Burned by minivan fiasco, DCX tightens Ram launch

DETROIT - Determined not to repeat the fiasco of its 2001 minivan launch, the Chrysler group has been pushing Dodge Ram sales so hard that the pickup is scarce in some markets.

With the official launch of the 2002 Dodge Ram still two weeks away, dealers have only 683 units of the new pickup and 25,200 2001-model Rams in stock. The supply of Rams is under 40 days, well below the ideal of 60 days.

Chrysler executives say while the Ram supply may be light, it's an enviable position to be in, especially when the competition is pushing its 2002 pickups with heavy incentives.

Minivan launch was disaster

Just over a year ago, the Chrysler group had a disastrous launch of its new minivan because it built too many of the old models. It had to push 2000 models - and, eventually, 2001 models as well - with costly incentives. The mess contributed to the downfall of Jim Holden, former president of the Chrysler group.

In early August 2000, the company had 123,031 2000-model minivans - a 94-day supply - and 82,098 2001 models, a 62-day supply.

According to the Harbour Report, published by Harbour & Associates in Troy, Mich., the 2001 minivan launch "could have been DaimlerChrysler's best manufacturing story of the year. Instead, it turned out to be one of the reasons for the company's current rocky economic times."

Harbour experts said the launch was completed in a record 25 days, but "sales and marketing leaders calculated that the launch would take much longer and ordered some 80,000 of the old vans to be built to keep dealers stocked during the launch."

To sell the old vans, Chrysler offered up to $3,000 in incentives. That eliminated profits and attracted buyers who might have waited for the new model. It also created a high inventory of 2001 minivans, and Chryler later had to offer more incentives to move the new models.

Smarter Ram launch

The Ram changeover is being handled carefully because management decided eight months ago it didn't want a repeat of the minivan problem, said Darryl Jackson, director of Dodge truck marketing and a co-leader of the truck platform team.

Sales efforts and incentive programs also have been concentrated in big truck markets such as Texas, California, Florida and the Southeast, Jackson said. Consumer incentives up to $2,000 have been offered on the old Ram since June.

In contrast to the blanket incentives offered on minivans last year, Jackson said the Ram incentives this year are tailored to individual markets.

Sales of all Rams in August were down 11.7 percent from August 2000. Sales of the Ford F series rose 5.4 percent in August. Chevrolet Silverado sales dropped 2.2 percent in the month.

You can reach Diana T. Kurylko at dkurylko@autonews.com

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