Dodge dealers are gearing up to push the brand as part of a new-product barrage, says Dan Feeny, chairman of the Dodge National Dealer Council.
Dodge wants to regain sales after an "extremely difficult" 2003, Feeny says.
This year, Dodge will begin selling the 2005 Dodge Magnum wagon, an updated Grand Caravan and a redesigned Dodge Dakota.
"There will be new consideration to the Dodge lineup," Feeny says.
Feeny was interviewed by Staff Reporter Mary Connelly.
How was the past year for Dodge?
It certainly has been a challenge because of things that have happened, including the war in Iraq, stock market volatility and unemployment. There was a lot of uncertainty that slowed consumer confidence down.
It wasn't the worst year we ever had. But it was extremely difficult.
In terms of volume and profitability?
It is industrywide. The manufacturers are incentivizing to the highest levels they have ever had to bring customers into the showrooms. It is difficult because the incentives are so confusing to customers. We are working to simplify them as much as possible.
What are the prospects for 2004?
The manufacturing sector is starting to increase. The unemployment rate is improving. That will generate more consumer confidence.
Dodge has an onslaught of new products. Our product lineup was getting a little long in the tooth. We have five new products. We have a new Durango, Caravan, Magnum, SRT-10 pickup and Dakota.
With effective product launches and new product, there will be new consideration for the Dodge lineup. People love new products. I am upbeat about the prospects for 2004 and 2005.
Are you concerned about selling rear-wheel drive in the Magnum?
Not with the new traction control and stability systems. People will like the way the car rides. Rear-wheel drive is far superior in its handling characteristics. With the new systems, these types of cars will be extremely successful. I am not concerned about rear-wheel drive at all. It takes us to a new level.
What is the hot product for Dodge?
It is the Dodge Durango.
What is the weak link?
The weakest link in our product lineup is our passenger cars. The Dodge Stratus is a wonderful car. We just need to market it better. It rides well, and it is priced right. We need to emphasize it with more advertising dollars.
Will that happen?
Once Magnum comes out, Dodge will make a big effort to get back in the car market. That is where we lost our biggest share. The Stratus is a great car. So is the Neon. When is the last time you saw a Stratus or Neon ad?
That is part of the challenge. When your sales are down, and you are spending advertising dollars, you are going to spend advertising dollars on your hottest sellers to bring people into the showroom.
What are the dealer council's top concerns?
Our biggest concern is how can we conquest new-vehicle sales. The key to this conquest is to regain some of the market share we have lost.
The new products will drive consideration to the domestic Dodge line as opposed to the imports. When you think of the Magnum, I don't know anyone who has a similar type vehicle.
And another concern?
Another concern is how do we effectively launch all of these products. We need to work together and communicate.
Both (Chrysler group CEO) Dieter Zetsche and (COO) Wolfgang Bernhard have said they will ask for more feedback from dealers on these launches. They want to talk about option package by region, as opposed to just filling vehicles with options and selling them. They will ask the dealers what we think we can sell. They will be listening to us.
We need to emphasize the quality improvements that Chrysler has made in its lineup. We need to tell the world that. How do we do that? That is the challenge.
When we launch these products, it is important to talk about quality. Quality drives product consideration. If you have good quality, people want to look at your products.
Another concern is parts and service. Service is an integral part of our business. With the quality of cars so much better, our warranty work is diminished. So we need to conquest maintenance work. We need to draw back the business we lost to the Jiffy Lubes and Midas.
How are you tackling this?
The Parts and Service Committee of the dealer council is involved in what we call a "get-it-back" initiative. They are working on formulating marketing programs. As an example, we are now signing up dealers to sell tires in our showrooms. We didn't have time to do those things before because we were doing warranty.
How involved is your dealer council in decisions that affect dealers?
Chrysler probably has the best process of all the manufacturers. We are constantly on the phone with each other. We have conference calls at least every 10 days to discuss business conditions and what they are thinking. The communication between the manufacturer and this council is excellent.
They urge us at all times to pick up the phone and call. They have a genuine interest in listening to what we say. Both Gary Dilts (senior vice president of sales) and George Murphy (senior vice president of global marketing) are very much interested in hearing the dealers perspective.
What is your major goal as chairman for the upcoming year?
My major goal would be to continue to work with the executive council and the 20 regional presidents and to work with the corporate executives to continue the dialogue we have. Effective dialogue makes for better marketing.
Can you point to evidence of the communication between the factory and dealers?
Chrysler through dialogue with the dealer council has come up with a plan to go to the eight business centers throughout the country on a quarterly basis. We will have what is known as go-to-market meetings. This is a great initiative.
We will call together all the dealers from the business center. We will talk about plans for the next quarter and ask for suggestions. They will say, "What do you think? What would you change? What product should we concentrate on? How can we do this better?"