Special Coverage

Chrysler's Next Chapter

AUBURN HILLS, MI – Chrysler/Dodge/Jeep dealers will add another logo to their facades: the time-honored ram’s head emblematic of its newly established truck-oriented Ram brand.

Dodge, which had been associated with the ram’s head, will be known by a predominantly black logo that features its name accented in red.

The move reflects the calculated manner in which Chrysler carved out passenger vehicles to form a Dodge brand that promises a lineup based on lifestyle, instead of the conventional price-oriented trim lines.

They will include a 7-passenger cross/utility vehicle slated for next year, a B-car built by Chrysler partner Fiat Automobiles SpA and a Fiat-inspired midsize sedan.

But dividing Dodge doesn’t weaken it, says Ram brand President and CEO Fred Diaze during a presentation of Chrysler Group LLC’s 5-year business plan here.

“Ram does not have to appeal to everyone,” he says. But it must resonate with truck customers and commercial-vehicle buyers.

An advertising blitz of some 190 TV spots will be broadcast tonight during the World Series telecast, plus National Hockey League and National Basketball Assn. games, and “all across the prime-time spectrum,” Diaz says.

Their message, he adds, will embody “the can-do spirit in a get-it-done body.” Among Ram’s primary targets are multicultural consumers, small businesses and recreational buyers.

Meanwhile, Ralph Gilles, president and CEO of the Dodge brand, announces the Dodge Viper supercar will be phased out in July 2010. A final production run of 500 units will begin in January.

In its place, in the 2012 timeframe, will be a sports car inspired by Fiat, which owns the Alfa Romeo, Maserati and Ferrari brands.

The only other current Dodge product in definite peril is the Caliber C-car, which is scheduled for replacement by a Fiat-inspired car in 2012.

Chrysler’s product timeline shows the Nitro cross/utility vehicle will come under review after 2011, but not before it gets a styling upgrade.

The Avenger midsize sedan will be replaced by a Fiat-inspired car in 2013, the same time a Fiat-built B-car arrives and one year after a Fiat-inspired.

But the Avenger, Journey CUV and Grand Caravan minivan will benefit next year from significant interior and powertrain upgrades, Gilles says. The Grand Caravan also is scheduled for a redesign in 2014.

A redesigned Charger bows next year, along with a 7-passenger fullsize CUV.

The common denominator across the Dodge lineup? Fun. “Fun is ageless,” Gilles says. “It’s time for us to reflect that in our products.” Expect Dodge to achieve this by migrating from a business model that differentiates trim levels based on price to one that emphasizes lifestyle.

Gilles describes target lifestyles as:

  • Sweet and simple, for entry-level customers.
  • Fun, which is expressive yet practical.
  • Uptown luxury.
  • Thrill-seeker, which also serves as an entry point for the high-performance SRT brand.
  • Cool, for extroverts who like their vehicles to make a statement.

“All Dodge vehicles will represent a lifestyles, not age groups or price classes,” Gilles says.

emayne@wardsauto.com