Will a mere 6 inches of metal give the popular Chrysler 300 a buzz?
"Definitely. Stretching that vehicle makes it more luxurious, an aspirational car," says Myles Kovacs, president of Dub magazine. "It is definitely going to entice the consumers to buy that vehicle."
"That vehicle" is the 2007 Chrysler 300 Long Wheelbase sedan, a limited-edition model that offers a roomier passenger compartment than the standard 300 because the wheelbase is stretched by 6 inches. Sales begin this fall.
Chrysler will offer versions for the livery and retail markets. Chrysler expects most sales, possibly as high as 70 percent, to come from the livery business -- stretched models of upscale cars that serve as high-end taxicabs.
But some think Chrysler might be underestimating demand for the retail model.
Dub magazine targets the urban audience. It features expensive, customized cars driven by rap stars, movie stars and sports celebrities. Cadillac Escalades, Mercedes-Benz G-class SUVs, Dodge Chargers and Chrysler 300s cover the pages.
"There are a lot of basketball and football players that have Chrysler 300s, but they barely fit in the car," Kovacs says.
The Long Wheelbase model offers them the possibility of moving "the front seat back 6 inches so they can fit in the car," he says. "Definitely, that extra room will help some of the guys who are cramped."
Mike Perugi, brand manager for the Chrysler 300, thinks "you are going to see a second level, so to speak, of urban buyers that are going to use this vehicle," buyers "we may not have gotten the first time."
But it was the livery companies that pushed the automaker to develop the model. They are the primary targets. They "have been asking us, frankly, from day one when we brought the 300 out, 'Can you do this kind of car?' " Perugi says.
Chrysler will offer two Long Wheelbase 300 models: Touring, with a 250-hp, 3.5-liter V-6; and the 300C, 340-hp, 5.7-liter Hemi V-8.
Lincoln is rival
Stretched sedans are nothing new. Lincoln has the Town Car Executive L for the livery business that stickers for $46,990, including shipping. The retail version is the Town Car Signature L for $51,345, including shipping. Both models are stretched by 6 inches.
Perugi would not reveal the sticker prices for the 300 models but says they will be priced substantially below the Lincoln Town Car.
Chrysler has not announced a sales or production target. Industry sources estimate annual production will be less than 10,000 units.
Chrysler expects retail sales to account for 40 percent of 300 Long Wheelbase sales, possibly even as little as 30 percent. But is the retail projection too low?
"That sounds like they underestimate what they have there," says Jim Sanfilippo, executive vice president of the consulting firm AMCI in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. He saw the car in April at the New York auto show
"I was really taken by that stretched 300, I really was," Sanfilippo says. "I thought, 'Boy, there is something to that. Wow.'"
You may e-mail Rick Kranz at [email protected]