Detroit auto show: Chrysler fight back with new 300
Chrysler has come back off the ropes fighting: that’s the message from its chief executive Olivier Francois, who called on everything from Eminem to Robert Frost and 10 year-old children, some of whose parents work at the local Chrysler plants to launch the new 300.
In what was an emotive – and sometimes cheesy – presentation of the latest generation of the brand’s most iconic model, Francois spoke of a confidence returning to the brand rescued by the US government and then taken over by the Fiat Group.
So what of the new car? Well in terms of styling it’s not the bold and brash motoring statement of old, with the defining front grille slightly shrunken and the overall effect is less reflective of the US muscle cars that were evoked by the outgoing model. The jury is out on whether this approach will work. While the current climate has moved away from such bold and brash motoring statements, it was a look that defined the car. Without it – or at least with it softened – it risks losing its identity.
Chrysler’s chief designer, Ralph Gilles said he has been working for six years with his team on coming up with the new 300 and spoke of the real challenges faced by designers when trying to change a definitive model.
Perhaps the most telling example of this problem was in his description of the revised wheel arches as being “bolder and reserved”. It sums up the seeming confusion with what exactly the 300 is meant to be. Inside it has dramatically improved as a comfortable family saloon, but on the outside it has lost much of the aggression that won it so many admiring glances.
Earlier Francois had referred to a Robert Frost quote that described taking the middle of the road as the most dangerous place to drive, suggesting Chrysler was taking a firm line on its future. The problem it faces is that its poster model that could never be described as “middle of the road” looks a bit like that’s where it is pointing.
Irish buyers will have to wait until diesel versions are introduced and Chrysler’s European strategy is finalised. At present the plan is to retain the brand in Ireland and Britain, rebadging some Lancia models to add to the range. On the continent the reverse is planned, with cars like the 300 falling into the Lancia family.
If and when it does arrive, it will need to overcome not only its image issues, but also some buyer concerns over residual values. Chrysler might have come out fighting from two terrible years of turmoil, but the battle is far from over.