By on July 30, 2009

Seriously? If Alfa and Fiat are going to be added to the Chrysler/Dodge/Jeep mix, something has got to give. And why not Chrysler? Maybe it’s just that every time I hear the word Chrysler, my immediate association is Sebring. Which is more than enough motivation for me to wish the brand dead. Perhaps the Chrysler name could live on as an umbrella brand (i.e., GM). As a vehicle brand though, Chrysler is toast. Or am I missing something?

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44 Comments on “Daily Podcast: What Is the Chrysler Brand?...”


  • avatar
    PeregrineFalcon

    What Is The Chrysler Brand?

    Failure in Motion.

  • avatar
    windswords

    Wow. That Sebring actually looks – nice. I remember an Avenger at the SEMA show a few years back that had been modified with a body kit and other pieces and also looked much better than factory. If they can’t replace it right away it will ber interesting to see what the Italian designers can do to spiff it up. Even better to see what they do with the next generation – unless it going to based off the 200c concept in which case they should keep it as close to the concept as possible.

  • avatar
    BDB

    My theory is the Chrysler brand got screwed the day Plymouth was killed.

    It left the Chrysler-Plymouth dealerships with no lower-priced cars, since Chrysler was still in 1998 at least a credible near-luxury car. The “solution” was giving Chrysler cheap cars. So they got the PT Cruiser, they added low-priced trim levels to the Town & Country so the luxury minivan was turned into a re-badged Voyager, and so on.

    EDIT: BTW, now that Dodge dealers are part of Chrysler dealers for the most part, they CAN move Chrysler upmarket again. If they try really, really hard. The 200c concept would be a great start.

  • avatar
    windswords

    BDB is correct. As a matter of fact the PT Cruiser was supposed to a Plymouth. Some say the PT stood for “Plymouth Truck” as well as “personal transportation”.

  • avatar
    CommanderFish

    BDB, that’s exactly what I believe, as well.

    The only way I can see to restore the Chrysler brand is for Chrysler to put their money where their mouth is, and that is to release cars like the 200 and a new 300 with no trims besides Limited (loaded V6) and C (loaded V8), get rid of decontented LX and Touring trim level Town and Countries, and kill bad cars like the Sebring and PT Cruiser.

    If they do that and do it for a couple generations, I think the perception of Chrysler would change dramatically. Would it compete with Alfa Romeo? Not necessarily, they could easily position Alfa as more of a BMW competitor, and Chrysler as a Volvo or Acura with sex appeal.

  • avatar
    BDB

    CommanderFish, I could see that. Or maybe an American Infiniti since Acura really isn’t doing to well these days.

    Windswords, since you’re a Chrysler guy was it pre or post-merger Chrysler that made the dumbass decision to kill Plymouth? The PT Cruiser would have been a perfect Plymouth. A stripped-down version of what became the 300M (shorter wheelbase and sportier than a Concorde/LHS) would have, too.

    • 0 avatar
      jimboy

      Both the plymouth prowler and the pt cruiser were designed to bring back the plymouth brand and differentiate it from dodge. Eventually, plymouth would have had its own car line up, much like toyota has done with scion. The decision to kill plymouth was daimlers, which then forced chrysler down market to compete as an entry level brand and led, in part, to chryslers demise.

  • avatar
    FromBrazil

    Chrysler?

    Nothing really, but it could make a comeback as an or rather the “American” brand. Building just big, brash, gas-hogging, CO2 spewing, chrome-clad, mighty V8 sedans w/ ubber luxury and performance. And leave the trucks to Dodge (minivans, too).

    Let Alfa be Alfa, and Fiat possibly be Fiat or a ressurected Plymouth, albeit now as a brand dedicated to small, fuel-efficient, Euro styled sedans and miniSUVs, mini-trucks, and micro-vans.

    Could be a start.

  • avatar
    spyspeed

    Yes, Dodge 300 has a nice ring to it.

  • avatar
    CommanderFish

    Plymouth was killed by DCX.

    Chrysler was, right at the time of Plymouth’s death, trying to give it some unique vehicles, such as the Prowler and PT Cruiser, and a roadster was possibly in the works (check out the Pronto Spyder concept)

  • avatar
    dean

    windswords: yeah, that Sebring actually looks pretty good. The differences between it and the factory model are fairly so subtle, so it begs the question: why couldn’t the factory designers make the car look this good?

    • 0 avatar
      jimboy

      Actually the original design of the Sebring was closer to the 200C concept, but was axed by DCX in favor of the current version. MB was terribly afraid of being upstaged by Chrysler and forced them to use (and pay dearly for) older MB technology,  instead of Chrysler’s own engineering; (which they were in the process of gutting), thus the lack of new product at Chrysler today, no engineers left, all new product development stopped unless based on MB technology, and now Daimler withholds parts in retaliation. Deutchland Uber Alles! I really hope  Chrysler as a nameplate can survive the next few years, until they can bring their new product to market. I think everyone will be surprised.

  • avatar
    windswords

    BDB,

    As commander said, it was post-merger. But I don’t want to lay all of the blame on the Germans. I’m sure there were some brainiac American MBA’s at Auburn Hills who thought this was a great idea.

  • avatar
    BDB

    Man, I don’t get killing Plymouth. Eagle, yeah, it had no reason to exist, and Jeep dealers could do fine on their own. But Plymouth?

  • avatar
    Runfromcheney

    Nostalgia is great, but in retrospective killing Plymouth was the right choice. They did nothing but compete with Dodge and sold nothing but rebadged Dodge and Mitsubishi models. I mean, the badge engineering ran so rampant that in the early 90s they showed Dodge and Plymouth models in the same commercial, blatantly showing that you were buying only a badge.

    There was no difference between the Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager except that you can get the Caravan in a higher level Sport model. There was no difference between the Dodge Stratus and Plymouth Breeze except that you can get the Stratus in a higher up ES trim level. As per the Neon…….yeah. The choice between the Dodge and Plymouth Neon was just what badge you preferred to have on the trunk.

    Say what you want about the Prowler, but I’m sorry, but it was just a fake poser-mobile that a$$holes drove around to do nothing but show off. The Prowler was nothing except a conversation piece. IMO it should have never been built.

    So yeah, they made the right choice to kill Plymouth. All it did was create internal competition with Dodge.

  • avatar
    BDB

    So yeah, they made the right choice to kill Plymouth. All it did was create internal competition with Dodge.

    And you know what happened? Chrysler started competing with Dodge instead.

    The point of Plymouth was to be (1) lower priced than Dodge, (2) give Chrysler dealerships volume sales, and (3) serve as fleet queens. This allowed Chryslers the room be true near-luxury cars.

  • avatar
    Runfromcheney

    So Chrysler dealers didn’t have a volume seller. Boo hoo. Lexus and Mercedes-Benz dealers make out just fine without a volume seller. These dealers just need to quit trying to be everything to all people.

    They are already combining all of their cars into one showroom. This should allow Chrysler to go upmarket again.

  • avatar
    CommanderFish

    Runfromcheney:

    While I agree with you that Plymouth was destined to die, I disagree with the moment in time they did it at. In my opinion they should have merged all of the dealers first into Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep-Plymouth, and then kill off Plymouth. That way they wouldn’t have had to sell the Chrysler brand’s soul by offering low-optioned vehicles to keep Chrysler-Jeep dealerships happy.

    Only in a perfect world, I suppose.

  • avatar
    iNeon

    The Chrysler brand is simple: American style. They’re not the best-built, they’re not the most reliable– but they’re gorgeous, they’re unapologetically American, and they’re affordable to the masses.

    PT is just a progression of PL– the neon’s chassis designation.

  • avatar
    Sutures

    ***WARNING, Meta comment to follow… WARNING***

    Please, please for the love of all that is internet, ADJUST the microphone levels when recording podcasts! Can’t hear one person and the other person is too loud.

    This has been a test of the internet meta comment system…

  • avatar
    detlef

    Eagle, yeah, it had no reason to exist, and Jeep dealers could do fine on their own.

    Actually, in concept Eagle was a perfect companion brand for Jeep and would have provided an outlet for vehicles like the Compass and Patriot to be sold at Jeep dealerships without diluting Jeep’s own brand. Had Chrysler given Eagle anything remotely competent as a follow-up to the AMC Eagle, perhaps the brand would have been competitive with Subaru. Instead, Chrysler just fielded a line of badge-engineered Mitsubishis, a couple stale AMC/Renaults, and an LH derivative, most of them without Eagle’s then-killer app, AWD.

  • avatar

    When you’re out of Crossfires, you’re out of Chryslers.

    (With apologies to all F8 Naval aviators.)

  • avatar
    windswords

    The F8 was the Crusader, not the Crossfire.

  • avatar
    Ryan

    Chrysler is the worst automobile company in the United States. Around these parts, we refer to Chrysler as “The American Embarrassment”. Cheap – unreliable – basic transportation.

  • avatar
    MrDot

    MINI does fairly well as a captive import. And that is who Fiat is trying to emulate here. I bet they even run it like BMW and make dealers who want to sell them build separate showrooms.

  • avatar
    jpcavanaugh

    Chrysler is (or should be) American luxury with a swagger. This heritage goes back to the 300s of the 50s-early 60s and was successfully resurrected during the 90s through the intro of the new 300C. The low end models that came after Plymouth was killed reintroduced the worst dilution of the Chrysler brand since some of the strippo Newports of the Lynn Townsend era.

    The T&C was the ultimate minivan, the 300M was a socially respectable car, as were the LHS and Concorde. With the Crossfire, the Pacifica and the 300C, Chrysler was no longer an embarrassment, but a car with some bling and (particularly with the 300) with performance to back it up. Unless quality comes into the discussion, then it was an embarrassment, but that is another issue.

    They need to bring back Plymouth to do budget/value/fleet. Dodge is sport/performance/trucks. Jeep is SUVs. Chrysler needs to stay at the top of the ladder, even if it is only 1 or 2 unique models.

  • avatar
    th009

    @jpcavanaugh: Dodge is sport/performance/trucks

    I guess one out of three ain’t bad. But today the Dodge brand is so far away from “sport” (and barely closer to “performance”) that this is truly laughable.

    A Challenger (1,369 sales in June) and a Viper (20 (!) sales in June) do not turn Dodge into a BMW or Audi competitor.

  • avatar
    menno

    I just picked up Lutz’s book “Guts” written in 1998, wherein he brags that Chrysler is the most profitable auto maker in the world, and that it had made more money in the prior 10 years than in had in the 60 years before that.

    I haven’t read more than the description on the back of the book and one page, but I’m going to go on record and bet that he doesn’t give AMC Executives, Engineers, and Stylists ANY credit for bringing Chrysler back from the brink of the late 1980′s “K-car malaise”.

    The Eagle Premier (look it up) introduced just as Chrysler borged AMC (which owned Jeep) was to have been an upscale mid-sized car to actually compete as a value priced Audi competitor.

    Why? Because AMC had found that Jeep owners were affluent, and often had Audis, BMW’s, Mercedes, etc., as their “other” vehicle. So they figured that even if a “few” of these folks saw a classy Euro-style car in the same showroom when shopping for another Jeep, they’d at least give it consideration.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    I think their best bet, at the risk of sounding non-PC, is to direct their marketing at young people and minorities, such as African-Americans and Latinos. Before anyone scoffs at that, consider this: Ford and Chevy have pretty much wrapped up the “Larry the Cable Guy” crowd, so why not go after young, hip minorities who are the cultural harbingers in urban centers?

    Offer cool-looking, high-performance, affordable compacts and midsizes, based on Fiat platforms.

    As the hip hop crowd goes, so will the young white kids in the ‘burbs. Offer a cool, performance oriented compact with some attitude, and keep the 200 and 300 lines as move-up vehicles for better-off customers. Dump the T&C and introduce a cool crossover for families.

    I think there’s a market if they have the balls to go after it.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    th009 :
    July 30th, 2009 at 8:22 pm

    @jpcavanaugh: Dodge is sport/performance/trucks

    I guess one out of three ain’t bad. But today the Dodge brand is so far away from “sport” (and barely closer to “performance”) that this is truly laughable.

    A Challenger (1,369 sales in June) and a Viper (20 (!) sales in June) do not turn Dodge into a BMW or Audi competitor.

    Not everyone who wants a performance car is necessarily into Audi or BMW.

  • avatar
    don1967

    Don’t get me wrong – I wouldn’t touch a Chrysler with a ten-foot piece of ill-fitting grey plastic – but lying somewhere along the Ram/Viper/Caravan spectrum there is a potentially viable brand.

    The only question is whether this brand would continue as Chrysler, or as a private label which builds minivans for VW, trucks for Nissan, and lawnmowers for Sears.

  • avatar
    th009

    @FreedMike, do you seriously see Dodge as a sports and performance brand today? With duds like Avenger, Caliber and Charger making up 87% of Dodge’s car sales? And trucks making up 72% of the total?

    Challenger and Viper add up to less than 4% of Dodge sales. SRT sales are negligible. Be realistic — this is a truck brand, not a performance brand, let alone a sports one.

    And if Fiat wants to have a sports and performance brand, why not use one that already has that reputation? I somehow think Alfa might make more sense there …

  • avatar
    th009

    FreedMike: Offer cool-looking, high-performance, affordable compacts and midsizes, based on Fiat platforms.

    There is a market, no doubt. But I think you’d do better with a fresh brand like Fiat (or better yet, Lancia) than a tired one like Dodge.

  • avatar
    Greg Locock

    I think all this emphasis on brand is 99% testes.

    Once upon a time Ghosn presented a slide showing RoC, and market share growth YoY, for every significant car company.

    Obviously the nice place to be is high RoC and high market share growth.

    And amongst the best was…. Honda.

    Now tell me what Honda’s brand image is? S2000? Odyssey? inept crossovers? bland sedans?

    I like Honda a lot, but they don’t bother with this brand image stuff.

  • avatar
    th009

    @Greg: One key difference here is that in most of the world, Honda has just one brand. And where Acura exists, it’s easily positioned as the luxury Honda.

    Fiat-Chrysler, though, has nine brands today: Fiat, Alfa Romeo, Lancia, Maserati, Ferrari, Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and Iveco. And plans to sell seven of those nine in the US as well.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    th009 :
    July 30th, 2009 at 11:10 pm

    @FreedMike, do you seriously see Dodge as a sports and performance brand today? With duds like Avenger, Caliber and Charger making up 87% of Dodge’s car sales? And trucks making up 72% of the total?

    Absolutely! Dodge has a strong “traditional” retro performance image – lots of attitude, big-engine, retro styling, straight-line performance. Even the trucks have it. The Charger definitely has it, and while the Caliber’s a dog, you’re also forgetting about the SRT model. Plus, you have the Viper and Challenger, which are admittedly low volume models, but their vibe definitely rubs off on Dodge’s brand.

    I’d argue this has all worked well for Dodge right up to the point that the Avenger and Caliber were introduced. Even those models had the same kind of styling attitude Dodge was known for, but they were poorly executed products.

    So, yeah, I’d say they do have a performance-oriented lineup that was hobbled by two abysmal products. Then again, those poor products comprised their compact and midsize offerings. Can you imagine if the next-gen Civic and Accord bombed? What would that do to Honda?

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Greg Locock :
    July 31st, 2009 at 8:42 am
    Now tell me what Honda’s brand image is? S2000? Odyssey? inept crossovers? bland sedans?

    I like Honda a lot, but they don’t bother with this brand image stuff.

    Really? Their image is “sensible, affordable excellence.” You don’t think that translates into to their cars?

    BTW, Honda’s crossovers are NOT inept. The CR-V is the best selling sport-utility in our country, and the Pilot is a very competent vehicle.

    Honda doesn’t sell an inept car (ugly, maybe, but not inept).

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    th009 :
    July 31st, 2009 at 11:32 am

    @Greg: One key difference here is that in most of the world, Honda has just one brand. And where Acura exists, it’s easily positioned as the luxury Honda.

    Fiat-Chrysler, though, has nine brands today: Fiat, Alfa Romeo, Lancia, Maserati, Ferrari, Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and Iveco. And plans to sell seven of those nine in the US as well.

    They’re going to have to start slow with Fiat, Alfa Romeo and Lancia…too many consumers remember what rotten cars they were back in the day when they were still sold here. They did that with Maserati – remember what a POS that brand was when it exited the market here? They had to re-establish it completely.

    My guess is that Chrysler/Dodge/Jeep is the beach head, and they’ll introduce other brands later.

  • avatar
    th009

    FreedMike: So, yeah, I’d say they do have a performance-oriented lineup that was hobbled by two abysmal products.

    Three abysmal products. I will refuse an “upgrade” to a Charger every single time at a rental car counter: driving an Aveo is a more pleasurable experience than the Charger.

    And having “SRT” (or “SS” or GT” or “Si” or whatever) models available for otherwise-rental-queen products does not exactly a performance brand make. Alas, I have no survey data on how most consumers view Dodge cars so we’ll just have to agree to disagree on that.

    Trucks? Yes, that’s what Dodge is all about these days. And if I were Marchionne, that’s what I would focus Dodge on. Drop the cars (bar maybe Challenger) and spend the efforts on improving the trucks.

  • avatar
    european

    i dont get these chrysler fanboys. you mean chrysler is a near luxury brand? you’re just kidding yourselves. a 300c is just like a charger with differently designed airvents and a fake-leather steeringwheel. thats not near luxury. thats rebadging.

    i was looking at dodge’s and chrysler’s site and was comparing MSRP of an avanger $22k and a sebring $24k with a toyota camry $20k (check for yourself if in doubt). and i mean HAHA! crazy sh1t. they are out of their minds.

    i dont think fiat will bring alfas to the US. why not? well, there is no market for it, or it would be too small. fiat got a sweet deal with other chrysler operations probably better than the US domestic market share. chrysler was selling the old sebring in russia probably has some good deals there, so fiat got an easy way into the russian market. and you could read on TTAC that they will produce the fiat500 in mexico, make it cheap and gain share of the latin american market. besides that, they finally get SUV tech from JEEP, and fiat was lacking that.

    my suggestions:
    1. fiat should bring the 2011 grand cherokee and some smaller derived CUV to the european market,
    and ditch the stupid-stupid suzuki sx4 rebadge (fiat seidici or something).

    2. remove itself from the near luxury market in the US. theres too many players: lincoln, buick, cadillac, acura, lexus, infiniti, hyundai (with the new sedans), bmw, audi, mercedes, hell even toyota,honda, and nissan are better off in that market segment than poor chrysler.

    3. merge chrysler and dogde. ditch either the chrysler or dodge badge. figure out which one is more appealing to the US customer (i’d prefer dodge). keep Jeep in the US as a SUV seller, and the other as a car-minivan-truck seller -> if you want to offer some type of near luxury, offer it as a trim level, not a complete rebadge.

    4. make your products cheaper to compete for the less affluent public.

    edit:

    why i think fiat products wont fare well in the US? well, fiat is making subcompact cars, not really a market in the US for that. the biggest car they make is fiat linea, which is the size of toyota corolla or so. but why introduce it in the US if they already have the avenger/sebring sized-car.

    furthermore, the chrysler 200c concept looks alot like the opel insignia, which is already selling in europe, and asia as a buick rebadge. so it can come anytime soon to the US (as a buick regal). the 200c is not even close and will come short once introduced.

    some chrysler fanboys mentioned in their comments, bring back plymoth and move chrysler up-market, and for 2-3 generatitions the perception will change? yea, but consider will chrysler-fiat hold on for so many years? 2-3 generations is like 10 or so years. i think NOT LIKELY. if nothing else they’ll run out of time and money. to be honest i was thinking the same before, chryslers can look cool n stuff, they have that art deco feeling, and was hoping their products will change, but that change should come dramatically, and it sure will cost alot, so i gave my hopes up. it’s just unfeasible.

  • avatar
    detlump

    I always considered Chryslers to be equivalent of Olds/Buick. Plymouths were always budget cars, entry level cars. I think Chrysler wanted Plymouth similar to Lincoln Mercury, take them in low, then keep them as they become more affluent. Mercury isn’t as budget as Plymouth, but same general idea. Chrysler always was a feast or famine type of place, they couldn’t develop too many unique models. I mean, even back in the 60s and 70s there was a lot in common with Charger/Road Runner/Coronet/Belvedere B Bodies. I don’t hear people call a Charger a gussied-up Road Runner or a RR a stripper Charger.

    I think it makes sense to turn Lancias into Chryslers and vice versa. Lancia is no real name recognition in the US, Alfa does.

  • avatar
    getacargetacheck

    Seems like Fiat could bolster Dodge by ditching Ram and Chrysler (which has no future as a luxury brand anyway). The 300 could become a Dodge Monaco or Dodge 440, the T&C could easily be switched over to the Grand Caravan as a trim level, and the 200 could become the Dodge Daytona (a much more logical name for a convertible). Simply ditch the 200 sedan and just make the next Avenger MUCH better with lots of trim lines like the Camry. Ram should always be badged as a Dodge. The Chrysler brand seems archaic and pointless. There might be some lost sales along the way, but at least Dodge would have broader appeal like Chevrolet or Ford or Toyota.

  • avatar
    Dave1951

    To what end would eliminating the Chrysler brand serve, other than satisfing the religous-like affliction of Chrysler haters? Under the sword of Daimler and Cerubus, Chrysler was on the verge of death. Remember that was just two years ago. Chrysler went from roughly 74,000 employees in 2007, to just over 28,000 this year. Engineering and product development was stripped by its previous owners.

    Since the emergence of Marchionne the 300 has been reappointed more upscale, and the 200 was significantly revamped to a much more competitive vehicle, at least to the point where it is no longer the embarrassment the Sebring was, and Chrysler’s had 15 straight months of sales increases. Likewise Charger and Avenger were also updated, but I detect that Chrysler is moving the Chrysler brand more upscale and will likely be far more separated from its Dodge sisters in the future. If that bears true, then Chrysler’s direction makes the same sense as a Honda/Acura, Toyota/Lexus, Ford/Lincoln, Buick/Cadillac, or even a Chevrolet/Buick.

    Keep in mind that historically axing an automobile brand doesn’t doesn’t do much to keep customers. Only 14% of Plymouth owners returned to Chrysler after killing the brand, only 19% returned to GM after dumping Pontiac, and if my memory is accurate, less than 20% of Oldsmobile owners ever came back to GM. I cannot think of any previous Saturn owner that is now driving GM. Pyschologically, if the company you’ve done business with decides to abondon you, most people’s sense of loyalty becomes greatly deminished.

    The fact that Fiat wants to bring additional European nameplates to North America is not a sign that Chrysler will have too many models. I sense that they will be keeping enough differentiation that Lancia and the other brands will impede on Chrysler, Dodge, and Jeep brands like the five divisions of GM did. On the upside Fiat’s other entries will bring factory utilization to Chrysler, thereby lowering fixed costs for US operations. At least one Lancia model will be built here. Better yet, so far this year I Chrysler’s exports are 40-50% above years previous.

    Ram’s a different story. I’m not sure what the long term rationale is or was for separating Ram from Dodge. Currently, I don’t believe there are any Ram only stores and maybe that’s where they want to go. Ford does that in my area now (one Ford truck only dealer).


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