Dave Gower's first car was a rusty 1950 Plymouth Cranbrook he bought for $75 when he was in college in the early 1960s. The now-retired Ottawa, Ontario, economist later owned a 1984 Plymouth Horizon. He remembers it as a 'much-loved' car he put to rest after 10 years of hard service. Today, he drives a 1993 Plymouth Voyager.
Gower is a Plymouth fan but says he would have been just as happy with an Omni and a Caravan - Plymouth copycats with Dodge nameplates. He predicts that little will be lost when the once-beloved Plymouth is mothballed at the end of the 2001 model year.
'I loved the cars,' Gower said of his Plymouths. 'I couldn't care less about the brand. I doubt DaimlerChrysler is losing anything by dropping the Plymouth name.'
The automaker is betting other Plymouth loyalists feel the same. In a recent interview, Bud Liebler, DaimlerChrysler senior vice president of global brand marketing, said the company 'expects to pick up all Plymouth owners.'
So far, though, sales don't quite make the point, at least when it comes to minivans, a Plymouth stalwart. Through the end of August, total sales of Chrysler, Plymouth and Dodge minivans were down 17,000 units compared with the same period last year, despite generous consumer incentives.
The dip comes amid growing concerns on Wall Street about the Chrysler group's profitability in the wake of expensive product launches and incentive programs. Still, the automaker sees no need to launch a special campaign to convince more than 5 million Plymouth owners they'll be just as happy in a Chrysler or a Dodge.
Instead, the company believes customers are loyal to nameplates, and the Neon, Voyager and Prowler will survive.
'People are waiting for the (2001) model,' DaimlerChrysler spokesman Domi-nick Infante said of the minivan deficit, adding that the 2000 model closeout will add volume. 'We expect to eliminate that gap by the end of this month.'
DaimlerChrysler announced its plan to dump Plymouth after the 2001 model year to focus on the upscale Chrysler brand in late 1999.
Plymouth's top seller, the Voyager, became a Chrysler midway through the 2000 model year. In January 2001, the Prowler, at first scheduled to die with Plymouth, also becomes a Chrysler. The Plymouth Neon will continue through the 2001 model year and then will be dropped. The mid-sized Plymouth Breeze was dropped last July.
There's still plenty of what Plymouth buyers want in DaimlerChrysler's lineup, Liebler said.
Dealers agree. Todd Szott, general manger of Taylor Chrysler-Jeep in Taylor, Mich., said he hasn't heard any complaints about the end of Plymouth.
Jim Mateyka, vice president of A.T. Kearney, an automotive consulting firm, said lost sales may be less significant for Plymouth than for other abandoned brands because DaimlerChrysler is not killing the nameplates, except the Breeze. And with just two Plymouth-only dealerships in the country, a large dealer body is not disbanding.
Nonetheless, dropping a brand usually means lost sales, Mateyka said. DaimlerChrysler will pay a price if it doesn't court Plymouth buyers.
'No matter how weak people say a brand is, there are people attached to it who don't view the options within the company as attractive,' Mateyka said. 'Unless you do something special for them, you do turn them back into the marketplace.'
He said Chrysler must convince Plymouth owners, drawn to the brand's value position, that they will get the same bang for their buck with Chrysler or Dodge.
'The reality is that Chrysler is trying to position itself as much more high-line,' he said. 'Plymouth customers may not feel comfortable with that. They may go look at Plymouth competitors like Chevrolet.'
DaimlerChrysler spokesman Infante said the new Chrysler Voyager's positioning is like the Plymouth Voyager's.
'It will still be the value vehicle in the segment,' he said. 'We are still going to offer it under $20,000 for the short wheelbase. We're the only company offering a minivan under $20,000.'