Chrysler's new 300 sedan lures some trade-ins, early sales strong By MARY CONNELLY | Automotive News (08:28 May 24, 2004) DETROIT - The 2005 Chrysler 300, a brashly styled rear-drive sedan, is attracting some owners of competing domestic and import luxury vehicles. Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Lexus models are being traded for the Chrysler 300, albeit in small numbers, according to early buyer data analyzed by the Power Information Network for Automotive News. The car is performing well out of the gate, with customers clamoring for upscale 300C models, dealers say. The issue is how long the good times will last. "The 300 is attracting a much more diverse, widespread owner body than the other Chrysler (brand) models," says Tom Libby, director of industry analysis for the Power Information Network. "The 300 is attracting over five times the number of Cadillac owners as do other Chrysler brand models. It is also attracting many more Lincoln owners than the other Chrysler models do." Sales of the 300 and 300C - an upscale trim level of the 300 with a Hemi V-8 - started in March. Power analyzed a representative sample of 2005 Chrysler 300 sales transaction data from March 1 to May 9 for Automotive News. The sample covered 5,000 dealerships in 26 markets. In April, sales of the 300 and 300C totaled 9,543 - well above the April 2003 figure of 2,473 for the 300M model they replaced. The April 2004 figure includes a small number of carryover 300Ms. Kathy Burress, 49, the national sales manager for a software company, traded a 2003 Lexus ES 300 for a Chrysler 300C. "This is the least expensive car we have owned in 10 years, and it is our favorite," says Burress, who lives in Cookeville, Tenn. "The Lexus was very disappointing to us in its power and size. We were never really comfortable with it." Burress is typical of the customer seeking the top-of-the-line 300C, says David Price, sales manager at Cumberland Chrysler Center in Cookeville. "The 300C with the Hemi is the one people are looking for," Price says. "We've delivered three this month, and I have four sold orders in the system. If I had some on the lot, I could sell more." Customers are choosing upscale features, such as a sunroof. Eighty percent of 300 and 300C buyers are choosing a sunroof, double what Chrysler anticipated, says Michael Smith, executive vice president of Inalsa Roof Systems Inc. in Auburn Hills, Mich., the sunroof supplier. The base Chrysler 300 starts at $23,595, including the destination charge. The 300C has a $32,995 sticker. True to the industry pattern, the No. 1 trade-in for the Chrysler 300 and 300C was another Chrysler brand vehicle, accounting for 29 percent of the trades. Lexus accounted for 1.3 percent of the 2005-model trade-ins. Mercedes-Benz accounted for 1.5 percent. BMW accounted for 2.7 percent. That's a small percentage, but it's better than any other Chrysler model. The new model is getting twice as many Ford Motor Co. trade-ins as the 300M did, the data show. And Mercedes-Benz and BMW didn't turn up at all on the trade-in list of the 300M for March 1 through May 9, 2003. The challenge is to keep running at this pace, Libby says: "It is a challenge because Chrysler does not have the panache or brand image of a Lexus or Mercedes. Initially, it is a good job. Long term, we'll have to see."