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Chrysler: Steering A Drive To Eliminate the Big Car?

Thursday, 19 Jul 2007 | 10:37 AM ET
Chrysler Imperial Concept
Source: chrysler.com
Chrysler Imperial Concept

As a man who spent his teenage years tooling around in my parent's big Buick, I have to admit I have a soft spot in my heart for big sedans. Doesn't mean I want one now, but I do like the romantic appeal of a big ol' car. So when I heard Chrysler is scrapping plans to further develop its Imperial large sedan, it made me wonder: is the big car dead?

Chrysler says publicly that it doesn't make sense to further develop a big sedan that may struggle to attract buyers in the age of $3 gas. Yes, that's a concern, but Chrysler is also looking at how theImperial would impact the company"s CAFE (fuel economy) standing down the road when Washington requires better mileage across the board. Plus, you can bet Chrysler's new owners at Cerberus Capital are going over every product in the pipeline, which includes Imperial, and likely making it clear what stays and what goes.

Still, the question remains: are big sedans a thing of the past like tail fins? Frankly I think they are going down that road.

This year, large car sales (only 2.7% of total car sales) are down 11%. Autodata lists only domestic car companies as selling large cars outside the luxury segment. And right now the Big 3 are getting religion. They are finally developing small cars to catch up with Asian rivals. A move reinforced by higher gas prices that are expected to be here for good.

But there's one more reason I think big sedans are toast: taste. Baby boomers may have grown up in big cars, but they never embraced them when it came time to buy new wheels. Instead they turned to the compacts coming from Toyota and Honda . Since then, the segment of the buyers demanding a big sedan has become smaller and smaller. And that's not changing anytime soon.

So goodbye big sedans. I'll miss the idea we could cram four guys in the back seat and three up from while making a run to White Castle.

Questions? Comments? BehindTheWheel@cnbc.com

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  • Phil LeBeau is a CNBC auto and airline industry reporter based in the Chicago bureau and editor of the Behind the Wheel section on CNBC.com.

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