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Reading today how Chrysler sales are soaring I smiled.  Knowing Chrysler merged with Fiat to introduce much needed European design into its cars I was scratching my head thinking about the Fiat 500.  I loved the merger because I knew the cars would get smaller and cooler, but the 500 was such a putz of a design that I’ve been addled.  (And pretending J-Lo would actually drive one was a real slap.)

Then I wondered if it was possible that the Fiat 500 was launched in America as a lost-loser, just to get us to pay attention to “small” and to care about “design?”  Even if it was to say this is design I don’t.  Think about it. I am passionately against the Fiat 500 design, but at least I’m passionate; unlike with many GM builds over the last decades.

Fiat may have used this to get our attention while it gets ready to kill with something really cool.  Dodge has designed some great things.  Chrysler is sweetening some designs. And Jeep has refreshed.  But I’m waiting on Fiat to launch something very Italian – and it’s going to be great. Fun, fun.  Peace!

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When I first heard of Chrysler’s purchase by Fiat my mind was filled with all sorts of meep meep images of sporty small cars darting around American highways – fun to drive and helping the planet.  I loved it and it was just what the country needed.   A year and change later, the Fiat 500 was introduced.  Zoooop.  (The sound of disappointment.) Como se ugly?  Como se out-of-touch? Add to that, J-Lo doing a 2006 shimmy on a street in NY and I felt even more let down.

Then I saw an Owen Mack video of Ralph Gilles, president and CEO of Dodge, next to the amazing new Challenger and I was back on board. This muscle car, not what I had in mind for the combined company, reminded me that car design is still key.

Yesterday I got my first look at the new Dodge Dart. Reported to be around 40 MPG, this baby is fine. It’s a mid-size car with style, selling for around $16,000.  My daughter bought a used Honda Civic a year ago for the same price.

The jury is still out on quality, but the jury is back on design and mileage.  It’s the American way to fail a little bit before you hit big — and the Fiat 500 misstep will teach Chrysler/Fiat how we roll. And now Chrysler/Fiat is about to America how it rolls.  I smell am Harvard Business Review business case. Peace!

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Chrysler paid back over $7B in loans to the U.S. government yesterday.  Did they just have than money laying around?  That s lot of Benjamins.  Did they just borrow if from a sheik?  No they earned it. Blocking and tackling my friends.  Rekindling old loyalties me droogies.  Fixing the product, getting the right new people in place and fixing the message. When Daimler moved into the Chrysler brand, they tried to do all these things but couldn’t.  Fiat and the U.S. marketing stewards did.  And now they have da monies.

Good blocking and tackling.  Just like Ford did.  I knew the Fiat move would be a good one…meep meep.  The company is known for stylish small cars, just what the economy ordered. But Chrysler is also making a move with Dodge, which is a bit more of a surprise. Hemis and un-mommy mini vans and a return of the muscle car for real motor heads (Can you say Challenger?).  This is Dodge’s sweet spot.

Marketers are not talking about Chrysler in terms of cools social programs a la Ford, they are watching the rebirth of a company through focus on the 4Ps. Roots baby.  Eminem baby.  Where’s Kid Rock? GM is blocking, but I’m not so sure they’re tackling.  The foreign value brands are pretty much growing a bit over the pace of the market. Ford may want to look over its shoulder — is it losing its hunger? Is it placating the dealers once again?  Come on Chrysler. It’s pay back time! Peddle down. Peace.

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I’m not a car guy.  My sister knows more about engines than I do, not that there’s anything sexist in that statement (maybe there is.)  I asked my son recently “What’s a Hemi?”  That’s the context.  But I do know advertising and marketing and have an ear for what consumers will like. And the president and CEO of Dodge, Ralph Gilles, talking about his brand and the tres cool Dodge Challenger (in this video) is a winning piece of marketing.  Shot and (perhaps?) concepted by Cobrandit’s Owen Mack, this piece made me want to go trade in my Prius for a Dodge anything. Great advertising makes you feel something, then do something.  In my case the “do” was post to the blog.

Mr Gilles is the absolute perfect salesman for this car and this brand. Just listen to him.  Not a suit, he.  Just a lover of cars and engines and Dodge and, I can tell, people who love cars.  So they will trust him. He’s black, presumably from the motor city, rocking the bald head thing, styling the clothes.  He is very videogenic. And the cars he’s showing are pulsing with power.  As is he — in a very friendly way.

I worked at McCann for a number of years when they would trot out CEOs to walk through the corporate headquarters and tell America that “the road to the future was paved with GM” or some such.  It was suits selling suity cars. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Mr. Gilles can bring back Dodge as long as the cars are good and he keeps talking to the people like this.  Get him on TV and radio.  Show these car designs, spin some Detroit magic, mint some money.  His next Job? The new US Fiats. Peace. 

 

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Chicken or egg?  What comes first, consumer demand or product building intended to create demand?  Most media socialists would say the former.  I favor the latter.  Case in point: For as long as I’ve been blogging I’ve railed about the American car business, its focus on gas guzzlers and how that focus has driven Detroit into the ground. It took a national melt down and a global economic recession for De-twah to find the new smaller car path.

Chrysler has a neat new European-sized car (beep beep) called the Fiat 500 which will be in the States soon. You can see it driven by a professional driver on Owen Mack’s Cobrandit.com site. Owen is a whazoo videographer, by the way.  Fiat has been building this type of car for years. Small, economical and with a more reasonable environmental footprint.  Short of the VW Beetle and Mini Cooper few companies in the states made an effort to play in this market space.  It was a mondo opportunity zone.

Customers weren’t demanding the cars, but automobile makers should have been creating that demand. They didn’t like the margins. The oil companies bought them too many dinners. The designs were funky.  May all three.  What I do know is this — had a car company gone all egg and seen beyond the dashboard, they would have known small cars were going to be a growth market.  That’s why I like the Chrysler-Fiat combination.  Fiat will help Chrysler step up to this current market need.  A few years too late, but it will happen and off we go. Egg it up. Peace!

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Ford is a wonderful marketing story – following years and years of big car stasis and poor management it has begun down a colorful new road.  The cars have gotten smaller, management has its eyes on the horizon and in a country where borrowing is rampant, it gets props for not taking the government cheese. Cool technology, too.

G.M. has made smart decisions, but still feels like a company run by old dudes with dandruff on their suit collars.  Most businesses can sell off flagging assets and brands, get smaller, refinance, wave the flag and make a comeback.  Sorry to sound disrespectful because I want G.M. to win, but the company doesn’t feel particularly contrite or forward thinking, the Chevy Volt aside.

Chrysler, on the other hand, still struggling and playing tortoise to Ford and G.M.’s hare, is an interesting company to watch. America loves an underdog…just watch the World Series or Super Bowl some time.  And America loves European styling and design. Chrysler is the former and has a chance at the latter. It has gone quiet for a while in the area of new product development while working hard to design some exciting new cars. Good move.  While Ford’s new small cars will have big American grills and other old style embellishments, I’m hoping Chrysler will be creating some Fiat-like smaller cars that people on the street can’t keep their eyes off. Were I Chrysler, I’d design hot looking, efficient cars that appeal to women: a French looking car, then an Italian car, perhaps a German-styled car. Women love style. This is a design approach whose time has come.  It never would have flown decades ago, but it will today.  Tortoise shell glasses anyone? Peace!

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