The redesigned Dodge Intrepid, which had a sales drop of 31 percent in May, will get some help this fall from a new advertising campaign and greater availability of base models.
The new ad campaign will emphasize the all-new sedan's features, rather than the computer power Chrysler used to develop the car, said James Julow, Dodge Division general manager.
'It will show more of the car, and it does start to talk about its features,' he said. 'We're not walking away from our strategy, but there will be more about the product.'
A source who asked to remain anonymous said Intrepid sales also have been hurt by Dodge dealers putting their advertising dollars behind
the higher-margin Dodge Durango sport-utility.
Dodge was counting on its dealers to spend about $25 million during the first quarter, but spending on the Intrepid was about
$10 million during that period, the source said.
TOUTING THE KNIVES
The current Intrepid ad campaign began in January and emphasizes Chrysler's use of advanced computer technology. Chrysler calls it 'cyber-synthesis' - the process of designing, assembling and testing a vehicle by computer before building anything in metal.
The current advertising blitz has its detractors, including Vice Chairman Robert Lutz.
Lutz believes the Intrepid eventually will do very well. But the initial advertising missed the mark, he said.
'Part of the problem may have been our extremely visual, arresting TV ads,' Lutz said. 'While visually arresting, they are telling the customer what kind of kitchen knives we use when all they care about is the food.'
The initial advertising did 'break through the clutter' and was able to generate awareness of the redesigned model, Julow said. 'But it's not something you stick with for a long time.'
Intrepid sales of 8,263 in May were down 31 percent compared with the same period a year ago. Calendar-year sales to date of 40,970 were down 39 percent.
Dodge plans to change the mix of Intrepids so that more base models will be available.
The Intrepid launch began with a mix of two-thirds ES models to one-third base models because initial buyers prefer higher-end models, Julow said. The mix of Intrepids will change in the 1999 model year to about 65 percent base models and 35 percent ES, he said.
The Intrepid ES carries a 3.2-liter V-6 engine and a four-speed AutoStick transmission. The base Intrepid is powered by a 2.7-liter V-6 and no AutoStick.
Despite the sluggish start, there is no panic at Chrysler, Julow said.
'I don't think it was the launch advertising,' he said. 'We need to get more base inventory into the field.'
Fleet sales of Intrepids have been kept to a minimum this year, which cut total sales, said Steve Torok, Chrysler executive director of sales and marketing operations.
Historically, half of Intrepids produced have gone to fleets, compared with only 20 percent today, Torok said.
'We'll probably never go back to the high fleet sales of Intrepid,' Torok said. 'We want to support our residual values.'
High fleet sales boost the supply of used vehicles, lowering prices. Low prices cut the value of the Intrepids that return to Chrysler after their leases expire.