Chrysler has not had a top-to-bottom redesign of the Chrysler 300 sedan since the vehicle was introduced (actually re-introduced since the 300 nameplate harkens back to the '60s) in 2004. The slightly retro sedan was huge when it came out, and it made then-rising designer Ralph Gilles a star (he now runs the Dodge brand). The brand new 300 will be for the 2012 model year, meaning it rolls into showrooms later next year. But guess what? You can see it now. Parts of it, anyway.
Chrysler has launched a teaser site for the car. It's a bit like those old finger puzzles from days of yore, where you have to move the little boxes around inside a frame to make a coherent picture. But since you can't make a complete picture from the 300 teaser shots, expect no coherency until sometime in 2011. That sometime is likely to be Jan. 10, when Chrysler unveils the nex-gen 300 at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. Around that time, maybe a bit earlier, the company will begin selling the Chrysler 200, a vehicle that replaces the Sebring and which is also featured in a similarly designed site.
Based on the teasers, it seems Chrysler has kept at least some of the more aggressive styling elements of the car, such as the big front grill. But the headlamps have the kind of LED mascara one sees on Audi cars and the big call-out is the interior, which looks to be far higher on the premium scale than the first generation, often criticized for just that. Also, one can tell from the teaser shots that the new car will not be as angular and rectangular.
The new car, which will have a V6 and a V8 Hemi and reportedly, a factory-tuned SRT8 performance model, has been delayed twice because of Chrysler's fiscal problems. The vehicle was first set to launch this year. Joe Kyriakoza, VP of marketing and insights for Hachette Filipacchi Media U.S division Jumpstart Automotive Group, says the delay will not do much damage to Chrysler 300 sales. "The original vehicle had a great following and got quite a bit of buzz because it has that aggressive, retro-cool look, but isn't over the top the way PT Cruiser was. The biggest change will be the interior," he says. "The interior was just a lot less refined than any other vehicle in the competitive set."
But Kyriakoza concedes the sedan market isn't what it was in 2004, since there are a lot more mid-sized competitors and they are all a lot more stylish than back when 300 was the rare mid-sized sedan that didn't resemble a bar of soap on wheels. "I think it's going to enter a crowded segment, with more options. Back then it was dominated by Camry and Accord, but now Hyundai has a new Sonata, which has captured share, and Ford's Fusion has a strong selling point for technology with Sync. Chrysler's selling points are that design is still relevant and the interior will be a big step up."
Chrysler will not only have to launch both the 200 and 300, but the Chrysler brand as well -- since, as Kyriakoza points out, the brand has been "all but absent for a couple of years."
But consumers are interested. According to Jumpstart data, in November when Chrysler started to show spy shots, activity in and engagement went up 30% on Chrysler 300 pages within Jumpstart's channel. According to the firm, Chrysler 300 constitutes 2% of sedan sales right now in the mid-sized segment. The most cross-shopped vehicles with 300 in recent months include Ford Mustang, Ford Taurus, Chrysler Sebring, VW Jetta, and Buick Lacrosse, it says.