Zetsche’s anti-incentive push gets test with Ram

The first big test of Dieter Zetsche’s no-incentive campaign has begun.

The Chrysler group CEO hopes he set the right price for the new Dodge Ram pickup, thereby decreasing or eliminating costly incentives. The lower price for the group’s best-selling vehicle is part of Zetsche’s strategy to slash 2002 sticker prices across the board. He wants the entire Chrysler group to rely less on incentives.

Zetsche hopes the marketing campaign, which includes taking the Ram on a nationwide tour, will be a model for other Chrysler group introductions.

“We will do everything brand specific, thereby differing one from the other,” he said, “but in the sense of excitement of (Dodge’s) new ideas, clearly this should be the tone we are setting, and I think we are all getting warm.”

The Chrysler brand, for instance, is working on a brand position, to be unveiled “in the near future,” he said.

Betting on Truckville

Marketing will help Dodge hold off incentives on the Ram, Zetsche said, through a new “Truckville” theme.

Truckville is Ram training for dealers and consumers, in a family setting. It includes ride-and-drives and competition pitting the Ram against other full-sized trucks. The theme of a truck village, starring the Ram as mayor, also will be in advertising starting Sept. 17.

“We want to be able to talk about the Ram, and we knew we had to have a training event to do that,” said Julie Roehm, director of Dodge communications.

The event will tour 25 cities through mid-October. It is funded through Dodge’s sales training budget with some help from the marketing budget, though Roehm would not disclose the cost.

Truckville borrows from the Jeep 101 and Ford No Boundaries Experience programs. Four former Ford Motor Co. marketing execs, including Roehm, have joined Chrysler group this year, as well as Ford’s former youth marketing agency, Fusion 5. Dodge is considering companies such as Nike Inc. to co-brand the events, Roehm said.

Invitations will be sent to 1.5 million consumers. Dodge also is promoting the events on the Internet and radio. Because all people must register at the events, Dodge will be able to track correlating sales at dealerships, Roehm said.

Truckville already took over the town of Dodge’s dealer council chairman, Dick Withnell. Consumers attended the event two weeks ago in Portland, Ore.

“The mayor of Truckville is just a marketing deal and a good one,” Withnell said.

“The key is going to be on the price point. ‘No incentives’ is with an asterisk, but I don’t think there will be any problem, even though we’re in a sticky market.”

Dodge sets direction

The Ram is trying to compete with the Ford F series and the Chevrolet Silverado, but it has far to go and can’t afford high incentives .

Ford Division’s F series dominates pickup sales in the United States, having sold 501,031 through the first seven months of this year, compared with 391,672 of the Chevrolet Silverado and 208,814 for the Ram.

With a base price of $17,670, including a $715 destination charge, the 2002 Ram costs about $120 less than the comparable 2001 model. It also is $218 less than the base 2002 Silverado and $1,125 less than the base 2002 F-150, both including destination.

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