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Like Betty White, 2 Chrysler nameplates win new fans

There was a 17-days supply of the Dodge Avenger mid-sized sedan on May 1.

Chrysler Group's two mid-sized sedans have become automotive versions of Betty White, picking up new fans deep into their lives.

The 90-year-old White, an award-winning comedienne and accomplished actress since the 1950s, has gathered a new generation of fans over the last two years. Her latest sitcom, "Hot in Cleveland," is a hit for Viacom and its network, TV Land, and she was the beneficiary of a huge Facebook-driven drive that led to host Saturday Night Live for the first time in 2010.

Like White, Chrysler's twin mid-sized sedans, the Chrysler 200 and Dodge Avenger, proved in April that not everything long in the tooth needs to be rushed out to pasture.

In April, the Chrysler 200 -- the renamed and much-refreshed Chrysler Sebring -- was the automaker's second-highest selling vehicle at 13,343 units, and up 61 percent from a year ago. It trailed only the compendium of models collectively reported monthly as the Ram pickup at 21,126 units.

And the 200's linemate, the up-to-now unloved Dodge Avenger, generated sales of 11,147 units in April, up 47 percent.

Together, sales of the two mid-sized sedans were up 55 percent from a year ago, the highest monthly sales total in that segment for Chrysler since June 2004, when the SAAR was 15.8 million, and the Sebring was joined by the Dodge Stratus.

Were fleet sales part of this rise? Undoubtedly, but we don't know how much, since Chrysler doesn't disclose fleet sales for individual models. Its overall fleet percentage has hovered around 30 percent, Chrysler-Fiat CEO Marchionne has said.

There's also little doubt that the two vehicles benefitted immensely from the $3,000 in rebates Chrysler put on the hood of each. Those rebates will continue into May, Chrysler spokesman Ralph Kisiel said.

But even with the incentives, consumers had to have a sufficiently positive view of Chrysler to be willing to pull the trigger on a purchase. And they did so in April to the point that the Avenger -- the Dodge Avenger! -- had just 17-day's supply of inventory on May 1.

Looks like the old girls -- the cars and White, too -- have some gas left in the tank after all.

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