DaimlerChrysler's decision to kill Plymouth was the right move - and a wake-up call to the competition.
Killing a brand is difficult. After all, companies spend lavishly to buff brand images, which Chrysler did with Plymouth up to a few years ago. Many corporate egos are involved, and sentimental ties to the past often prevent clear thinking.
But to its credit, DaimlerChrysler cut to the prime issue. The company correctly perceived that its dollars - both product development and marketing - were better spent elsewhere, namely on the Chrysler brand.
In today's ultracompetitive market, automakers can't afford overlapping brands. Yet the entire Plymouth lineup, save the Prowler, is available under different badges at Dodge dealerships.
Moreover, the Plymouth brand itself is weak. In these days of advertising clutter, a compelling brand image is essential. Plymouth, a bland budget brand, doesn't resonate with consumers.
General Motors could learn from DaimlerChrysler. GM has too many divisions and nameplates in search of missions. GM has trouble providing compelling product and advertising to them all.
DaimlerChrysler could have pumped fresh product into Plymouth. But it simply decided to add Plymouth's best sellers, the Voyager and Grand Voyager, to the Chrysler lineup as low-priced minivans. The Breeze and Neon will be killed.
The Chrysler lineup will get stronger and, presumably, it will get a share of the Plymouth advertising budget, too.
At the beginning of this year, 2,957 Plymouth franchises were on the books, but only three were stand-alone Plymouth dealerships. The rest also handle one or more of the higher-volume Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep marques. Thus, traumatized Plymouth dealers are not rushing to their lawyers to pick a fight with the company.
The lesson for Ford and General Motors is unmistakable: Less is more. Brand clutter is a clear and present danger. Only the strong should survive.