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Chrysler and Fiat axe models

Gone: The Chrysler Sebring sedan has been stripped from Australian showrooms, after no sales this year.

Mass model exodus for Chrysler, Dodge and Fiat in Australia

12 Aug 2010

CHRYSLER has officially axed the PT Cruiser retro-hatch, Sebring sedan and Dodge Avenger in Australia, and could limit both of its US passenger car brands here to just three models each for up to two years.

All three models were formally removed from Chrysler and Dodge price lists in July – the same month the decade-old PT Cruiser ceased production and ahead of a global facelift for the Sebring and Avenger, which won’t become available here.

A replacement for at least one of the mid-size sedans is not due to emerge until 2013, underpinned by a new platform from Chrysler’s parent company Fiat, which also recently eliminated two volume models from the passenger car brand that shares its name Down Under.

Production of the new Fiat-based rear-drive Avenger and/or Sebring sedan is likely to remain at Chrysler’s Sterling Heights plant in Michigan, which Fiat boss Sergio Marchionne last week said would gain a second shift of 900 workers from early 2011 – rather than close in 2012, as previously planned – “to support the company’s long-term product plan”.

Chrysler Australia senior manager of marketing and corporate communications Dean Bonthorne said no firm timing has been confirmed for the Australian release of the Chrysler brand’s next all-new model, the second-generation 300C, but it was not likely to arrive here before 2012.

“The Sebring and Avenger sedans will continue to be available overseas, but the number of models for export to international markets will be limited and won’t include Australia,” he said.

“There is a whole raft of new models coming over the next 24 months as part of the alliance with Fiat and we’re getting more information every day. (But) For the time being both the Chrysler and Dodge brands will include three models, which is what Dodge has offered for most of the time since its launch.”

11 center imageFrom top: Chrysler PT Cruiser, Chrysler PT Cruiser Cabrio, Dodge Avenger, Fiat Ritmo, Fiat Punto.

Some examples of all three discontinued models remain in dealer stock around Australia, but VFACTS figures show no PT Cruiser Cabrios, Sebring sedans or Avengers have been sold here this year, with just 52 PT Cruiser hatchbacks finding local homes in 2010.

The moves leaves Chrysler dealers with just the 300C large-car, sales of which are 38 per cent down this year, Sebring Cabrio, just 74 of which were sold to July, and the Voyager people-mover, which has attracted 163 buyers this year (down 36.6 per cent).

Overall, Chrysler sales are down some 46.8 per cent this year, with just 636 vehicles sold – including 347 examples of the 300C.

As for Dodge, which was relaunched by the Chrysler Group here in September 2006, the disappearance of the mid-size Avenger sedan (launched here in August 2007) leaves the historic American brand represented by only its original Caliber hatchback, Nitro medium SUV and Journey people-mover.

The latest Caliber is now available in just a single 2.0-litre SXT petrol automatic variant priced at $29,990, following the axing of three other variants last month, while the Nitro can now be had in just two automatic petrol guises following the culling of both diesel versions from July.

Australian Dodge sales are down 46.4 per cent this year, with Caliber sales down 52.5 per cent and the Nitro down 85.6 per cent. The Journey is Dodge’s one shining light in 2010 with 658 sales (up 136.7 per cent) representing more than three-quarters of all Dodge sales this year (869).

Of course, Chrysler Australia’s most successful brand is Jeep, which is 52.3 per cent up this year at more than 3500 sales, despite no 2010 sales of the small Compass and large Commander SUVs.

The famed US off-road brand’s 2010 resurgence comes largely as a result of the small Patriot SUV, which is 197 percent up year-on-year, and the hard-core Wrangler off-roader, which is Jeep’s top-seller with 1634 sold this year (up a big 82 per cent).

Sales of the mid-size Cherokee – Jeep’s next-best seller – are also up, by 23 per cent to 885. The buoyant SUV brand’s next all-new model, the redesigned Grand Cherokee due here in the first quarter of 2011, should be on sale within six months.

Over at the Fiat brand, which is imported by independent distributor Ateco Automotive, is down 33 per cent so far this year in a market that’s more than 15 per cent up, and currently has just one passenger model on sale – the pint-sized 500, supplies of which are limited.

GoAuto understands some Fiat dealers have returned customer deposits for both the light-sized Punto and small Ritmo hatchbacks, which have been discontinued for some months as Ateco awaits facelifted versions that will not become available until next year.

Even then, mainstream (manual) versions of the upgraded Punto and Ritmo may not be joined by volume-selling TFT automatic versions and flagship Abarth derivatives until later next year.

A total of just seven Fiat Punto and Ritmo models have been sold in Australia this year and while sales of the Ducato and Scudo commercials are steady, global demand for Fiat’s sole Australian passenger model has reduced local 500 model sales by 12 per cent this year. Fiat sales are 33 per cent down in 2010.

Ateco has received Australian Design Rule of approval for the 500 Abarth, which debuted at the 2008 Geneva motor show and was to have been launched here this year, but says both it and the 500C Abarth remain at least six months away because demand exceeds supply in Europe.

To rectify that, Fiat will shift Panda production from Tychy to Naples, where Alfa Romeo’s 159, Brera and Spider are produced, increasing production capacity of the Ford Ka-based 500 in Poland by up to 300,000 vehicles a year.

Other Fiat group brands distributed in Australia by Ateco include Ferrari and Maserati, sales of which are both up this year, and Alfa, which is down almost 14 per cent to July, when the GT coupe was reduced to a single limited-edition model.

Ateco also holds the Australian import rights for Fiat’s Lancia luxury marque, whose models will be badge-engineered as Chryslers in some export markets.

Chrysler has said it will renew its entire model range by 2012 and aims to almost quadruple its sales outside North America to 500,000 annually by 2014 – the same year it expects 50 per cent of its products to be derived from Fiat Group platforms.

While Chrysler also hopes to return a net operating profit in 2011 before repaying – in 2014 – the US government loans that helped rescued it from bankruptcy, Fiat posted a 2009 operating loss of $1.3 billion in January – the Italian giant’s first loss since Mr Marchionne returned it to profit in 2005 after four years in the red.

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