Chrysler Shows Revamped Models To Dealers

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) -- In his largest dealer meeting yet since taking over the reins at Chrysler, CEO Sergio Marchionne on Tuesday showed off 15 new or revamped cars and trucks, including a replacement for the poor-selling Sebring midsize sedan.

The company is unveiling the models, including updates of the Chrysler Town & Country minivan and Jeep Patriot utility, at a closed-door meeting with 2,400 dealers who gathered in Orlando.

Marchionne, who is also the head of Fiat, prefers to keep new cars under wraps until close to the time that they launch. But Chrysler dealers have struggled as they waited for the company to come out with new vehicles under its new Italian management. Chrysler has relied heavily on rental-car and other fleet sales this year as it worked to revamp its products.

Dealers weren't allowed to bring cell phones into the meeting. The media wasn't allowed in. So Tuesday's photos released by the company were the first glimpse of revamps to some of Chrysler's key products.

The Sebring has done poorly in the highly competitive midsize car market, so the company changed the sedan's name to the Chrysler 200 and says it has reworked virtually everything in the car.

The Sebring has been criticized for having a harsh, noisy engine, poor handling, a chintzy interior and lackluster styling.

Chrysler said on its website that it restyled the sedan and upgraded the interior, plus it gave it a new, more efficient V-6 engine and updated the four-cylinder engine. It also stiffened the suspension and added a new rear stabilizer bar to improve ride and handling.

The car also got upgrades to reduce noise, including quieter windshield and front window glass.

Chrysler released a few teaser photos, showing narrower, sculpted headlights and smaller tail lights.

New cars are important to the company because it still is heavily reliant on truck sales for its revenue, even though the U.S. market is shifting toward smaller vehicles. In August, trucks amounted to 73 percent of Chrysler's total sales, only 2 percent lower than in December of 2007 when the recession began. By comparison, trucks made up 41 percent of Toyota's August sales.

The midsize car market, where the Sebring competes, is among the largest segments of the U.S. auto market.
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