Which Chrysler product(s) will get the Super Bowl ad boost?
|Larry P. Vellequette covers Chrysler Group for Automotive News.|
So now that the world knows who’s going to play in the Super Bowl, perhaps its time to consider who -- and what -- will be on it.
Or, specifically, after Chrysler hit a grand slam with its “Born of Fire” ad for the 200 last year, what product will Ma Mopar feature this year on TV biggest stage, and what will that ad say?
No one in tight-lipped Chrysler Group headquarters in Auburn Hills, Mich., is saying anything yet, not even a hint. But there might be some clues available if deductive reasoning means anything when commercials cost more than $100,000 a second.
The ad is likely not to be for Jeep. The automaker is already experiencing production shortages for both its Grand Cherokee and Wrangler, meaning the additional attention might be counterproductive. The Liberty is in its final model year, and the Compass and Patriot, both of which had big boosts in sales in 2011, must make room for the upcoming Dodge Dart on their line.
Pickups likely won’t be the focus. Sales of the Ram pickup, Chrysler Group’s top-selling model, were up 23 percent in 2011 to 244,763 units, and the new brand’s recent ads with ultracool voiceovers by Sam Elliott resonate on their own. Plus, according to its 2009 plan, the pickup line is due for “major modifications” this year.
The Sergio rule. Chrysler-Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne laid down a rule for product launches in 2009 -- call it the anti-Volt rule, if you will -- that says the automaker won’t show a product any earlier than three months before it’s available in dealerships. He said such a practice wastes money. That probably rules out an ad for a halo car like the new SRT Viper, whose factory isn’t even tooled up yet, and the new Dart, which isn’t expected in showrooms until well into the second quarter.
The minivan conundrum. Marchionne has already laid out his plan to replace his current lineup of two vans -- the Chrysler Town & County and the Dodge Grand Caravan -- with one. But that change won’t come ’til later, and though the minivan market overall has been declining, giving a boost to one while the other is still around seems premature.
Sedans catching up. After slow launches, sales of the restyled Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger sedans picked up during the fourth quarter of 2011. Likewise, doing a second commercial for the Chrysler 200 would invite unwanted comparisons, and the Dodge Avenger’s existence is unclear given its proximity in size to the new Dart. Though it’s not a sedan, the Challenger is also rumored to have some updates in its future, perhaps including a name change.
So what’s left? The two pieces of Chrysler Group’s product lineup that could most benefit from the exposure of a Super Bowl commercial are both Dodge people-movers.
Sales of the Dodge Durango could benefit from a bright spotlight on the vehicle’s capabilities. But the last thing Chrysler Group wants to do right now is put added production pressure on the same plant that makes the Grand Cherokee. Suppliers can’t keep up with demand now, Marchionne says.
That leaves one suspect, one vehicle with the means, motive and opportunity to benefit from a top-notch ad in this year’s Super Bowl: the Dodge Journey.
The mid-sized crossover does well in Canada and has found success elsewhere in the world rebadged as the Fiat Fremont, but for some reason it hasn’t caught on in the United States. The Journey, which has third-row seating and the same 8.4-inch infotainment system as the flagship Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger, can’t seem to find its niche in a crowded field, though its sales were up 14 percent to 55,155 in 2011.
So here’s my guess, with a proper hat tip to the board game Clue:
Chrysler Group’s Super Bowl ad will be the Dodge Journey in the library with a candlestick.
You can reach Larry P. Vellequette at email@example.com.