Chrysler vehicles have had a spotty history in Europe. The Chrysler Neon was plagued by fit-and-finish problems after its introduction in 1994. The Chrysler Voyager minivan failed to achieve top ratings on recent European crash tests. Sales have climbed but not soared.
Jim Holden, president of DaimlerChrysler's U.S. operations, hopes the redesigned Sebring will help brighten the brand's image in Europe.
The Sebring, unveiled at the Geneva International Motor Show last week, was designed with the European market in mind, Holden said. A firmer suspension, brakes suited for more aggressive stopping, and an optional 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine are some of the features calculated to appeal to Europeans.
The Sebring joins Chrysler's lineup of the Voyager and the Neon as well as the Jeep Wrangler, Cherokee and Grand Cherokee.
When the Neon was introduced, complaints centered on wind noise and soft handling. The car also was marketed as a small vehicle but is actually mid-sized by European standards
Holden freely admitted past problems in Europe. But the new Sebring should begin to answer the quality questions, he said. 'We're looking forward to the initial quality reports.'
The Sebring will compete with cars such as the Ford Mondeo and the Opel/Vauxhall Vectra. The Grand Cherokee and Voyager are both assembled in Graz, Austria. The rest of the line is made in the United States and shipped to Europe.
The European version of the Sebring is virtually identical to the North American Sebring to be shown at the New York auto show next month. In Europe, two engines will be offered: a 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder and a 2.7-liter V-6. An automatic transmission that can be shifted like a manual is standard with both engines. The 2.0-liter is available with a five-speed manual transmission.
Engineers at the Chrysler group in Auburn Hills, Mich., are exploring a variety of vehicle configurations, particularly diesel powertrains that will appeal more to European consumers. Diesel engines are already being designed for use in the Grand Cherokee.
Chrysler resumed European sales in May 1988 after a 10-year absence. Sales reached 67,000 in 1994 and 96,700 in 1998, according to JATO Dynamics Ltd. and J.D. Power-LMC. About half those sales are Jeep Cherokees.