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The Chrysler group is planning to build a new, cheaper version of its struggling Pacifica crossover utility vehicle, industry sources say, a move that deals a blow to the auto maker's strategy of distancing itself from competitors by offering premium-priced vehicles.

The new vehicle — assembled at the company's Windsor, Ont., minivan plant — is scheduled to go into production next year as a 2005 model, but will offer significantly less content than the two versions currently offered, industry sources familiar with the program said.

The scaled-down version will have just two rows of seats instead of the three rows that are standard on the current versions. Some other luxury features now offered as standard equipment will also be eliminated, the sources said.

"From what I'm hearing, it's definitely a go," said Jeff Schuster, senior manager of forecasting and product planning for automotive consulting firm J.D. Power and Associates.

Chrysler officials would not confirm the move.

"We don't comment on future products," DaimlerChrysler Canada Inc. spokeswoman Kerrey Kerr said.

The shift in strategy underlines the difficulty the Chrysler division of DaimlerChrysler AG is facing as it tries to upgrade its vehicles and push them into premium categories and out of the traditional mass market segments where it has always played.

This is a key part of the company's plans for its flagship passenger cars being assembled in Brampton, Ont. Those cars, identified so far as the Dodge Magnum and Chrysler 300C, will be switched to rear-wheel-drive from front-wheel-drive, putting them in territory now occupied by luxury makers such as another DaimlerChrysler division, Mercedes-Benz and the Lexus division of Toyota Motor Corp.

Chrysler officials were also hoping that strategy would enable the company to withdraw — at least in part — from the fierce incentive battle that has all but wiped out profits for the Detroit-based auto makers.

Sales of the Pacifica struggled initially after Chrysler messed up the launch by offering only the most expensive versions of the vehicle first and having few base-priced models on hand.

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