LAS VEGAS - Plymouth dealers are mainly shrugging their shoulders about the brand's pending demise.
'The more I heard, the more I felt it is a step in the right direction,' said Bob Eddy, who has a Chrysler-Plymouth-Jeep dealership and a Dodge dealership in Youngstown, Ohio.
DaimlerChrysler will soften the Plymouth blow by strengthening the Chrysler lineup, which nearly all Plymouth dealers also carry. The Plymouth Voyager and Grand Voyager minivans will continue to be sold, but with Chrysler badges. The rest of the Plymouth lineup will die.
'The relative pricing levels will still be in place,' said Bill Golling of Golling Chrysler-Plymouth-Jeep in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. 'The warranties stay in place. We'll still be able to satisfy all of our customers' needs.'
NO BADGE ENGINEERING
The Plymouth lineup was limited to the Voyager and Grand Voyager, the Breeze mid-sized sedan, the Neon small sedan and the Prowler roadster.
'Badge engineering doesn't work anymore,' said Jim Holden, president of DaimlerChrysler in North America. 'We're out of badge engineering.'
Holden has quietly taken steps to dismantle the brand over the past half year, and dealers have believed the end was near for at least a year. For example, as reported this fall in Automotive News, the Plymouth Grand Voyager SE lost all but one of its options packages for the 2000 model year, and Chrysler added a low-priced, four-cylinder version of the Cirrus to attract Breeze customers.
Holden added last week that Plymouth was not a global brand and did not fit into DaimlerChrysler's international marketing plans.
As of Jan. 1, 1999, there were 2,957 Plymouth franchises in the United States.
Golling said he will be happy no longer competing against Dodge. The Neon is sold under both Plymouth and Dodge brands.
Rich Scherb, general sales manager at Rothrock Motor Sales in Allentown, Pa., said there should be no impact on his dealership. Current Plymouth customers will be able to buy a Chrysler product from the same dealership they have been coming to, Scherb said.
`WE'LL DO THE RIGHT THING'
There are only three stand-alone Plymouth dealers in the country, two in Pennsylvania and one in Nebraska.
'We'll do the right thing with them,' said Marty Levine, general manager of the Chrysler-Plymouth-Jeep division. 'We'll make them an offer.' The company has been steadily dualing Plymouth with Chrysler dealerships during the 1990s.
Levine said he does not see a loss in resale value of Plymouths as a result of the action.
'It's really no different than when a model is phased out,' he said.
The Chrysler brand will continue to expand with the PT Cruiser in the spring, 'and the Chrysler Java concept is possible, and the Chrysler Citadel is another place where the brand could go,' said Holden. The Java is a subcompact developed for Europe. The Citadel is a concept luxury sport wagon.
Said Holden: 'I want product exclusive to the brand.'