DETROIT - Chrysler Europe is looking for some big growth next year.
The smallest US automaker sold 105,000 units in Europe last year, about the same as 1996, and it predicts sales of around 110,000 this year. But by 2000, it expects sales to grow to 200,000.
However, major growth will not come from the large Chrysler 300M introduced at the Detroit auto show.
The Chrysler 300M was designed to be a premium American car.
At 5000mm long, it is 200mm longer than a Ford Scorpio or Renault Safrane, yet it is shorter than the US-only Intrepid, LHS and Concorde that share the platform. Chrysler hopes to sell 5,000-6,000 a year in continental Europe. No right-hand-drive version is planned.
Chrysler expects general growth of all vehicle lines as it takes over its distribution in big markets, but it has been a big job.
Chrysler now operates its own distributorships in France, Italy, Austria, Germany and the three Benelux countries.
'Our plan to take over our national private distributors turned out to take longer than we originally planned,' said Tom Stallkamp, Chrysler's new president. Chrysler began taking over private distributors in early 1996.
Stallkamp would not say how much Chrysler spent, but he said, 'These investments will have a quick pay-back.
'We have to digest our recent acquisitions. We must streamline the different operating systems by the former individual distributors, and shorten delivery lines. But we still have to adapt to each country's local distribution standards.'
A European Chrysler distributor said, 'Chrysler wants to strengthen its European network before the new generation Neon arrives in 2001 or so.'
The new Neon will use 1.4- and 1.6-liter engines from the Chrysler-BMW joint venture in Brazil. In addition to the Neon, Chrysler may be preparing a Megane Scenic competitor. Last year's Plymouth Pronto concept car was a styling study for a compact Neon minivan.
The 300M in Europe replaces the Vision and the New Yorker. It was designed for international markets and was once scheduled for introduction at the Frankfurt auto show last autumn.
'It started as our international model, but we felt a need for it in the USA as well where it will be our alternative in the luxury segment,' said Stallkamp. 'It will be an American car with Euro standards.'
Chrysler Germany's new Managing Director Hans Bernard Post, who comes from Porsche, said he would be happy to sell 1,500 units annually after sales start in September. The Netherlands has a potential of 350, and Italy expects to sell 100.
Chrysler's international operations have increased sales from 50,000 in 1991 to 250,000 in 1997. Over 40 percent of this is sold in Europe.
'Actually, we are not obsessed with volumes for Europe,' said Stallkamp. 'Our priority is to make profitable sales and to increase our image and customer satisfaction. Volumes come after.'