Chrysler Group launches a 2-pronged U.S.-market promotion to boost sales and differentiate its products as “the best of both worlds” –engineering and design from Germany and America.

And the face of the campaign is none other than Dieter Zetsche, chairman of Chrysler Group’s corporate parent, DaimlerChrysler AG. With a doctorate in engineering, Zetsche will be referred to as “Dr. Z.”

“The use of Dieter Zetsche personifies there is a little bit of Dr. Z in every DaimlerChrysler vehicle,” says Joe Eberhardt, Chrysler Group executive vice president-global sales, marketing and service.

Zetsche appears in a series of television commercials in which he answers questions about Chrysler products. In one, he takes a reporter for a wild test drive in a Chrysler 300 and in another, he demonstrates for a soccer mom how to operate a minivan’s stowable seating mechanism.

But a key component of the campaign is an aggressive incentive package that offers employee pricing and 0% financing, or employee pricing. There also is a 30-day money-back guarantee.

Complete details of the deal are on AskDrZ.com. It applies to all Chrysler vehicles except the Dodge Sprinter van, the Dodge Viper sports car and the Dodge RAM SRT-10 sports pickup, which is being phased out of the auto maker’s lineup.

Explaining the extraordinary money-back offer, Eberhardt says: “We simply cannot do business as usual in this competitive environment.”

Through May, Chrysler sales are up 4.5% compared with last year, but over the last three months, they are down 3.7%, according to Ward’s data.

Related document: <i>Ward's</i> Light Vehicle Sales by Brand and Group, May 2006

Zetsche is not the only top auto executive to become the public face of his company. Ford Motor Co. Chairman and CEO Bill Ford Jr. currently is reprising his 2002 role as a pitch man, but the tone of his ads is much more business-like than Zetsche’s.

One Chrysler spot shows Zetsche dismantling the rear suspension of a 300 sedan to reveal its connection with Mercedes-Benz technology. Several commercials make comic reference to the executive’s trademark moustache.

Zetsche says he was reluctant to lend his personality to a series of ads until he reviewed research that showed he resonates a strong, positive image with consumers.

Reaction reflected in the research is “overwhelming,” Eberhardt adds.

Chrysler is introducing 10 all-new vehicles this year, with eight arriving in the second half.

“That calls for something out of the ordinary,” says Chrysler President and CEO Thomas LaSorda.

emayne@wardsauto.com