Are you seeing a pattern here? Although Olivier Francois is in charge of the most damaged brand in the Chrysler Group (and yes, that’s saying a lot), at least he’s been here before with Fiat’s problem brand Lancia. So it’s no surprise that Francois’s branding video for Chrysler is remarkably similar to a Lancia ad: it projects a kind of sophisticated sexyness, with lots of celebrities, architecture and passionate-sounding classical music. The only real difference is the copy that goes on and on about the good old days when Americans arrived in style. And unlike Ralph Gilles’ Dodge presentation, Francois’ vision of Chrysler’s brand actually works. But vision is only a tiny part of the battle for the Chrysler brand, and the rest is execution. On that front, things aren’t looking quite so good
Other than a new logo, new brochures, new website, new merchandising, new showrooms, new advertising and new promotional events, what else is there? Oh right, new product. After all, everyone from Marchionne on down has basically admitted that Chrysler products not named 300 or Town and Country are crap. So what’s the product plan for Chrysler?
Starting Q1 2010, as Chrysler’s new marketing, branding and advertising roll out, the plan is to offer special editions of Chrysler’s existing products, each with a specific focus. A “300 Sport Edition” is said to target youth, a “T&C Fashion Edition” is said to target young affluent families, a “Sebring Ocean Edition” is supposed to target coastal states and a “PT Cruiser Final Edition” is improbably targeted at “trend setters.” And yes, this is apparently serious. Though the rationale for this first-step in Chrysler’s product plan is that something has to be done, this smells hugely counterproductive. If consumers see this marketing and branding “transformation” and then go to a Chrysler dealer only to find the same old crap, all the money spent polishing the brand will have been for naught. And that’s pretty much what we’re looking at until 2012.
By Q4 2010 (barring supplier issues) a re-do of the much-despised Sebring will be ready. The spin is that the vehicle has been stripped to its bare architecture, and will feature new exterior and interior styling, new powertrains and improved everything. In reality, the fact that an all-new C-segment sedan based on Fiat architecture will roll out in 2012 (with a D-segment to follow in 2013) suggests that Sebring version 1.5 is intended to merely hold the line a while longer. And unless they get rid of the Sebring name, it will be fighting the mother of all uphill battles in a segment that Sergio Marchionne calls “critical.”
Speaking of Sergio, the new boss mentioned in the Q and A that he would not have reinvested in the LX platform, had it been his decision. Since it wasn’t the new 300 will roll out next year. Interestingly, Marchionne’s argument is that not enough derivatives are based on the LX platform to make it worth the investment in his eyes. But rather than developing more LX-based products for the US market, he’ll be boosting volume by offering an LX-based Lancia flagship in Europe.
Despite the obvious weaknesses in Chrysler’s product line, projected sales and market share for the brand are optimistic. The sales graph below shows 2009 as the trough in a sharp downturn in Chrysler’s market share. Apparently on the strength of new marketing and a new 300 (the Sebring refresh doesn’t hit till Q4), Chrysler plans on ending 2010 with over two percent market share. The problem is that the new brand marketing campaign won’t resonate if the only product changes in 2010 are special editions and a new 300. And car brands don’t have nine lives… you can only reinvent them so many times before consumers lose all trust. If that hasn’t happend by the end of 2010, it will be a huge surprise.