Chrysler’s latest “Imported From Detroit” ad, which seems to be trying to convince itself to “see it through,” continues the brand’s recent tradition of associating itself (perhaps a bit too closely) with the trials and tribulations of the city of Detroit. That approach, like the 300 itself, might play well in parts of the US market… but Chrysler needs its cars (and ads) to do more. Imagine how this ad might go over in Berlin or Milan, and you might catch a glimpse of Chrysler’s larger challenge: making its cars relevant globally as both Chryslers and Lancias.
Chrysler’s marketing honcho Olivier Francois may think that Chrysler and Lancia combine to create a “superbrand,” but of course it’s not that easy.
After all, what on earth says Lancia about the new barely-disguised “Thema”? It seems that Mr Olivier was filled with the “see it through” spirit when he claimed that the two brands were a perfect match: necessity, not compatibility made the marriage between Chrysler and Lancia. And considering they combined for less volume than Alfa in the European market through the first three quarters of this year, it’s pretty clear that this shotgun marriage isn’t going much of anywhere. And no wonder: in the words of Robert Verganti, a management professor at Milan Polytechnic [via Bloomberg]
It’s extremely difficult to succeed in a strategy of globalizing design. The risk is making international cars with no personality. When you buy a Lancia, you are looking for a piece of Italy, and when you choose a Chrysler, you are getting a slice of America.
Which is why Fiat’s former Ferrari, Maserati and Alfa designer, Lorenzo Ramaciotti, has taken the lead on the Chrysler-Lancia branded design portfolio. If anyone is going to find designs that simultaneously says “Chrysler” and “Lancia,” it’s the guy who designed the Quattroporte, GranTourismo, F430, and Alfa 4C Concept… right? Says Ramaciotti
We are trying to find an international language, which could have a place both here in Italy and in the U.S. If you put all the models into the showroom, they must fit together. It’s a delicate problem. We don’t want to do pure badge-engineering; it has never worked well in the long runWe should be global in sharing platforms and strategies without dulling the product line.”
Well, if nothing else, there’s the proof we finally need that the only people who think rebadging can work are marketers with nothing else in their bag of tricks. In all seriousness, the fact that Fiat-Chrysler has someone with that perspective leading global Chrysler/Lancia design can only be a good sign. After all, I may not be a big fan of Mr Ramaciotti’s Maserati Kubang SUV, but at least it doesn’t look like a rebadge. Although speaking of the Kubang, Bloomberg’s conversation with Ramaciotti does bring up one other point that the old designer might not be able to do anything about: the fact that Chrysler’s large cars and SUVs may not sell well as Lancias regardless of their designs.
“People are coming into the showroom to have a look,” said Roberto Ferrari, who owns a Lancia dealer outside Milan. “Reactions are good. The Thema is pretty, design is attractive for Italians, too, but no one is buying these kinds of cars now,” because the debt crisis calls for understatement.
Lancia’s real problem is that 90% of its sales come from the next country in the Euro sovereign debt crisis line of fire. In that environment, any Lancia is going to face sales challenges, let alone a large, Chrysler-derived Lancia. With Europe reaping the whirlwind economically, perhaps now is the time for Fiat-Chrysler to bite the bullet, drop its weakest brand, and let Mr Ramaciotti get to work designing, passionate, lust-worthy Chryslers. Better to concentrate on creating Chryslers that are appealing the world over than to fret over how to Americanize European cars for Chrysler and Europeanize American cars for Lancia.