Chrysler May Test What a Name's Really Worth

By Michelle Krebs February 12, 2010

At the Chicago auto show this week, Chrysler Group LLC president and CEO of the Dodge 2010 Dodge Avenger - 300.JPG 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

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guy1974 says: 5:39 AM, 02.12.10

What took Chrylser so long? The bigger scandal is that they allowed these cars to be sold in the first place. Why?

thejohnp says: 10:33 AM, 02.12.10

Just as long as they don't bring back a storied name from the past and attach it to a subpar vehicle.

billddrummer says: 1:43 PM, 02.12.10

I agree with guy1974. Who let these cars out to the public anyway, and why didn't the company respond sooner. Which begs another question: Who are these guys, anyway?

Back in the 1970s, Lee Iaccoca was the face of Chrysler. Now, Robert Whitacre and Bob Lutz have become the faces of GM. But I don't remember even seeing a picture of Ralph Giles.

To me, this is grasping at feeble straws. Fiat, where are you?

dg0472 says: 2:32 PM, 02.12.10

Let's see. The Dodge's predecessor was the Stratus, which replaced the Spirit, which replaced the Aries, which replaced the Aspen, which replaced the Dart, which essentially replaced the Lancer. Sure wouldn't be the first time Chrysler's changed the name.

tomcatt630 says: 9:44 AM, 02.16.10

It couldn't hurt to bring back the 'cloud' names, Cirrus and Stratus. Midsized Mopar names from the past, such as Coronet or LeBaron could work too. Maybe even Satellite or Belvedere.

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