Product planning, brand managing, strategic positioning: all good, common buzzwords that are nonetheless significant indicators of how a firm moves its goods. Marketing words like these can say as much about the buyer as they do about the seller.
Chrysler has had a few months to get its marketing act together, and while still having a ways to go, its three brand heads put out some new ideas at Frankfurt yesterday.
They want to make the company’s three brands—Chrysler, Dodge, and Jeep—quite distinct in function and appeal. Chrysler is going upmarket, “a notch above Lincoln, a notch above Cadillac,” says CEO Peter Fong (we link to The Truth About Cars’ story, since Automotive News, the actual source, is subscriber-only). Bringing off this radical move will be a production and marketing effort of major proportions. November should bring us more details.
At the same time, the company wants to reconfigure Dodge from a “brute force” spirit to one of driving dynamics. Said CEO Michael Accavitti,
Dodge will go from a middle linebacker to Lance Armstrong…. We will remain a sporty brand, with a lot of emphasis on the performance area, but also on better fuel economy, benefiting from the great technologies Fiat is bringing to us.
Jeep will remain Jeep, the C-men say, focusing more on fine-tuning than reinventing, keeping its relatively small segment alive.
The minivans, Chrysler’s constant bread-and-butter cars for years, will finally become more differentiated and distinct from one another. Until Fiat takes over, the minivan will have to carry the firm’s sales. In the mid-’90s, minivans had about 8.5 percent of the market, and Chrysler had 40 percent of that. Now the general market is 3 to 4 percent, but the Big C still maintains its share—and that’s what it’s subsisting on, or hopes to subsist on, for the next year and a half.
So they need to push minivan sales hard and maybe, just maybe, the market may be turning in their favor. GM and Ford are getting their offerings ready, crossovers and SUVs are expensive people-movers, and the international market is receptive. Chrysler recently increased minivan production at its Windsor plant, including diesel and right-hand-drive versions.
The company shows some grasp of how it needs to innovate, even in little things. It announced today that, instead of those big bulky owner’s manuals in the glove compartment that nobody reads, it’s putting out DVDs with all that info (plus a quick-start 80-pager for safety, lights, and emergency info). Smart.
Bottom line: Don’t count Chrysler out yet. They know that only innovation and creative marketing will keep them alive.
Is the minivan concept still viable? Give us your thoughts.