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Car and Driver: FCA CEO Floats Idea that Chrysler 300 Sedan Could Go Front-Drive, Use Minivan Platform

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2016 Chrysler 300S

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Fiat-Chrysler’s ever-talkative CEO, Sergio Marchionne, dropped his latest off-the-cuff verbal bomb at an event at the automaker’s Windsor, Ontario plant. The subject? Chrysler’s aging 300, a big sedan that, per Reuters, Marchionne declared could switch from its current rear-drive layout to a front-drive-based architecture shared with the new Pacifica minivan.

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The 300, which is loosely based on an old Mercedes-Benz platform borrowed during Chrysler’s way-back tryst with Daimler, is due for replacement sometime beyond 2019 (delayed from its original date of 2018). Ever since the 300’s replacement was announced in Fiat-Chrysler’s sweeping five-year plan in 2014—which is quickly becoming the automaker’s six-, seven-, and never-year plan—details surrounding the four-door have been elusive. We know that the Dodge Charger, the 300’s mechanical twin, would also be replaced around the same time, but reports differ on whether or not it would get a version of Fiat-Chrysler’s newest rear-drive platform, the one that underpins the Alfa Romeo Giulia.

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All of this is to say that Marchionne’s front-drive-300 comments in Windsor are really only our latest morsels of at-times conflicting speculation about the next-generation 300/Charger/Challenger. It certainly makes some sense to borrow the Pacifica’s front-drive platform to the 300 (and possibly the Dodge Charger), as it would bring greater economies of scale to what is so far a one-model platform, and also lighten the sedan thereby improving its fuel efficiency. But it would also pretty much kill any possibility that the big Chrysler keeps its V-8 engine option. Which brings us back to the Giulia’s rear-drive platform, which could enable Chrysler to keep the 300’s V-8 power, and, more importantly, give the Dodge siblings a shot at keeping their image-boosting (and hugely popular) 707-hp Hellcat V-8s.

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Next to issues of image, Fiat-Chrysler faces a few challenges in transitioning its full-size cars to a front-drive platform, namely where to built such vehicles. Today, the rear-drive 300 and its Dodge siblings are assembled at the automaker’s aging Brampton, Ontario plant. According to Automotive News, modernizing the Brampton facility could cost $1 billion, a potentially necessary step given that the Windsor plant where the Pacifica is built likely won’t have the capacity to also build a sedan. Marchionne did mention that, as soon as the outgoing Dodge Caravan is phased out of production, Windsor would have room for another product, but that most likely will be the full-size, three-row crossover (also built on the Pacifica platform) due in Chrysler showrooms around 2018. At this point, FCA seems unsure how to proceed with the 300 and its related Dodge products—a task no doubt made more difficult by the fact that the market for large sedans is in decline. We wouldn’t be surprised to see them fade away altogether.

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