1981 Plymouth Reliant and Dodge Aries: marketing the launch


The Plymouth Reliant and Dodge Aries — the original K-cars — were more than just new small cars from a company not known for small cars. They showed that Chrysler could once again move at the front of the pack, and beat the imports at their own game.

The cars were absolutely essential to Chrysler’s survival; loan guarantees had been granted based partly on the existence of the K-cars in the engineering rooms, and the existing products could not sell well enough to keep the company viable. It was absolutely essential to sell hundreds of thousands of the little K-cars, or Chrysler would fail, and tens of thousands of people would walk the unemployment lines, slamming America’s economy. Chrysler had lost nearly $2 billion in 1980; thanks to the K-cars, they were profitable by 1983. [Chrysler in 1981]

campaign K

As part of Campaign K, Chrysler worked with K-mart, then visited by near half the country’s adult population at least once a month, with over 1700 K-marts nationwide. Every Chrysler-Plymouth Dealer was invited to partner with a K-mart during their "K-Days" annual sales event. Thousands of scratch-to-win tickets were printed with the K-mart and the K car logos; winners got a car, others were invited to take their ticket to the dealer for a second-chance drawing. Ten to twenty K-cars were to be given away nationally.

k-mart promotion

Most of the K prototypes were out, displayed at K-marts when the local dealer didn't want to be involved, but most driving around with signage promoting K-days. Chrysler hyped the K-car as hard as they could, knowing the future of the company depended on it, and fall 1980, sent a big packet to every dealer on how to keep the K "hot" and increase sales.

  • Setting up demonstration-drive routes through densely populated areas, with signage identifying the car and dealership.
  • Stage Parades: “Offer to enter a K car in every parade or public function you can. Exposure is free...and valuable.”
  • K Car parking lots: areas set aside near the main entrance of public functions or sports events, with signage to identify the area as the "Plymouth Reliant front-wheel-drive ‘Up Front’ parking area.
  • Offer a free 1 week use of a K car to anyone who answers their phone with your dealership name and also says “I'd sure like to drive a Plymouth Reliant!” (“Licensed drivers only, disc jockeys are a prime target for this promo.”)
  • Lend a K car to school auto shops and engineering classes to allow them to examine the basic principles behind the “amazing new front wheel drive concept.” (Front wheel drive had been almost mainstream in the United States for some years, starting with the Simca-imitating Volkswagen Rabbit, and including Chrysler’s own Dodge Omni/Plymouth Horizon.)
  • “Offer a loaner K car for a week to your local Weight Watchers type group for the person who loses the most weight, to emphasize the K car's lighter weight concept.”
  • K-car t-shirt
  • Offer coupons at local retail establishments for those who take a K test drive (Chrysler did this with K-mart)
  • Offer to let a prospect use a K car instead of their own car for demonstration
  • “Press Party” for members of the press with food, K promo items, etc.
  • Get local agile gymnasts to perform, relating to the Reliant's light weight and agility. Consider donating a K to the school for continued gymnast approval.
  • Offer a K to a visiting circus as a clown car: “Dozens of clowns piling out of a K car is an entertaining way to demonstrate the car's roominess.” A secondary route to this was having clowns perform at the dealership.
  • "Sponsor A Spelling Bee" — every word begins with a K, the winner gets a 10 speed bike, parents get to use a Reliant for a week.
  • “Have A K Party.” Invite local residents whose last names begin with "K" to see the K in person and have a chance to win prizes. People whose first names also begin with "K" get two chances to enter. People whose first names are "Kay" or "Kaye" get 5 chances to enter. Give away prizes that begin with K: “kits, kites, kittens, karate lessons, kayaks, kazoos, kielbasa, knapsacks, and the like” (Wonder if anyone who was named Kaye Karr got something extra?)

buttons and pins

K-car ad

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