DETROIT - Chrysler Corp. is offering a special lease deal for
its redesigned 1998 Dodge Intrepid in the wake of dismal March sales.
The Intrepid had a sluggish first quarter. But Chrysler is not
worried, saying it has sold few Intrepids to rental-car fleets this year, unlike in March a year ago.
Chrysler is counting on the new Intrepid, and the rest of the redesigned LH family of large cars, to boost its passenger-car market share and reduce its reliance on light trucks.
By offering the special lease rate, Chrysler has acknowledged that the new Intrepid needs help out of the box. But by stopping short of offering customer rebates, the automaker is not in a panic.
Dodge dealers say it is too early in the Intrepid launch to draw any conclusions about the popularity of the car.
Despite an ample 72-day supply of Intrepid sedans in March, sales of the large car were down 41.4 percent from the same month of last year.
'We're not losing any sleep over this,' said Chrysler spokesman Jeff Leestma. 'Our dealers are in pretty good shape.'
James Donlon III, Chrysler vice president and controller, said he does not foresee any other customer incentive programs on the Intrepid this year.
'We think the new lease program will make us very competitive,' Donlon said.
The Intrepid is Chrysler Corp.'s best-selling large car. With Chrysler's reliance on trucks, it is vital for the Intrepid, and the other LH platform cars, to perform well. Other models on the LH platform include the 1998 Chrysler Concorde, 1999 Chrysler LHS, and the all-new 1999 Chrysler 300M.
'The new lease certainly can't hurt,' said John Gunning of Manassas Dodge in Manassas, Va. 'The new Intrepid is a good product, but it's a crowded marketplace. With so many choices, it is just taking longer to introduce Intrepid.'
He recalled that the original Intrepid, introduced in 1993, also was slow to build sales early.
Production of the sporty sedan began in September at the Bramalea assembly plant in Ontario and dealers began selling the Intrepid in October.
The special lease for the base Intrepid is $289 per month for 36 months, and it will run through July 6. With this lease, $1,988 is due up front.
An equivalent Intrepid before this offer carried a lease rate of about $317 a month, Leestma said.
Intrepid sales should pick up with this lease offer and as dealers receive more base Intrepid models, said Rob Robbins, of Crestwood Dodge Inc. in Garden City, Mich.
Deliveries have been heavy on Intrepids with the premium equipment package, he said.
'We weren't competitive on either the lease or equipment package, but Chrysler now is making moves on both,' Robbins said.
Examining the loyalty of Intrepid owners, it is clear how much work Chrysler has ahead in marketing the new Intrepid.
Of Intrepid owners who re-entered the market in 1995, only 12.2 percent bought or leased another Intrepid, according to the Manufacturer Loyalty Excelerator Report prepared by Polk, a research company in Southfield, Mich.
By 1997, only 10.7 percent of Intrepid owners who were back in the market bought or leased another Intrepid. In other words, about 9 out of 10 Intrepid owners were walking away from the model.
The industry average for model-to-model loyalty was 17 percent in 1995, and nearly 21 percent in 1997.