Chrysler dealers stood and clapped in Las Vegas in September 2012, and it wasn't because the blackjack dealer drew a bust. It was at a closed-door dealer meeting and Chrysler had just unveiled the next-generation 200, a midsize sedan that departs from the current Sebring-derived car.
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Saad Chehab was there. Chehab, CEO of Chrysler's namesake division, said dealers gave the new 200 a standing ovation. Chrysler-Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne confirmed to reporters in January that the car will have a nine-speed automatic transmission, which could raise highway gas mileage to the high 30s or beyond. That’s competitive with leading family cars like the Nissan Altima and Honda Accord.
Wait a minute. Chrysler dealers were pretty enthusiastic when the automaker showed off the current Sebring-turned-200 refresh at a similar meeting in Orlando, Fla., in 2010. We lauded the effort but said the 200 needed more. Still, it notched 125,476 sales in 2012, which is better than any year in the preceding Sebring's tenure. Chehab called it Chrysler's "little hero, [a] surprise of the brand." Still, 2012’s sales for the 200 fell well short of stalwarts like the Chevrolet Malibu (210,951), Hyundai Sonata (230,605), Ford Fusion (241,263), Altima (302,934), Accord (331,872) and Toyota Camry (404,886).
What makes Chehab think the new 200 will compete?