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Chrysler shows revamped models to its dealers

ORLANDO — Chrysler executives revealed 15 new or updated models to hundreds of dealers Tuesday, hoping the cars and trucks will boost sales and make the company profitable for the first time since it left bankruptcy protection last year.

The models, shown at a closed-door meeting for about 2,400 dealers from across the world, included a revamped Chrysler Sebring midsize sedan that was renamed the Chrysler 200.

Also shown were updates of the Chrysler Town & Country minivan and Jeep Patriot small sport utility vehicle that look similar to the 2010 models.

The gathering was the first large-scale meeting with dealers for Fiat chief executive Sergio Marchionne, who has run Chrysler since it left bankruptcy in June 2009.

About three-quarters of the company's U.S. dealers attended, many of whom are hurting as customers bypassed their showrooms for newer models from other automakers.

Nowhere was it more evident than in midsize cars, a big part of the market in which the Sebring and Dodge Avenger fell far short of competitors.

"In the past, the factory kind of begged you to take the Sebring. If you did it, you were kind of just doing it to be a team player," said Frank M. Byers Jr. of Byers Auto Group in Stuart. "I think the 200 will really change that."

Byers and Detroit-area Dodge dealer Carl Galeana said dealers were excited about the updated vehicles, which Galeana said make him confident that Chrysler sales will rise.

"I'd put my money in and invest now, knowing it wouldn't be a lousy investment," he said.

Because it takes three or four years to bring new cars to showrooms, all Chrysler can do is update its vehicles and survive until it can roll out new products with Fiat, said Jeremy Anwyl, CEO of the Edmunds.com automotive website.

"They're stuck with these sorts of refreshes," Anwyl said. "I'm not sure if it's enough to actually start to steal back some (market) share."

Chrysler's sales are up 10 percent through August, but retail sales to everyday drivers plummeted 18 percent. Much of the company's sales went to rental car companies, which are far less profitable than retail sales. The automaker lost $369 million in the first half of the year.

Dealers at the meeting, representing 90 percent of Chrysler's sales, weren't allowed to bring cell phones. Reporters were barred.

Only small teaser photos of the 200, due out later this year, were released.

Chrysler said it restyled the outside and upgraded the interior. It also gave the car a new, more efficient V-6 engine, improved handling and made it quieter.

Sebring sales are up 81 percent through August, with almost three-quarters going to rental companies through July.

New cars are important to Chrysler because it still is heavily reliant on truck sales for its revenue, even though the U.S. market has been shifting to smaller vehicles.

Chrysler shows revamped models to its dealers 09/14/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 14, 2010 11:45pm]

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