Chrysler aims awd 300 at Snow Belt
Glacier edition will give the nameplate more allure in frosty Midwest, Northeast
DETROIT -- Chrysler is doubling production of 2013 all-wheel-drive Chrysler 300s from 2012 models in an effort to gain traction in frigid locales.
Chrysler wants the 300 to crack markets in Snow Belt states, expanding its competitive reach to appeal to mid-sized sedan shoppers looking at a Hyundai Genesis, for instance, who might be swayed by the 300's awd capabilities.
Asked if Chrysler would have an awd-focused marketing push for the 300, Chrysler brand's large car marketing manager, Ed Del Otero, said, "We're working on it," but declined to elaborate.
The company recently launched the 300 Glacier edition to showcase the sedan's awd capabilities and bring it to the attention of dealers and the public. The Glacier costs $37,840, including shipping.
Only 1,000 Glacier units were built, with 850 allocated to the United States and the rest to Canada. The units were shipped in January, Del Otero said.
TrueCar.com analyst Jesse Toprak says the awd car market has room for more 300s, but the car will have to compete with models from Audi, Mercedes-Benz and Subaru in import-oriented zones such as the Northeast. Chrysler's awd 300, Toprak says, will face the same challenge as the Buick LaCrosse -- also offering awd -- in gaining acceptance there.
Toprak likes Chrysler's chances better in upper Midwestern states such as Minnesota, where there's stronger brand preference among consumers.
"It's a very challenging proposition to get an import buyer to look at a domestic brand," said Toprak, who estimated that awd usually requires a premium of $2,000 to $3,000. Awd for the 2013 300 adds $2,350 to the price tag.
The awd production mix of the 2012 Chrysler 300 -- which offered awd with V-6 and V-8 engines -- was 12 percent, but that figure will rise to 25 percent for 2013 300s. Before 2012, only V-8 300s were offered with awd. Chrysler sold 70,747 300s in the United States in 2012, according to the Automotive News Data Center.
"We can't crack certain markets unless we have four-wheel-drive models out there. We see that as a growth opportunity going into 2013," Del Otero said. "All-wheel-drive cars have a way of moving a lot quicker out of a dealer's inventory. It's extremely important to provide a dealership with something that can sell right away. It frees up a lot of cash."
This is welcome news for dealers in states such as New York, where many customers prefer awd in slick conditions.
Phil Maguire, owner of the Maguire Family of Dealerships in Ithaca and Trumansburg, N.Y., in the Finger Lakes area of west-central New York, said having only rwd on a car in the Northeast is a "kiss of death" for some shoppers. The Maguires own a Dodge-Chrysler-Jeep-Ram store in Ithaca.
Because of awd's popularity, Maguire says those models tend to hold more resale value than rwd cars.
Maguire said his market has demand for more awd 300s.
"Most of that is predicated on the customer's perception," Maguire said. "I think people have just been trained over the years that they have to have front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. Having that all-wheel-drive extra availability is definitely going to help us put more numbers on the board for Chrysler."
Augie DiFeo, general manager of White Plains Chrysler-Jeep-Dodge-Ram in White Plains, N.Y., in southeastern New York, said the 300's market presence could use a boost in his area as well. Reflecting the importance of awd, DiFeo said the dealership usually requests awd instead of rwd.
"The only way to gain market traction in any market is to have cars available and to have them on the road and in driveways where it can feed off of that presence," DiFeo said.
In Toprak's opinion, Subaru stands apart in the Northeast because of its commitment to awd. It is seen as the practical, value-oriented alternative to SUVs in a region that's home to an educated consumer base, Toprak said.
Other awd players in the mid-sized and large-vehicle categories include the BMW 5 and 7 series, Mercedes E class, Lincoln MKZ and Lexus GS.
But Chrysler is eager to make a play for Snow Belt awd buyers.
Del Otero said: "To have this system and the capabilities of this system, it makes it more marketable for us."
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