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Americans Aren't 'Importing' Many Chrysler Cars from Detroit in This Market

Posted by Dale Buss on December 12, 2013 12:27 PM

Chrysler the company remains on a roll. November sales were up 16 percent in the US market, the company's 44th consecutive month of year-over-year sales gains. The new Jeep Cherokee is a Truck-Utility of the Year finalist, and Ram trucks are taking full advantage of the pickup boom. Even Dodge muscle cars are selling well as gasoline prices moderate, and the Dodge Dart compact finally has gained some traction after a year.

Chrysler the brand? Meh. The cars made famous by Eminem and "Imported From Detroit," the Chrysler 200 and 300 sedans, have fallen off a cliff sales-wise, with year-to-date sales off 17 percent for the larger 300 and sales only flat—with a 24 percent drop in November—for the 200.

Meanwhile, the other member of the Chrysler-brand lineup, the hoary Town & Country minivan nameplate, is enjoying something of a sales renaissance, with sales up by 10 percent for the year and a whopping 70 percent in November alone.

What's going on? Chrysler hopes to goose 200 sales when it introduces a new 2015 version of the car at the Detroit auto show next month for sale beginning sometime next year, featuring an upgraded interior and other touches that the company hopes will revitalize sales of the nameplate and distinguish it further from the Dart.

In the meantime, however, the slogging is tough. Chrysler's car lineup already was aging when its Super Bowl ad three years ago, featuring Eminem and a Detroit gospel choir, renewed the brand. The "new" 200 at that time already was a reskinned older Chrysler sedan, and the 300 has only enjoyed modest refreshening. The nameplates are just competing in a market where rivals already have been more active with new and overhauled models.

Sales of the radically revamped Chevrolet Impala, for instance, were up by 20 percent in November over the version for sale a year earlier. Chevrolet Cruze sales are up more than 6 percent for the year. The scintillating new Mazda3 posted a 24 percent sales increase last month over a year ago. Toyota Camry sales are on pace to lead the US market for all cars again this year. And so on.

At this point, down-the-funnel programs such as test-drive promotions aren't likely to help Chrysler out of its car-sales funk. Neither is more flogging of the "Imported From Detroit" theme whose effectiveness has begun to wear off.

In fact, Chrysler CMO Olivier Francois hinted to brandchannel a while ago that the Chrysler brand would continue to pivot away from a Detroit-centric positioning in its advertising to a broader statement about how Chrysler cars beat imports in terms of features and overall appeal. Presumably such an effort will be seen soon, maybe around the time of the unveiling of the new 200 next month.

But right now, Chrysler cars aren't beating anything.

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