CHRYSLER 2.0: WILL IT BE DIFFERENT THIS TIME?

The Chrysler Corporation has been saved more times than a CPR dummy.  Saviors have come in many forms, including individual cars, CEOs, private investment groups, governments, and now the Italians.  Cats everywhere are bewildered as to how many lives this company could possibly have.  In its latest incarnation, however, Chrysler may have its best shot yet at sustained success.

Mopar To Subpar. Rinse. Repeat.

Prior to its most recent government bailout and subsequent takeover by the Italian automaker Fiat, Chrysler hit the trifecta of automotive woes – poor products, inconsistent marketing, and a confusing corporate strategy.  For example:

  • Products – The smiling face of the first-generation Dodge Neon was long gone and the novelty of the PT Cruiser wore off years earlier.  Left in their places were rental car stalwarts such as the Dodge Avenger and Chrysler Sebring (the latter of which, at its nadir, was considered by some to be the worst car in America).
  • Marketing – Snoop Doggy-Dog helped increase the initial visibility of the Chrysler 300, but rapping does not make for a viable long-term marketing strategy.  Unless, of course, hamsters are doing the rapping in which case it seems to be a perfectly reasonable way to sell cars Kias.
  • Brand and Product Strategy – The Dodge brand came across as too bargain basement to be considered alongside blue-chip family brands, such as Toyota and Honda.  In addition, Chrysler tried to position itself as an aspirational brand, but its products never got the memo.

Consumers became confused, and the doors fell off Chrysler.  Again.

It Is Better To Be Wrong Than Ambiguous

Ambiguity is poison for a brand, particularly when its products are hurtling you through time and space at 70mph.  In general, ambiguity elicits psychological uncertainty.  Psychological uncertainty leads to emotional discomfort.  Emotional discomfort may then lead to dislike for whatever is causing the ambiguity.

The ambiguity that Dodge and Chrysler elicited in consumers was just as harmful to its well-being as the negative reviews its products were receiving.  Indeed, the two are inseparable.  Consumers can understand a “value brand,” such as Dodge, but its products must provide some type of value.  Similarly, consumers are fine with an “entry-level” luxury brand as long as the brand contains products that are a reasonable facsimile of luxury.  If there is uncertainty about a company’s intentions, the execution of those intentions, or both, then consumers may experience negative affect (emotions) as a result of the ambiguity, which in turn leads to decreased sales.  Eliminating ambiguity from Chrysler Group LLC products, branding, and marketing is therefore paramount to eliciting positive affect in consumers and subsequently increasing sales.

A Dodge, a Chrysler, and an Italian walk into a bar…

Based on recent corporate decisions and newly introduced or revised vehicles, Sergio Marchionne (CEO of Fiat S.p.A. and Chrysler Group LLC) and friends seem resolved to eliminate ambiguity.  They are already beginning to build better products, clarify brand positioning, and deliver clear and consistent messaging.  Nowhere was this approach more evident than Marchionne’s decision last year to not start a large-scale marketing campaign before Dodge, Chrysler, and Jeep had products in their showrooms to justify a marketing blitz.  I cannot think of the last time, if ever, I associated that kind of discipline with Chrysler.  Although no current article (or past, for that matter) regarding Chrysler is complete without warning that the company is not out of the woods quite yet, the amount of progress made in just the past product year is very impressive.  More importantly, it’s unambiguous.

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