Chrysler May Test What a Name's Really WorthBy Michelle Krebs February 12, 2010
At the Chicago auto show this week, Chrysler Group LLC president and CEO of the Dodge brand and senior vice president of product design Ralph Gilles reminded that the lowly esteemed and poorly selling Dodge Avenger and its Chrysler Sebring counterpart will get substantial overhauls for the 2011 model year.
The makeovers might include new names, Gilles told Bloomberg News.
The situation with the Avenger and Sebring leaves Chrysler in a conundrum that will test one of the more lasting adages of the auto business: establishing a nameplate is a costly investment, making it a good idea not to change. Likewise, establishing a new name for an existing or revised model can confuse consumers, threaten sales and squander the investment in the previous name.
Some brands, such as Lincoln and Acura, already have tested the theory by changing from model names to alphanumeric descriptors. Although both brands' changeovers have been complete for some time, arguments continue about the results of the strategy.
Chrysler, however, likely is eager for a clean break - at whatever the cost - from longstanding criticism of the Sebring and Avenger's low-rent interiors and under-engineered dynamics.
As a result, the two models have been perpetual underachievers in the showroom - another factor that may lead Chrysler to derive new names for its midsize sedans and 2-door convertible. Last year, Avenger sales slid 37 percent to 38,922 units, or just more than a tenth of the sales of the segment-leading Toyota Camry.
The Sebring - sedan and hardtop and soft top convertible - wobbled to a sales total of just 27,640 last year, a 62-percent plunge from a 2008 that itself was far from a solid year. Total auto-industry sales were off 21.2 percent last year, according to data from Edmunds.com.
At a meeting with analysts and media last fall, Chrysler executives said the Sebring and Avenger's weaknesses were well-known - particularly the cars' low-quality interiors - and that the 2011 models would be so heavily reengineered as to make them almost wholly new cars. The pair also are earmarked to get Chrysler's all-new Pentastar 3.6-liter V-6. - Bill Visnic, Senior Editor