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Chrysler stealthily shows off its new models

In his largest dealer meeting yet since taking over the reins at Chrysler, CEO Sergio Marchionne on Tuesday showed off 15 new or revamped cars and trucks.
Tuesday's photos released by the company were the first glimpse of revamps to some of Chrysler's key products, such as the 2011 Dodge Caliber.
Tuesday's photos released by the company were the first glimpse of revamps to some of Chrysler's key products, such as the 2011 Dodge Caliber.Barry Hathaway / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Chrysler executives revealed 15 new or updated models to hundreds of dealers on Tuesday, hoping the new cars and trucks will boost sales and make the company profitable for the first time since it left bankruptcy protection last year.

The models, shown at a closed-door meeting in Orlando for about 2,400 dealers from across the world, included a revamped Chrysler Sebring midsize sedan that was renamed the Chrysler 200.

Also shown were updates of the Chrysler Town & Country minivan and Jeep Patriot small sport utility vehicle that look similar to the 2010 models.

The gathering was the first large-scale meeting with dealers for Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne, who has run Chrysler since it left bankruptcy in June 2009. About three-quarters of the company's U.S. dealers attended, many of whom are hurting as customers bypassed their showrooms for newer models from other automakers.

Because it takes three or four years to bring new cars to showrooms, all Chrysler can do is update its vehicles and try to survive until it can roll out totally new products with Fiat, said Jeremy Anwyl, CEO of the automotive website.

"They're stuck with these sorts of refreshes. You have to do them because the marketplace isn't standing still," Anwyl said. "I'm not sure if it's enough to actually start to steal back some (market) share."

Chrysler's sales are up 10 percent through August, but retail sales to everyday drivers plummeted 18 percent. Much of the company's sales went to rental car companies, which are far less profitable than retail sales. The automaker lost $369 million in the first half of the year.

Dealers at the meeting, representing 90 percent of Chrysler's sales, weren't allowed to bring cell phones. Reporters were barred.

Only small teaser photos of the 200, due out later this year, were released. The Sebring has done poorly in the highly important midsize market.

Chrysler said it reworked virtually everything, restyling the outside and upgrading the interior. It also gave the car a new, more efficient V-6 engine, beefed up the suspension so it rides and handles better, while engineers worked to make it quieter.

Sebring sales are up 81 percent through August, with almost three-quarters going to rental companies through July.

New cars are important to Chrysler because it still is heavily reliant on truck sales for its revenue, even though the U.S. market has been shifting to smaller vehicles. In August, trucks amounted to 73 percent of Chrysler's total sales. By comparison, trucks made up 41 percent of Toyota's August sales.