UPDATE 1-Fiat Chrysler shutdown of midsize car plant extended to 9 weeks
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DETROIT, March 7 (Reuters) - Fiat Chrysler Automobiles said on Monday it will extend the shutdown of its midsize Chrysler 200 sedan plant by three weeks, keeping it idled for a total of nine weeks.
The plant in Sterling Heights, Michigan, which was shut on Feb. 1, will be closed until April 4, a Fiat Chrysler spokeswoman said. The plant had earlier been scheduled to return to production on March 14.
In late January, company Chief Executive Sergio Marchionne said Fiat Chrysler would stop making the Chrysler 200 as well as the compact Dodge Dart made in Belvidere, Illinois. He said he is looking for a partner to outsource the production, but through Monday none has emerged.
The company spokeswoman said the additional weeks of shutdown of the Sterling Heights plant were to match supply with demand.
Chrysler 200 U.S. inventories stood as 147 days' supply as of March 1, down from 217 a month earlier, according to the Automotive News data center. Automakers typically prefer about 65 days' supply.
Dodge Dart inventories stood at 77 days on March 1, down from 122 the previous month.
Demand for midsize cars has shrunk as gasoline prices have fallen and as U.S. consumers continue to show a preference for small SUVs, also known as crossover vehicles, in lieu of sedans.
U.S. sales of the Chrysler 200 fell 58 percent in February from a year earlier, to 6,600.
In 2015, passenger cars accounted for 40 percent of sales in the U.S. automotive market, down from 44 percent in 2014 and 51 percent in 2012, according to industry consultant Autodata Corp.
The Chrysler 200 plant has 2,100 hourly United Auto Workers union workers. Combining Michigan state unemployment and reduced compensation allowed during layoffs, they receive about 74 percent of their normal non-overtime pay. (Reporting by Bernie Woodall; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Dan Grebler)
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