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First look: Meet Chrysler’s Sebring, 300C’s smaller sibling

Another medium: Aussie Sebring would offer 175kW 3.5-litre V6 power.

Chrysler hatches a baby brother for its 300C, the new Sebring sedan due here in 2007

28 Jun 2006

CHRYSLER’S 300C, the car that single-handedly shook up Australia’s homegrown long-wheelbase establishment by beating Holden’s Statesman/Caprice and Ford’s Fairlane/LTD at their own game, has a new baby brother – and it’s odds-on to hit Aussie roads.

Revealed in Michigan last Thursday ahead of its official public debut at the London motor show on July 18, the redesigned Sebring sedan is expected to form the basis of Chrysler’s next major sales expansion Australia in little more than 12 months.

The new Sebring will be a direct rival for the likes of next month’s all-new (four-cylinder-only) Toyota Camry, Hyundai’s new Sonata, Honda’s twin Accord models, the popular Mazda6 and Subaru’s Liberty.

Holden is also expected to enter the mainstream medium sedan fray with an as-yet-unnamed model based on GM Daewoo’s Tosca sedan, which will replace that brand’s Leganza/Magnus in South Korea and, effectively, the Vectra in Australia’s expanding medium vehicle segment.

11 center imageHowever, for the first time, Sebring will also give DaimlerChrysler Australia/Pacific a model with which it can lure buyers from the lucrative large car segment, comprising the likes of Holden Commodore, Ford Falcon, Mitsubishi 380 and November’s brand-new Aurion sedan from Toyota.

Detailed information is not available for the front-drive Sebring, which has been confirmed for right-hand drive production and is currently under intensive investigation for Australian sales.

However, it’s believed to be somewhere between Camry and Commodore in overall size, at a similar length to the US Accord - which is likely to be its most direct competitor here.

National sales manager Brad Fitzsimmons told GoAuto Sebring is seen within DCAP as crucial to the Chrysler brand’s growth in Australia, which has embraced 300C but whose large car market is in decline due to increasing fuel prices.

"We’re working hard to try and make it (Sebring) come to life. It fits a spot in our model line-up where we don’t have anything today, so right now we’re looking closely at the business cases and investigating market opportunities, by looking at volumes and competitive groups.

"Mid-size is a significant part of the market. There are some huge performers, but it’s also a tough section of the market. Nonetheless it’s a great opportunity. The mid-size car market is where we need to be.

"300C’s doing extremely well in the upper large market but it’s a little bit tighter the further you go up in the price bands - particularly with sizes of vehicles where issues such as fuel economy are becoming more prevalent.

"The mid-size market is certainly going to grow in our view."Asked if Sebring could emulate 300C’s success in the medium segment, Mr Fitzsimmons said: "The answer is yes, depending on what measure you use.

"We think that it can. Certainly the vehicle has breakthrough styling typical of both Crossfire and 300C and, as you know in the car market, if it’s styled right and people like it, you can sell them.

"300C is playing in a more rarified area. The market is really broad in the mid-size area and in many ways less defined than it is at the top," he said.

Chrysler last week announced Sebring will be available in the US with the same 2.4-litre VVT four-cylinder "World Engine" as employed by the forthcoming Caliber, which will relaunch sister brand Dodge in August.

Mated to a four-speed auto, it’s claimed to offer 13 per cent more power (now 128kW) than the four-pot that powers the outgoing (left-hand drive) Sebring in the US, along with four per cent better fuel consumption.

Also on Sebring’s US agenda will be upgraded (142kW) 2.7-litre and (175kW) 3.5-litre V6 engines, the latter mated to a six-speed automatic transaxle for the first time, which is claimed to bring significant improvements in standard-start acceleration, refinement and highway-speed fuel economy.

Mr Fitzsimmons confirmed that, if approved for Australian sales, Sebring would be made available here with all three engines – and possibly a yet-to-be-announced diesel engine.

The flagship would be the 3.5 V6/six-speed auto combination with AutoStick manual-shift mode, which is claimed to provide class-matching 0-100km/h acceleration.

However, while wagon and all-wheel drive versions of Sebring are not currently on offer from the US, the next-generation Sebring convertible will be "step two of the Sebring discussion, depending on right-hand drive availability".

Mr Fitzsimmons would not divulge local sales forecasts for Sebring, cautioning the business case was at an early stage but was unlikely to comprise a large fleet sales component.

"We’re very early into the volume-type discussions. We don’t really have any numbers in mind at this stage – we’re working on a whole range of discussions that will take place over the next two or three months, but we haven’t arrived at any volume projections.

"We’re certainly not in the Falcon and Commodore hunt, but there’s significant volume just looking at what Honda and Mazda are doing. There is a huge opportunity for just in that area alone – without even having to think about what Falcon and Commodore are doing. It will appeal to a different type of buyer too: we’ll be focusing more on retail buyers than the fleet end of the market."Claimed to feature many class-leading technologies not available in the mid-size segment, the 2007 Sebring enters production in the third quarter of this year at Chrysler’s recently upgrade assembly plant in Sterling Heights, Michigan.

The 2.4 is built at the Global Engine Manufacturing Alliance (GEMA) plant in Dundee, Michigan, while the 2.7 and 3.5-litre V6s are produced at the Kenosha Engine Plant in Wisconsin.

If sold in here, Australia will be one of the last international markets to receive Sebring, which should hit Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge dealerships by late in the third quarter of 2007.

To be sold alongside the Crossfire coupe and convertible and fellow medium segment contenders, the PT Cruiser and its newly released cabriolet derivative, Sebring will be book-ended at one end by the Dodge Caliber small hatch and at the other by the 300C sedan and its newly available Touring sibling.

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