With trucks booming, Dodge and its dealers vowed to increase car sales this year.
The truck side, including minivans, has been running about 75 percent of the business. Car sales have been about 25 percent 'and going south,' said Tim Pusateri, chairman of the Dodge National Dealer Advisory Council.
'That's the tide we're going to try to stem for 1999 somehow, some way,' he said. 'That's with the dealers and factory cooperating with each other, whether it's incentives or dealers ordering and stocking more aggressively. That's an issue we need to work on because I don't want to wake up one morning and see that it is 10 percent.'
Jim Julow, Dodge general manager, said: 'If they want to grow, that's where we're going to go get it. The opportunity for Dodge is to really get the car business up and humming, take good business to great business. Intrepid and Neon are keys to that. So we'll pursue that.'
The new Neon, redesigned for the 2000 model year, goes on sale March 15. The 2000 Neons now are being assembled in DaimlerChrysler's assembly plant in Belvidere, Ill.
Cars make up the one area in which DaimlerChrysler has excess capacity and can build and sell more vehicles, Julow said.
Tim Balconi of Timothy Dodge, near Rochester, N.Y., characterized the Dodge franchise meeting as upbeat. 'It was a happy group, and the meeting was short,' he said. Dealers believe the 2000 Neon will help boost car sales, Balconi said.
Dealers said they feel confident about 1999 in the wake of Dodge's record sales in 1998.
Nobody is shouting for any particular new product on the car side, Julow said. However, dealer reaction to the Dodge Charger concept car has been great, he added.
'But I think everybody is realistic,' Julow said. 'We have a pretty nice lineup of cars right now, and we have R/T versions coming in the near term that will, I think, give a lot of Dodge spice to the car business.'
The dealers were told that Durango sport-utility production will be increased this year. Dealers also discussed several additional incentive programs.