DETROIT — In a red-hot market for small cars, Chrysler is struggling to move its few reasonably fuel-efficient vehicles.
On July 3, Chrysler LLC asked dealers to order their small vehicles five months in advance. Why? Before it adds a production shift at its Belvidere, Ill., assembly plant, Chrysler wants to know whether there's enough demand for the three compact vehicles built there: the Dodge Caliber, Jeep Compass and Jeep Patriot.
Enough demand? Rivals Ford, Toyota, General Motors, Honda and Nissan are running their assembly plants virtually around the clock to produce enough small cars to meet demand.
Chrysler's weak sales justify the company's caution. Sales of Chrysler's only small car, the Caliber, dropped 43.6 percent in June, while its platform-mate, the Compass crossover, fell 38.8 percent. The Patriot, another compact crossover on the same platform, enjoyed a June sales increase of 5.5 percent.
Overall sales of the three vehicles are up 18.3 percent this year. The numbers are skewed because the Patriot did not go on sale until March 2007; year-over-year combined sales for the Caliber and Compass are down 5.0 percent.
At the end of June, the Caliber had a 41-day supply, up from 20 days on June 1. Compass supply was 78 days, and Patriot supply was 48 days. The Ford Focus had a 39-day supply, while the Honda Civic had a 16-day supply.