During the 2014 North American International Auto Show in Detroit earlier this month, Al Gardner, President and CEO of Chrysler brand, introduced the second generation 2015 Chrysler 200 and also gave a glimpse at the brand’s new face and overall product direction. Gardner described the new 200 as the brand’s flagship car and as such one requiring a “flagship manufacturing facility” like the all-new $1 billion Sterling Heights Assembly Plant (SHAP) where the new model will be produced.
Chrysler brand is confident that its large cash investment in SHAP will pay off and the proof will be in the pudding shortly after the new 200 starts rolling off the line and hitting dealer lots. The new plant should produce a significantly better product, with meticulous attention to overall build quality compared to the current generation.
Mechanically, the redesigned 200 will feature a standard nine-speed automatic transmission mated to either a 2.4-liter Tigershark inline-four producing 184 horsepower and 173 lb-ft of torque, or an optional 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 producing a new best-in-class 295 horsepower and 262 lb-ft of torque. While official build numbers have not been released yet, officials at Chrysler expect the Pentastar V-6 to account for roughly 25% of demand. The new 200 is built on the same chassis as the Dodge Dart and Jeep Cherokee, which means the model will be available with all-wheel drive as an option as well.
Brand officials also indicate that the new 200 will be faster and more fuel efficient than the outgoing model. EPA ratings have not been published yet, but initial estimates suggest that both powertrains will offer fuel economy improvements ranging between 6% to 13% over the current generation, with overall fuel economy maxing out at 35 mpg.
Looking at the exterior, the all-new 200 features a simple, fluid, coupe-like shape, a styling theme that a few automakers have progressively moved toward. A good example of this comes from Mercedes-Benz, which just launched its all-new CLA-Class four-door coupe late last year. Since going on sale the CLA has received a lot of attention and experienced great sales success. While comparing a Mercedes to a Chrysler might sound strange, the basic formula for both the CLA and 200 is very similar. Both vehicles follow the same four-door coupe design theme, are based on front-wheel drive platforms, offer attractive base MSRPs and a slew of different option configurations geared toward personalization.
On the inside, designers said they were inspired by classic American designs like the Eames lounge chair, the iPhone and Airstream travel trailers. The end result is a modern interior that is leaps and bounds better than the current generation and one undoubtedly appealing enough to attract new customers to the brand.
As far as trim levels and pricing, Chrysler will offer the 200 in four different trim levels, including the two engine options and a choice of either front or all-wheel drive. Base prices will start slightly north of $22,000 for the 200LX and run all the way up to $31,000 for a top-of-the-line 200C AWD.
Now that we know all about the new 2015, let’s take a look at the original 200, which was launched in December 2010 as a 2011 model. While the old generation 200 wasn’t all bad, it wasn’t something to get excited over either, particularly in the ultra-competitive mid-size sedan segment. The mid-size car used value retention table below shows that a three-year-old Chrysler 200 is currently retaining 46.5% of its original MSRP, or 1.9 percentage points below the segment average of 48.4%.
Chrysler has been known to sell lots of cars directly to rental fleet companies over the years and the old 200 proved to be no exception. Looking at total new mid-size car rental fleet registrations from January through November 2013 shows that 45,577 units or 40.8% of total 200 registrations belonged to rental fleets. The 200’s rental penetration rate blows away the rest of the segment, nearly 11 points higher than the second place Dodge Avenger’s 30.1%, and nearly 15 points higher than third place Chevrolet Malibu’s 26.0%. As we’ve talked about in the past, high rental rates signal poor retail demand and also mean that a mass of volume will hit the used car market over a concentrated period of time at the end of fleet service, neither of which are good for used value retention.
The new 200 is a vast improvement over its predecessor and as such it’s highly unlikely that its rental penetration rate will be anywhere near the level of the outgoing model; this is especially important given that the 200 accounts for 40% of Chrysler brand’s total sales.
While fleet sales can be profitable, they do less to build brand awareness via consumer word of mouth and they don’t allow dealers to develop relationships with consumers that lead to future sales and fixed operation opportunities. Placing a larger percentage of 200s into consumer hands will benefit both the brand and its dealers in these areas.
Only time will tell where the 200’s fortunes will fall relative to the leaders in the midsize car segment, but it’s a safe bet that the competitive redesign will elevate consumer awareness of the “new” Chrysler and it demonstrates to everyone that the brand intends to be much more than a purveyor of rental cars.