By on November 5, 2009

The New New Chrysler

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.

Who's going to wait?

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.

Hopes and dreams

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12 Comments on “Chrysler: Refresh And Market Like Crazy...”

  • avatar

    A god analysis but … those two 6 MP images do take forever to load. Maybe you could pick up smaller (and better-quality) images from Chrysler’s original slide deck here:

  • avatar
    John Horner

    The numbers don’t seem completely crazy. They aren’t talking about getting back to 2008 sales levels until 2012, and 2008 was hardly a barnburner year.

    I think a huge problem with repositioning the Chrysler brand is going to be the dealer network. The remaining Chrysler dealers are all co-located with Dodge, “Ram” and Jeep sales. How does the same salesperson pitch Ram Tough and “sophisticated sexiness”. Do they play country and western or classical music in the service waiting room? Strippers or ballet dancers? Imagine selling Freightliners and Mercedes Benz S-classes in the same showroom with the same sales people. Doesn’t work, does it?

    Also these dealers have been battle hardened into the pile ’em high and sell ’em cheap mode, and that’s the good ones! The bad ones are just crooks.

  • avatar
    Mr. Sparky

    At least the logo is kind of nice.

    Of course, no one will notice when you glue it on the hood of a Sebring.

    Why not just kill Sebring and Cruiser (they have Avenger and Caliber in the same showroom) and focus on the refeshed 300 and TC?

    That would help with the reinvention and give customer a while to forget about Sebring before the Fiat based midsized sedan shows up. Really, the sooner people start forgetting about the Sebring, the better.

  • avatar

    I’m sure that logo will get people to confuse a Sebring with an Aston Martin.

  • avatar

    An LX-based Lancia, eh? I think that would make it the first Lancia with front-engine, rwd architecture since the Flaminia ended production in 1970.

  • avatar
    Richard Chen

    Chrysler is getting the axe in Europe and the Voyager (T&C) will be relabled a Lancia, too.

  • avatar

    Chrysler is getting the axe in Europe and the Voyager (T&C) will be relabled a Lancia, too.

    What, they couldn’t call it the “T&C by Maserati”?

    I wonder how Chrysler will badge the Viper replacement in Europe, assuming one ever sees the light of day. Simply as the “Viper”?

  • avatar
    Seth L

    Thanks Ed, you deserve hazard pay for sitting through these presentations. Chrysler has done special editions on most of it’s cars every year. How is this any different?

    Anyone have an idea why Lancia’s are not sold in the UK?

  • avatar

    I find the whole thing very entertaining. Just how many ways can you dress up a pig?

    MBella wrote: I’m sure that logo will get people to confuse a Sebring with an Aston Martin.

    I was thinking it’ll get mistaken for a Ford Thunderbird logo.

  • avatar
    Via Nocturna

    They seriously marched this “lifestyle” tripe out again?

    I think Mr. Sparky had the right idea. The desperately prolonged existence of the PT Cruiser needs to be terminated, and the less said about the Sebring, the better. Despite my distaste for it, I concede that the 300 has its merits, and minivans were one of the few things this company managed to do right. The Chrysler brand is just going to have to tread water until 2012 and hope the rest of the Fiatsler portfolio can make up the slack.

  • avatar

    At least the logo is kind of nice.

    I dunno. The first time I saw it, I thought someone resized the old logo but forgot to click the “Keep Aspect Ratio” checkbox.

  • avatar

    @Seth L: Lancia was doing badly in the UK and Ireland so FIAT pulled the plug and stopped making Lancias in RHD sometime in the nineties.
    Never saw the point of Lancia personally – not a lot of space between FIAT and Alfa Romeo for a third marque.

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