News that 200 production would instantly end, albeit temporarily, was overshadowed by news that Fiat Chrysler Automobiles would, sooner than later, farm out the design and production of their small and intermediate cars to a rival automaker.
The Chrysler 200’s plant in Sterling, Michigan will undergo a six-week shutdown due to an inventory glut at dealers nationwide. Over the last three months, U.S. sales of the 200, FCA’s best-selling car in the United States in 2015, tumbled 46 percent to only 24,111 units, or about the number of Camrys Toyota sells every 18 days.
The rapid decline began in November, when 200 volume took a 28-percent dive. Only 10,332 200s were sold in November 2015, placing the 200 eighth in its category, down from sixth one year earlier.
200 sales in December then plunged 47 percent, a year-over-year loss of 7,650 sales during a month in which U.S. midsize car sales dropped by less than 1 percent.
The beginning of 2016 brought even worse results for the 200, as sales in January slid 63 percent in the U.S. Eleven different FCA products, including the Dodge Charger and soon-to-depart Town & Country, generated greater January sales. Not since the 200 was transitioning out of post-Sebring form into its current generation have sales of the 200 been this low. The new car peaked at more than 20,000 sales last May, when more than 8 percent of the midsize cars sold in America were Chryslers. Last month, the 200 claimed just 3.5 percent market share as midsize car volume slid nearly 7 percent in the U.S.
The current 200 met success quickly, though that success was overstated by year-over-year comparisons which took into account the oft-loathed old Sebring/200’s poor sales achievements late in its lifecycle. Bargain pricing on the current 200 early in its lifecycle also strengthened the collective consumer notion that Chrysler isn’t a serious midsize player. If even Chrysler didn’t think it was worth as much when brand new, why should the consumer consider it a worthy alternative for the Camry and Accord?
Moreover, though FCA was able to overcome the loss of the 200’s Dodge Avenger partner with ease at first, the midsize gains accomplished by the automaker weren’t quite as impressive as the 200’s own figures made them seem. In October of last year, for instance, prior to the sharp decline of the last three months, total sales of the 200 rose 2 percent, but combined sales of the 200 and Avenger were actually down 8 percent. Indeed, one month earlier, 200/Avenger volume was down 10 percent.
Yes, the Chrysler 200’s 2015 tally revealed a massive 52-percent year-over-year improvement. Yet compared with 2013, U.S. sales of FCA’s midsize duo were down 17 percent in calendar year 2015.
Now, Fiat Chrysler is looking out a winter window in which thousands of 200s need to be offloaded from dealers before production can be kickstarted again. As of New Year’s Day, Automotive News estimates FCA’s U.S. dealers had more than 45,000 200s in stock. Approximately 12 percent of those cars left dealers in January.
Making the clear-out more challenging is a general move away from passenger cars into SUVs and crossovers, a trend made most obvious by FCA’s own Jeep division. January sales at Jeep jumped 15 percent. The Cherokee outsold the 200 by more than three to one. The Dodge Journey outsold the 200 by a 3,256-unit margin. Poor reviews of the 200 from Consumer Reports and general criticism of the 200’s 9-speed automatic transmission do the car no favours, either.
After successive generations of small and midsize car failures, it’s no wonder that FCA boss Sergio Marchionne has no intention of funding the development of more such cars in the near future. Fewer than one in five FCA U.S. sales in January were car-derived. The 200 and Dart, the latter having fallen 42 percent to only 4,748 sales last month, produced only 8 percent of the automaker’s sales. Despite competing in the two largest passenger car sectors in the country, the 200 and Dart generated only one-third of the company’s car sales last month.
Do numbers lie? In this case, the numbers simply make a solitary request of FCA: Give up.