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The Name Game

I have read many of the forums and articles on your web site with much interest. As a Canadian Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep dealer, I am particularly interested in the series of articles about proposed corporate strategies for future sales success. Although most of these articles, for example "Customer Retention and Recovery," are aimed at the manufacturer, dealers can take away information from these articles to help better see the frustrations of Chrysler's customers and enthusiasts. By tapping into this information, I think I can be more empathetic to the problems my customer faces and through this understanding, I can better serve them.

Of course, my intentions are not entirely altruistic. I'd like to continue the success of my business through satisfied customers and increased profits. Of course, the key to profits are satisfied customers. At the end of the day, cutting costs will only get you so far. If you have no customers, you have no sales.

This brings me to a point that relates directly to your critiques of Chrysler's and DaimlerChrysler's corporate strategies. You point out time and again that Chrysler could sell a lot more vehicles if they were to make simple, relatively inexpensive changes. I propose that one of the changes they make is to eliminate the "Name Game." It seems to me that Chrysler is intent on naming their new models with new names.

For example, where did the name "Neon" come from? There has never been a previous Chrysler model named Neon. And why did they name the new Jeep a new name: "Liberty?" These are just two examples of the "Name Game." With such a rich history of entry level models (Sundance, Shadow, Reliant, Aries, Horizon, Omni, Valiant, Dart, etc.) and as the inventors of the small SUV (Cherokee and Wagoneer) why not rely on the lineage for a moniker? Why has Chrysler felt it necessary to come up with a new name every time the produce a replacement model for the same market segment? What is the point of spending millions of dollars in advertising to build the identity of a product only to have to start from scratch five or six years later?

As a dealer, Chrysler often talks to us about reinforcing brand identities in our dealer operations. That makes sense. The identity of the Chrysler, Dodge and Jeeps brands help sell the vehicles. Dodge and Jeep have particularly strong brand identities. Displaying a Jeep vehicle on a rock pile ties into its "go anywhere" 4x4 capability. Dodge signage constructed from aluminum checker plate relates to Dodge's "tough truck" image. Dealers do these things because reinforcing brand identity makes it clear to consumers what a particular product is all about. If this image appeals to the consumer, then it will help sell the product.

But Chrysler has, in many respects, looked past the idea of "model identity." This concept seems central to the outstanding success of Honda and Toyota. Yes, they build high-quality vehicles with superior resale value. Beyond that, they also build model identity and avoid consumer confusion by solidly committing to the same model names redesign after redesign. Customers know what size an Accord is, they understand what image it presents, they know how much it costs, etc. Customers do not have to be educated about these things when they walk into the showroom. Honda has built the equity in the Accord name for 30 years.  For the Accord, a good chunk of the sales job is done before the customer even arrives at the dealership. Some of Chrysler's products have so little model identity that customers do not even know they exist. Tell me that this does not affect sales!

Beyond product awareness, a commitment to specific model names for a manufacturer's lineup builds a consumer's understanding of the hierarchy of models. At a Toyota dealership, a customer may buy a Corolla (a 40 year old model name), then move up to a Camry (a 20 year old model name), then purchase a 4-Runner (another 20 year old model name) and, once the kids leave, buy a Celica (another 30 year old model name). Similarly, Honda has built a consistent Civic to Accord hierarchy in their model lineup with an over 30 year commitment to these names.

How much did the switch from Cherokee to Liberty cost Chrysler? At what expense was the move from Shadow to Neon made? It is tough to say. Of course, the positive examples of model identity I have made are Japanese companies who, as a whole, have gained market share over the years due mainly to to a commitment to quality, one may argue. While I don't dispute this, I believe model identity has helped these companies appeal to consumers. Of all of the American car makers, GM has done the best job being consistent in this area and they are, at this time, the only American company growing their market share.

My advice to the powers that be at Chrysler is to remember model identity as they introduce all the new products they have planned. Don't continue the "Name Game." It is an investment to come up with good model names and to stick with them. Consumers like to understand what they are buying and brand identity is not enough to compete in this very competitive industry.

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