Chrysler 200C EV (© Neil Dimock)Click to enlarge picture

The Chrysler 200C concept made its debut at the Detroit Auto Show in January.

Chrysler's new management team is wrestling with its first major product decision, and it's a crucial one: how to replace the slow-selling Chrysler Sebring and Dodge Avenger.

One option — a stretched version of Fiat's compact D-Evo platform — faces serious hurdles, and one early proposal — use of an Opel platform — is off the table. Now sources say Chrysler Group LLC could replace its much-maligned mid-sized cars with a model based on the Chrysler 200C EV.

If that happens, Chrysler could be fielding a rear-drive entry in a crucial segment dominated by front-wheel-drive cars. The 200C EV concept was built on a shortened version of the LX platform, which is used for the RWD Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger sedans and the Dodge Challenger muscle car.

Chrysler executives are concerned that even a stretched version of the D-Evo platform might not be wide enough for North America, say sources familiar with the discussions. The Fiat platform will debut in Europe with the 2011 replacement for the Alfa Romeo 159.

The new Fiat-led company also had considered using a new General Motors platform for its mid-sized cars. But those hopes were dashed after Fiat failed in its bid to acquire GM's Opel unit. That would have given Chrysler access to the second generation of GM's Epsilon platform, sources say. Opel uses the new platform for the Insignia, the 2009 European Car of the Year.

Chrysler, which emerged from bankruptcy June 9, needs new product quickly — especially in the mid-sized sedan segment, where it has been chronically weak. So sources say the company has taken a fresh look at the 200C EV.

Sources say Chrysler is interested in the shortened LX platform and would not necessarily build the concept as shown. Also, the D-Evo suspension would likely be used on the LX platform.

Although the concept car was rear-drive, executives have said they could possibly build a front-drive version.

Rear-drive cars are not known for good fuel economy. That's one reason Chrysler made a point of showing the 200C EV — in electric-vehicle form. The concept car runs on an electric motor with a small gasoline engine to extend its range.

The car could run 40 miles on electric power only and could go 400 miles without refueling, the company said.

Chrysler has other powertrain options. They include the company's V8s and its forthcoming Pentastar V6 engine.

Having an electric version in its mid-sized lineup could help Chrysler meet stringent government fuel economy regulations.John Wolkonowicz, an analyst for Global Insight, says Chrysler would be setting itself apart from the competition if it chose to make the 200C as a rear-drive car.

"They don't have any other platform they can use to make a mid-sized car," he said. "And they would be far better off with a rear-drive platform than a mid-sized car built off a Fiat platform that is too small. Plus they're going to have something that's totally unique.

"Chrysler is a blue-collar brand that is bought by people who love muscle cars. They don't want some Toyota look-alike front-wheel-drive sewing machine. They want a car with some swagger."

The current Sebring and Avenger debuted in 2006 as 2007 models, based on a platform developed by Mitsubishi and Chrysler and used in a variety of vehicles.

The cars received poor reviews from the beginning. Consumer Reports called the Sebring "one of the least competitive family sedans on the market." Testers complained about unrefined engines; cheap-looking, hard plastic in the interiors; and uncomfortable seats.

The two cars have sold poorly. The Sebring and Avenger fall well short of mid-range competitors such as the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Chevrolet Malibu and Ford Fusion.

Chrysler plans to build the two models until late 2010, when the Sterling Heights, Mich., factory where they are built will close.