DETROIT - DaimlerChrysler has quietly added a budget 2000 Chrysler Cirrus model equipped with the same 2.4-liter, four-cylinder engine used in the Plymouth Breeze.
This entry-level Cirrus, the LX, may be a sign that the Plymouth brand is on its way out, although the company denies it.
The Cirrus LX is priced at $16,625, including destination. That's $3,855 less than the top-of-the-line Cirrus LXi and only $150 more than the Breeze. The Cirrus, Breeze and Dodge Stratus are mid-sized sedans built on the same JA platform.
DaimlerChrysler dismissed the notion that the addition of the Cirrus LX indicates that Plymouth is being squeezed out.
'We're trying to capture more Cirrus buyers by providing a lower price point,' said Jan Zverina, a DaimlerChrysler spokes-man for car and truck platforms and brands.
But when a visitor checks the price of a Plymouth Breeze on the Plymouth brand Web site (www.plymouthcars.com), a flashing box appears under a picture of the Breeze imploring the visitor to check out the Chrysler Cirrus. The box is a direct link to the Chrysler brand Web site. The box states: 'To check out the elegantly outfitted Chrysler Cirrus, click here.'
DaimlerChrysler made no formal announcement of the Cirrus LX. The model and price appeared on the Chrysler brand Web site (www.chryslercars.com) without fanfare.
Other signs that the Plymouth brand is on shaky ground:
The Plymouth badge has been removed from the liftgate of the 2000 Plymouth minivans - a money-saving move, the automaker says.
Plymouth is not getting a version of the 2001 Chrysler PT Cruiser, a vehicle that will retail for under $20,000.
The Plymouth brand has been eliminated in Canada, except for the low-volume Prowler.
The Plymouth Grand Voyager SE, the most popular Plymouth minivan model, lost all but one of its option packages for the 2000 model year. At the same time, the price of the base 2000 Chrysler Town & Country was cut by $1,490.
Even within DaimlerChrysler, Plymouth's image is indistinct.
DaimlerChrysler's new designer, Freeman Thomas, who was lured from Volkswagen AG, said he has not been able to define the Plymouth brand.
'I've been here literally since Aug. 17, and I've not defined Plymouth yet,' he said in an interview last week. 'I want to make sure that when I give out any comment about Plymouth, I have a definite idea in my mind. If I look back at some of the Plymouth muscle cars, there's an incredible romance there. I'm just sort of formulating the personality.'