DETROIT (AP) — Three years ago, Chrysler gussied up the antiquated Sebring midsize car, gave it a new name and prayed that it would make enough money to help the company survive.
It worked. Prodded by a Super Bowl ad featuring rapper Eminem, Americans noticed the restyled 200, even though it leaned through turns and cruised noisily down the highway. Buyers mostly liked one thing: It was cheap. Huge discounts shrank its price to among the lowest in the market.
Still, the car wasn't a top seller and captured just 3 percent of the market last year. But now, a resurgent Chrysler is rolling out a revamped 200, this time with hopes of competing against the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord and Ford Fusion — not just on price, but on style, gas mileage, refinement and beauty.
Chrysler-Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne said the company invested a lot of its know-how in the new 200 to make it competitive. "This car is shoulders above anybody else. Let the car fight. It's pretty good at it," he said.
The new 200, formally unveiled Monday at the Detroit auto show, is based on Alfa Romeo underpinnings designed by Chrysler's new owner, Italian automaker Fiat. But the car is still uniquely American, with a roomy interior, a quieter engine, an athletic stance and a curvaceous body that looks like a more costly Audi. Chrysler also invested $1 billion at a Detroit-area factory to boost quality as it tries to carve out a spot in the largest and most competitive segment of the U.S. market.
"It's brutal," Al Gardner, CEO of the Chrysler Brand, says of the fight for midsize-car buyers. "You've got to be as competitive as you can."