Joe Eberhardt wants to use fleet sales to boost exposure of the Dodge Charger.
The focus on fleets, tied to the launch of the Charger this month, follows a pattern that executives say contributed to the success of the Chrysler 300 last year.
To boost initial production, the automaker also has put no restrictions on discounted sales to employees -- unlike last year when the 300 was being launched.
Dodge also is selling Chargers as police cars.
Combined police car and other fleet business could account for as much as 25 percent of total U.S. Charger sales, said Joe Eberhardt, executive vice president of global sales and marketing for the Chrysler group.
Many automakers make a point of limiting fleet sales of new vehicles. But Eberhardt said the Chrysler group wants to use fleet sales to gain exposure for the rear-drive sedan. Employees purchasing a Charger, meanwhile, can provide feedback on problems, he said.
"I want to do as much fleet business as is profitably doable without sacrificing the residual value and aspiration for the product," said Eberhardt, who was interviewed Monday, May 16, at a press event here.
"I am not of the opinion that there is good and bad fleet business. To me, every business, as long as it is profitable, is good business."
Talks with fleet operators are taking place this month. The fleet-only Charger goes into production this year.
Doug Scott, an analyst with NOP World Automotive in Southfield, Mich., is surprised by the fleet goal.
"I would have thought that more in the range of 8 to10 percent would be an early fleet allocation," Scott says. "I think 25 percent fleet for a brand new model with the potential cachet of the Charger seems to me very high."
Scott says a comparably priced vehicle, the Ford Five Hundred, has a considerably lower target: "I think Ford claims that they only have about 12 to 14 percent of the Five Hundreds going to fleet at the moment."
Not a bad sign
But Jeff Schuster, director of product analysis for J.D. Power and Associates, doesn't think Dodge's fleet goal signals any doubts about the car's sales potential.
Some enthusiasts have criticized the 2006 Charger for its styling and especially because it is a four-door sedan.
The muscle-car Chargers of the 1960s and 1970s had two doors.
"If you were telling me this three months from now," Schuster says, "I probably would have a different reaction if we saw a bump in fleet."
Eberhardt said Chrysler generally is targeting commercial and government fleets because it has been under-represented in those areas.
"I think in general we are targeting about 20, 25 percent of the fleet business," he said, "and I think the Charger is no different."
Eberhardt pointed to the success of the 300. Chrysler put early vehicles in fleets.
"It is a great marketing tool for customers to experience," he said.
"People who wouldn't have thought of the 300 or a Chrysler product for that matter were exposed to it at an early stage."
You may e-mail Rick Kranz at [email protected]