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Tips to Chrysler: Is it time for an America series?

"Tips to Chrysler" is a sporadic feature in which we propose obvious and credible actions which can increase Chrysler's sales and/or cut their costs, and hope against hope that someone at Chrysler is listening.

Detroit has gone crazy with special rebates and financing deals, offering $3,000 and no interest loans to move unwanted vehicles off the lots. This inevitably leads people to believe that the cars, while a good deal, can't be as good as the Toyotas and Hondas that don't require massive rebates and discounts. The end result is devaluation of the reputations of the discounted cars and trucks. Deiter Zetsche, Chrysler's current chief (as far as anyone can be in charge when Juergen Schrempp is one step up, and in charge of the powerful product committee), knows this - and he's against incentives, but has to match General Motors and Ford. Or so he thinks.

As it happens, Chrysler did have a very successful program which avoided rebates and was remarkably popular with customers. It was, however, favored by Lee Iaccoca - but so was the 7/70 warranty (itself grown from an early 1970s 5/50 warranty). If Chrysler can get over its intense dislike for its own past, there is a good solution:

The America program.

You might remember the Sundance America, Shadow America, and Omni America. These were cars built with particular, limited sets of standard equipment, not unlike the SXT, and priced to sell. The difference is that, unlike the SXT, they are actually priced to sell, not priced to be given whopping huge rebates and then to sell.

Think about what would happen if Chrysler made a well-publicized America series. They sort of tried it with the Neon S in California, but that seemed to be a well-kept secret more than a good promotion. They could sell the Neon America at prices starting around $10,000, stripped, and rising to $12,000. No rebates. They can then do ad campaigns where they compare the Neon with the best-selling competitors - Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic, Ford Focus, Chevy Cavalier. "Look, it's got 132 horsepower, beats Corolla and Civic EX to 60 mph by a full second, is just as large inside, only it costs four thousand dollars less!" No mention of rebates. Just feature parity or superiority, then the massively lower price. Maybe even a mention of how they did it: "We thought extra-hard when designing these cars so we didn't have to spend as much building them." The same could help the unbelievably poor sales of the Stratus and Sebring sedans, and of the still-somewhat-popular Intrepid, which should have far higher sales than it does. "Larger than any of its competitors, and cheaper, too. Stronger engine than the Camry, larger interior, better handling, and the same price."

The America program would help to break Chrysler out of its current round of incentives, which only cheapens the Chrysler and Dodge brands. It would also help the company to produce a series of ads based on the strengths and features of its vehicles, not on how much they'll pay you to buy one. It would be a strong public relations move, and history shows it would sell a lot of cars, too. As for the name - well, the poor, abused "old Chrysler" fans would at least get some acknowledgment that the old Chrysler Corporation could sometimes get one right.

This is, to us, a no-brainer. The America program worked before, and it can work again. It should be done immediately, before the Dodge and Chrysler images are irrecoverably tarnished by the giveaways.

If you work at Chrysler, or know someone who does, can you pass this along to them?

Written by

1.How to sell Neons - now - and with minimal investmentMay 2001
2. How to save lots of money on repairs, while increasing your reputation for qualityJune 6, 2001
4.How to increase customer retention and bring back "lost" customersJuly 2001
5.How to regain the faith and loyalty of enthusiastic boosters and customersAugust 2002
6.How to avoid incentives and still sell more carsSeptember 2002

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

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