Monday, July 21, 2008

For Chrysler sensations, glory days are gone by Mike

DETROIT — When it was introduced in 2004, the brash-looking Chrysler 300 became an industry sensation. And just a year ago, Chrysler's Jeep brand couldn't make Wranglers fast enough.

But times have changed, and the two former stars have fallen on hard times.

"Wrangler is soft," says Stephen Kaiser, president of the Fairfield Auto Group in Muncy, Pa. "Usually we have a waiting list, but I have about seven in stock."

In the first half of 2008, sales of the 300 are down 36.5 percent to 40,014 units. The Wrangler is off 29.3 percent to 46,443.

Kaiser says used 300s still sell, but new versions of the rear-drive sedan aren't moving at all. "People just can't afford $30,000 to $40,000" for a new vehicle, he says.

One New York dealer who declined to be identified complains that Chrysler waited too long to refresh the 300's distinctive design. "The guy coming out of a lease doesn't want to buy the same car," he says.

Chrysler plans a redesigned version in 2010 for the 2011 model year.

Sales of the Wrangler skyrocketed when Jeep redesigned the vehicle for the 2007 model year. The difference? For the first time, Jeep offered a four-door model, the Wrangler Unlimited. Dealers had long been asking for a four-door.

Art Spinella, an analyst for CNW Marketing Research in Bandon, Ore., says customers usually buy Wranglers as a second or third household vehicle.

"That's the biggest problem they're running into now," Spinella says. "Nobody is adding to their household fleet."

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