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CHRYSLER PREPARING TO OFFER THE LH AS ALTERNATIVE TO JAPANESE MODELS

How do you get Americans to part with their Honda Accords?

Clueless, eh?You're not alone. Most domestic automakers have pondered the question but have thus far come up dumbfounded. Chrysler had best come up with an answer. And quick. Next fall, America's No. 3 automaker sends its snappy line of LH sedans into America's showrooms to do battle with popular imports.

"The LH is different than other nameplates in that category," said G. Glenn Gardner, Chrysler's general manager for new platform engineering. "It's a totally new car from engine to transmission. It will appeal to today's Japanese-car car owners."

All three LH sedans - the Dodge Intrepid, Eagle Vision, and Chrysler Concorde - boast a new cab- forward design, which provides more leg and shoulder room than the Honda Accord.

If knee room isn't enough to lure a leery import buyer, then price may do the trick. A loaded Ford Taurus goes for around $17,500, while the high-end Accord sells for $18,000. The comparable LH should sell for around $16,000, allowing penny-pinching Americans to pocket a nice piece of change.

Not everyone is convinced that these tactics will work, however.

"The LH cars will be a hard sell," said Maryann Keller, an auto analyst with Furman Selz, a New York brokerage firm. "They may be great cars, but the people Chrysler is pitching these cars to have never been inside one of their showrooms. The strategy is correct. Chrysler had to be a player in this market, but it's not going to be easy."

No argument here from Chrysler. "We know that we have to get people into a Chrysler dealership to look at the LH," Gardner said. "But we've had marketing challenges in the past. Doing it again doesn't scare me."

So far, Chrysler has yet to plot its marketing moves, but Gardner insists it will be a grandiose effort. Chrysler's top brass agrees.

The marketing strategy "will probably be a lot of conventional media and spending levels that will ensure we have sufficient share of voice," said Chrysler President Bob Lutz. "It's fair to say that we won't fly over the country with hot air balloons in the shape of LHs, but then you never know."