DETROIT - Moving to blunt stiffening competition from sport-utilities and Asian entries in its bread-and-butter segment, the Chrysler group has cranked up minivan production and launched a national marketing blitz to sell 100,000 of the vehicles in 75 days.
The program, launched April 23 with a $2,500 cash back or 0 percent financing incentive, ends July 8. If achieved, the 100,000 sales would represent a 25 percent increase over the same 75-day period of last year.
Gary Dilts, senior vice president for sales, said the Chrysler group is pushing minivans "to play offense" as segment sales slow.
"While the minivan segment is not continuing to grow, it is still 1.2 million vehicles in the U.S., and we get 40 percent of that," he said. "The minivan has been challenged by seven-passenger sport-utilities and by Korean competitors, but it's still holding share and volume."
The decision to focus its model-year push on minivans was made because the family vehicle sells best in the spring and summer, Dilts said.
"If you push in the spring market, you push where you have strength and where you have a bit of extra capacity," he said.
"You get caught if you try to water all the flowers. Sometimes, if it's the right time, you do a lone push. My experience is that you often sell more of other products, too."
To meet demand, production has been increased through overtime at the Windsor, Ontario, and St. Louis minivan plants.
Dilts said minivan sales have risen 30 percent since the campaign began. He said there are shortages of the short-wheelbase versions in several areas of the United States.
"We can sell every minivan we can get our hands on," Dilts said. "We're scrambling to get enough engines and wheels" for production.
On May 1, the automaker had a 44-day supply of Dodge Caravans, up from 41 days on April 1; a 63-day supply of Chrysler Voyagers, up from 50 days; and a 71-day supply of Town & Countrys, up from 66.
Dilts said Dodge and Chrysler dealer councils are running local minivan campaigns in addition to national advertising.
Ken Zangara, owner of Zangara Dodge in Albuquerque, N.M., said the program is yielding sharply higher sales. "The first weekend we doubled our minivan sales, and we are on track to sell twice as many as we did last month," he said. "We're very happy with the program."
Ford Motor Co. offers a $3,000 cash back and low financing on its Windstar minivan. General Motors has $3,000 cash back or financing offers on its minivans.