The original Chrysler 200 launched during the Super Bowl in 2011 and launched the genius “Imported from Detroit” campaign. The vehicle itself though was a gussied up Chrysler Sebring. I hate to use the phrase “lipstick on a pig” to describe the 200, but in many cases it was appropriate. The new 200 is more than that. Of all the cars that Fiat Chrysler sell, the 200 has the potential to be the true money maker for the brand. Now that we’ve seen the new 200, we have some thoughts about what it needs to be in order to be successful against strong competition.
1. Be Significantly Better
This may seem obvious, but it is important for the 200 to shed its Sebring roots and stand on its own. I already know that they have done that. During the announcement at the 2014 North American International Auto Show, a virtual plant tour was given, and it was stressed that the vehicle is completely new.
The new Chrysler 200 features all new bodywork from stem to stern, and looks significantly different than the vehicle it replaces. It is not brash, but subtle. It is a vehicle that does not draw attention to itself. Compared to the quite bold looking 300, the new 200 might be overlooked. However, I like the subtleness of the design, and it will definitely appeal to a global audience that includes the extremely important China.
2. Drive Really Well
Toyota sells loads of Camrys to people who expect the vehicle to drive a certain way. Camry buyers also tend to be loyal. The benchmark here should be the Ford Fusion. The Fusion drives really well, especially from an enthusiast standpoint. The platform that the 200 sits on is a jointly developed platform that will also underpin certain Alfa Romeo models. If Chrysler can sneak in a bit of Italian charm into the new 200, it should be a hoot to drive.
Until people start driving them, we will not know for sure. But the Fusion sets the bar pretty high for driving dynamics from a mainstream sedan, and the 200 will need to exceed that to steal buyers from the Blue Oval.
3. Be Affordable
The benchmark here, again, needs to be the Fusion. Though Chrysler is more of a luxury brand to Dodge’s mainstream brand, the 200 really needs to be priced similarly to the Fusion. The Fusion is priced well considering all of the options available, and when I reviewed the Lincoln MKZ I really struggled to justify the price difference because the Fusion is so competitive and well-equipped.
The base price of the Fusion is approximately $22,000. It would be fantastic to see the 200 meet or beat that entry point.
4. Be Available with Lots of Tech Toys
The Fusion is available with MyFord Touch and navigation, blind spot monitoring, automatic parallel parking, radar-assisted cruise control, and lane keep assistance. The 200 needs all of these as well. To class up the 200 a bit, I would also like to see HID or LED headlamps available. They can be a paid extra, but I view them as a must on my future vehicle purchases, and sad that the Fusion does not have it available (but LED headlights are standard on the more expensive MKZ).
I had an opportunity to have an in-depth product demo of the latest Uconnect system late last year, and I was genuinely impressed with the overall performance of the system. I am glad to see it in the 200, and hope that they add even more features to the system to stay competitive.
5. Offer a Hybrid or Diesel Version
The Fusion and Camry both offer hybrid versions. The Fusion even has a plug-in hybrid that is available for those with short commutes. Hybrid technology is still relatively expensive, so I would actually prefer to see a clean diesel alternative in the 200. Recently, I compared the efficieny of diesel and hybrid powertrains in the Volkswagen Jetta, and concluded the diesel engines are the smarter purchase when given the option. Fiat Chrysler is already diesel happy, offering a diesel in the Cherokee in Europe, and offering one in the Ram 1500 Stateside. Bring it to the Chrysler 200 please!
If not, in order to maintain Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards, the 200 will need a hybrid. Fiat Chrysler are not the leaders in hybrid technology, so they will need to play catch-up quickly if they go the hybrid route. Either way, they’ll need one or the other.
6. Offer Superior Build Quality
The Chrysler 200 needs to have a luxury car feel without bringing that luxury car price. The benchmarked Ford Fusion is put together quite nicely, but it appears that the 200 might be a step ahead in interior refinement. That needs to end up being the case on the final production version to be successful.
7. Have a Strong Marketing Campaign
The 200 was unleashed on the world during the 2014 Super Bowl with a commercial starring Bob Dylan. It is important for Chrysler to get the word out about the all-new vehicle, and adopt is “butts in seats” approach to show people that it is better than the rest. As long as the car is as good as they claim it is, word-of-mouth will help sell the vehicle along with an organized advertising campaign.
Competition is great for the industry as a whole, and with the newfound energy within Fiat Chrysler Automotive, I expect them to be strong competition. I believe that if Chrysler achieves these seven points, they will have a sales success with the 2015 Chrysler 200.