The plan was straightforward. With demand for conventional midsize cars gradually decreasing and buyers in Fiat Chrysler’s U.S. showrooms increasingly turning to flexible Jeep SUVs, Chrysler 200 production would be temporarily shut down. Inventory was piling up. Inventory needed to be cleared out.
Rather than build more sedans, which would simply be piled up on top of existing unsold 200s, a six-week production hiatus would allow time for 200 supply and demand to realign at more realistic levels.
But the clear-out of those existing, unsold 200s — Automotive News says Chrysler had a 217-day supply of 47,000 200s at the beginning of February — isn’t having any measurable impact on 200 sales. In fact, while FCA wants to see 200s leaving showrooms in order for space to be created for new 200s once production is reignited, demand for the 200 is drying up.
We reported this one month ago, helping to explain why FCA announced in late January that 200 production would be paused. January volume tumbled 63 percent, an 8,957-unit year-over-year decline for FCA’s sole remaining intermediate car.
Surely this was nothing more than an anomaly though, right? Surely surging Fiat Chrysler could sell a swoopy design with a class-leading V6 powerplant and available all-wheel drive in one of America’s most popular new vehicle categories, right? The strange timing of incentives and product mixes and winter storms and GOP debates must have briefly caused 200 buyers to temporarily disappear, right?
Chrysler 200 sales then plunged 58 percent in February 2016, a 9,208-unit year-over-year decrease.
U.S. sales of midsize cars actually increased in February. The segment is slowing, but it’s far from dead. Overall, February sales of new vehicles jumped 7 percent in the U.S.; midsize car volume was up little more than 1 percent, a modest improvement powered by big gains at Chevrolet (Malibu up 53 percent), Ford (Fusion up 12 percent), Honda (Accord up 19 percent), and Hyundai (Sonata up 25 percent).
Total Chrysler brand sales are down 24 percent so far this year, a startlingly poor result for a namesake brand at a fast-growing manufacturer in an exceedingly healthy market. U.S. auto sales last month rose to the highest February level since 2001. It was the best February for FCA/Chrysler Group since 2006. Year-over-year, sales across the FCA conglomerate increased 10 percent.
At the Chrysler brand, however, the losses which have occurred through 2016’s first two months all stem from the 200. In advance of the Pacifica’s arrival, Town & Country volume rose by a quarter to 18,030 through January and February. Sales of the 300 are also up 25 percent, producing the best start to a year for the flagship sedan in three years.
January and February are low-volume months on the auto sales calendar, but the bright spots in FCA’s car division are still worthy of note. Working with the 300’s 25-percent uptick are improvements from the Challenger and Charger, the latter of which is roundly outselling the 200 in America this year.
The list of of FCA products currently outselling the 200 would be too lengthy to list if this was a print publication. Every Jeep, even the the Patriot, Compass, and Renegade. Both minivans. Ram’s lone pickup truck (by nearly six-to-one). The Charger, Dart, Durango, and Journey, too.
Only 3.5 percent of the FCA vehicles sold in January and February were Chrysler 200 sedans.
The car’s midsize market share, rising to 9 percent at this stage of 2015, fell below 4 percent in 2016’s first two months.
One year ago, only 17 nameplates — and only eight cars — were outselling the 200, sales of which had jumped 31 percent year-over-year. But presently, the 200 is America’s 68th-best-selling vehicle and the 24th-best-selling car, a fall from grace typically witnessed only with discontinued cars or when cars are in the midst of transitioning into a new generation.
In the case of Chrysler’s midsize sedan, even if the car had debuted in mid-2014 to industry-wide “best-in-class” declarations, it would still have taken more than a generation for Chrysler to cement a positive reputation. But Chrysler did not introduce a car that was widely praised as best-in-class. Chrysler is not synonymous in the midsize sector with reliability, perceived quality, and long-term durability. And the midsize sector is chock full of buyers who turn most often to the sedans with the most deeply entrenched reputations for reliability.
Fortunately for Fiat Chrysler, none of this appears to relate at all to the company’s ability to succeed with pickup trucks and SUVs. Jeep, Ram, and Dodge’s two utility vehicles, which produced nearly seven out of every ten FCA sales in January and February, collectively produced a 19-percent improvement equal to 36,000 additional sales.
Not only does such a gain offset the loss of 18,000 Chrysler 200 sales, it also offsets the 2,400-unit decline from another FCA namesake product, the Fiat 500.
[Images: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles North America]