursday, Wall Street will be watching the inside line on Mercedes. This year, sales of the luxury line have not been as strong as other luxury brands. But the Chrysler division continues its turnaround with its popular 300C model, the company's first bona fide hit since the PT Cruiser.

When Carmine Corvino from Chicago was buying a new car, he test drove a Lexus and a Cadillac, but passed up both — for Chrysler's 300C.

"It was actually a no-brainer,” he said. “The styling was so nice compared to other cars — like I said, it was a no-brainer. I had to go with it."         

His story is not unusual.

The latest data on who is buying 300Cs shows 15 percent traded in other luxury models, including nearly 7 percent who left their Cadillacs behind. That is a much higher percentage of luxury trade-ins than Chrysler typically sees and is one reason sales of the 300C are running ahead of plan.

"You never really know how well you will do until you get into the consumer marketplace, Chrysler brand manager Scott Slagle said. “And the consumer reaction has been phenomenal to say the least."

The success of this car is welcome news for Chrysler CEO Deiter Zetsche. Three years after he took over the company, he vowed to turn around the automaker with new products that would combine the best of Mercedes and Chrysler.

But his first try, the Pacifica was too expensive, and never took off. Attempt No. 2, the Crossfire sports car, did OK, but lacked major buzz. Finally, on it's third try, Chrysler hit a home run building a sedan with luxurious styling that sells for less than $32,000.

Building a modestly priced sedan that includes style and luxury “is extremely difficult,” according to Michael Robinet, an analyst at CSM Marketing. “It’s almost as difficult as making money on small cars. (The 300C) is an aspirational vehicle, and that's something Chrysler hasn't had in it's fleet in the last couple of years."

How “aspirational”? Even rapper and actor Snoop Dog wants a 300C. In May, he left a voice mail for Deiter Zetsche saying, "Yo, what up? This is big Snoop Dogg, trying to put these new legs down for this new 300C.  What I gotta' do to get that brand new 300 up outta' you?"

"The message itself was a strange message,” said Slagle. “I actually needed someone to decipher it for me. So the car has tremendous amount of reach"

Just ask Carmine Corvino. His friends laughed when he said he picked a Chrysler over a Lexus.

"I told them just go drive the car,” he said. “Just drive the car, see how nice it is."

So nice, he says he may come back and buy a second one for his wife.

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