Chrysler Corp., struggling to increase its 10 percent share of the domestic auto market, said today it was cutting prices on most of its 1983 cars below this year's levels in addition to making formerly optional equipment standard at "minimal or no price increase."
Chrysler, the smallest and last of the Big Three U.S. car companies to present its 1983 pricing strategy, said its new base car prices would be an average of $70 less than prices on similar 1982 models. The new cars will be available this month.
Car buyers, however, will find prices on Chrysler's 1983 fleet to be about $3 less per car -- a virtual freeze on 1982 prices -- because of increased prices on options, which average $67 more a car for equipment such as air conditioning and AM radio.
"We want to increase our volume base. We're going to do whatever it takes to get the volume out there in a weakened market," Chrysler Vice Chairman Gerald Greenwald said.
He hinted that Chrysler might no longer have $1.1 billion in cash and marketable securities, a strong cash position earlier this year that the company had hoped to use for product development.
"The environment around us, in which we are trying to make a profit and hold on to our cash, is very tough," Greenwald said.
General Motors Corp., the nation's largest automaker, had said that it was raising its 1983 prices overall 1.9 percent. Ford's new model prices are going up an average of 0.5 percent. Both GM and Ford are cutting prices on selected 1983 lines and freezing at 1982 levels the prices on other new models.
It is, in effect, the declaration of another price war in the domestic auto industry, precipitated by a strong negative consumer reaction, popularly known as sticker shock. Greenwald said Chrysler "will have the lowest prices, car for car," of the Big Three, particularly on front-wheel-drive cars.
For example, Chrysler's 1983 Plymouth Horizon will sell for $5,841, or $5 less than the similarly equipped Ford Escort, and $158 less than GM's Chevrolet Cavalier at $5,999, Greenwald said.
Chrysler's Plymouth Reliant will sell for $6,718, $216 less than the Chevrolet Citation at $6,934.
Chrysler's "all new" entries for 1983 are full-size, four-door sedans with front-wheel drive, including the Chrysler E Class (base price $9,341), the Dodge 600 ($8,841) and the Dodge 600 ES ($9,372).
Price comparisons in this category are complicated by Ford's lack of full-size, front-wheel-drive vehicles. Chrysler officials say the base price of their Dodge 600 will be about $763 less than GM's similarly equipped Oldsmobile Ciera Brougham, and the Dodge 600 ES will cost about $161 less than GM's similarly equipped Buick Century Custom.
"We're going to be aggressive," Greenwald said, and a major objective of Chrysler's pricing strategy is to "take the base prices to where the market is without using rebate."
Also, by making equipment such as cloth seats and halogen headlamps standard rather than optional, Greenwald said, Chrysler is burying the stripped-car approach to volume sales.
"The Chrysler Corp. is out of the business of offering cars that do not have equipment Americans want," Greenwald said.
While expressing confidence that his company's 1983 prices will increase Chrysler's market share, Greenwald said that he was worried about Chrysler's ability to finish in the black at the end of this calendar year.
His pessimism was a counterpoint to earlier statements by Chrysler Chairman Lee Iacocca, who had predicted that the company would show an annual profit for the first time since 1977.
Greenwald said that Chrysler's Mexican operations "have come down around our knees" because of the drastic devaluation of the Mexican peso and the near collapse of Mexico's banking system.
Rising U.S. unemployment and the cost of developing the new E line also have hurt Chrysler's 1982 profit picture, he said.