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Regaining the Faith and Loyalty of Your Enthusiastic Boosters and Customers

Chrysler seems to be in a dreadful mess these days, with its car sales in a tragic state, its reputation falling by the day, and long-time enthusiasts giving up hope. Chrysler fans and owners are divided with some believing the company is doing well from the merger, others believing it's simply dead, and still others trying to wrench it from Daimler-Benz. Meanwhile, General Motors is surging ahead, the Korean automakers are building factories in the US, Chrysler workers are fleeing to other automakers, and Toyota and Honda are moving from a stunning lead in cars to capture the SUV and minivan markets, as Chrysler seems to numbly respond with all the speed of an aircraft carrier making a U-turn.

It doesn't have to be that way.

Some ways to regain the faith and loyalty of your "enthusiastic boosters" and customers

These are the people who sell your cars to their friends and relatives, and who keep coming back for more. How can you regain their free services as sales people and marketers? Here are some quick, low-budget tips:

Separate Chrysler again.

The current corporate structure makes little sense from a marketing standpoint. Those who want a German car buy German cars already. Those who want American cars are constantly being told that Chrysler, Dodge, and Jeep are no longer American. It's time to re-create the Chrysler Corporation, as a wholly owned subsidiary of DaimlerChrysler. The cost of that change would be relatively small, and the new corporation could even be established in the United States! Here are two major groups of benefits:

  • Marketing. By making Chrysler an American company again - admittedly one owned by a German company - those who only buy American would come back. Enthusiasts and owners would no longer be offended by the constant Daimler references, and that awkward "Chrysler Group of DaimlerChrysler" would disappear. This would quiet many of the enthusiasts and owners who are upset with the current sitation.
  • Stock price. If DaimlerChrysler allowed the public to buy shares in the new Chrysler Corporation (diluting its holdings to mere majority control), it would retain decision power while boosting the stock price (because Chrysler would be admitted back into indexed mutual funds). It would also bring much needed capital back.

Return to the days of good PR.

There was a brief time in the 1990s when Chrysler was actually proud of its accomplishments. Each year, journalists would get thick books describing the ways each new car beat its competitors and its predecessors, covering everything from window thickness to the first use of a plastic intake manifold for better air flow and lower weight. These books also told how employees, customers, mechanics, and suppliers contributed ideas to make the cars higher quality and more attractive. They all disappeared almost instantly after Chrysler was taken over by Daimler-Benz. Frankly, it would be hard to send a more direct signal to reporters that Stuttgart doesn't think much of Chrysler technology - though the ad campaign certainly helps! It surely doesn't cost all that much to tell reporters (and, through them, customers) how wonderful the cars and trucks are, and why.

Customer recovery.

Did you know that companies which actively try to regain customers they've lost generally succeed? Amazing, isn't it? Chrysler needs to reach out to pissed off, alienated, and simply lost customers to bring them back into the fold. It's possible. It's inexpensive, at least on a pilot scale. It brings big bucks into the company. Click here to read more.

Clarify the Chrysler brand.

No surprise the Chrysler brand has a weak image - it's been diluted for decades. Chrysler itself mangled the brand far worse than Daimler. The Chrysler brand needs to be separated out immediately into a near-luxury and a base level marque. Yes, we know that BMW and Mercedes sell relatively low-end vehicles, and that Chevrolet ranges from Cavaliers to Corvettes, but BMW and Mercedes can get away with it because of their wide range of luxury cars and their existing reputations; Chevrolet's more expensive vehicles and the brand image are also established, and aside from the Corvette, the expensive vehicles are trucks, where a blue collar image doesn't hurt. The Corvette's "affordable super performance" is also in line with Chevy's image.

So how do you separate the Chrysler brand? Well, first, let us say that this is not expensive. The vehicles don't need to be changed much, and the dealers already have the signs. It's time to re-establish Plymouth. Make the brand exist without expensive TV ads - just radio, magazine, and print. The overriding theme: "back by popular demand." That's how Coca-Cola turned the failure of "New Coke" into an ad campaign.

Lots of Plymouth owners are refusing to buy from Chrysler or Dodge; they are Plymouth owners. You who work for Chrysler know Plymouth is only a nameplate - so what? It's real in the perception of your customers, and that's what drives sales. You also know the Civic is an underperformer, but it still sells better than any car Chrysler makes. If everyone made all their decisions rationally, Mercedes' lineup would like very different, and Toyota would have even more cars on the road.

So what would it take to re-create Plymouth? The signs are still up at most dealers. There would need to be new brochures - which, by the way, the dealers pay for! Then there's advertising, which could be done the same way as Mini ads - on a low budget. No TV. Use the Saturn "real pricing" system to show the value of Plymouth - no rebates, ever, guaranteed. Dieter Zetsche should like that model.

In terms of engineering, Plymouth would be very easy to create. The Neon, in a couple of basic packages, costing nothing other than nameplates to sell, and without any rebates - but with a different name and front fascia - cost: minimal. The Voyager, with a different front fascia - cost: minimal. And, finally, the PT Cruiser, which looks like no other Chrysler. PT Cruiser buyers don't care, or even notice for the most part, that it's a Chrysler.

What would be left? The Town & Country - but only the very top, premium versions, with the 3.8 liter engine at minimum. The 300M - minus the cheap-interior Special Edition, please - soon the 300N. The Concorde. The Sebring coupe we think could be dropped without anyone noticing - nobody's buying it now. The Sebring sedan, in its most well-appointed form, could be kept. The warranty should be boosted above Dodge and Jeep, perhaps four years bumper to bumper - we know it's expensive, but luxury makers do that, and Chrysler needs the image boost - and perhaps a couple of small cues, like the crystal pentastars of years past.

The result would be a near-luxury lineup that is reasonable priced, yet able to, over time, generate an upscale image, untarnished by selling $16,000 cars and base models. In short, Chrysler could start to go after Lincoln and Cadillac again, and that's where a lot of the profits are.

Power and performance

This is the most expensive proposition, but it's not too absurd. Sell a power-boosted Neon with a turbocharged engine, but making less power than the SRT so it's cheaper to make, and will get affordable Mopar performance into the hands of more people. If a 3.5 will fit into the Stratus, do it. Manual transmission minivans - a great niche that nobody else has in the United States, and it worked in the 1980s. More powerful minivans - supercharged 2.7 or the 3.5, even the truck 3.7 if it'll fit (the turbo minivans sold moderately well despite the existence of a V6 model at the same time, and they are earning Chrysler a lot of respect at local tracks now). Publicize the Neon's performance advantages over the Civic - in acceleration times. Make copies of that Grassroots Motorsports article where the Neon beat all comers available at every dealer. These steps will not bankrupt the company, but they'll get a lot of extra sales without the need to resort to fire-sale rebates and ads.

We know you can do it. You're Chrysler, the Phoenix of car companies, and Daimler-Benz, the oldest of the car companies. Do the right thing and you'll be rewarded. Promise.

1. How to sell Neons - now - and with minimal investment May 2001
2. How to save lots of money on repairs, while increasing your reputation for quality June 6, 2001
4. How to increase customer retention and bring back "lost" customers July 2001
5. How to regain the faith and loyalty of enthusiastic boosters and customers August 2002
6. How to avoid incentives and still sell more cars September 2002

David Zatz is an organizational development consulting with experience in customer research. Click here for his Web site.

Cash Allison wrote:

I just read your article about Plymouth.... I agree with you. Whats the big deal about keeping the brand name. I don't WHAT is going on with Our car company,
but the Daimler people are sure screwing things up. DCX needs to look at sales.... Both the Voyager and Prowler sales are downlike 90%..... ( Just like Oldsmobile). There are people that that is ALL they have ever bought when ALL it is a rebadged something else (excluding the Prowler) but since they continued to buld it (until they ran sales into the ground) .

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