Carmakers are offering more new models than ever before, creating niches that blur traditional boundaries between market segments and brands.
The way we count them at Automotive News, there are 1,584 distinct light-vehicle models on sale in the United States this year. That's 200 more than just two years ago, and 500 more models than were available in 1999.
Creating segment busters built on consumer needs is good. Straying too far from your brand DNA is bad.
The Chrysler group, which is on a roll, is prepared to take the risk.
Dodge will replace the Neon sedan next year with a production version of the unique five-door Caliber concept shown in Geneva. It's part SUV, part sport wagon and part hatchback. Mostly, though, it's indescribably a segment buster.
Dodge also plans a rear-drive competitor for the Ford Mustang and probably will bring back the Challenger name.
Thirty-five years ago, Chrysler introduced the original Challenger to join the Plymouth Barracuda in the sales race with the other pony cars, namely the Mustang, Mercury Cougar, Chevy Camaro, Pontiac Firebird and American Motors AMX.
So that's not much of a stretch for Dodge.
But the Jeep brand likely will get two new vehicles based on -- yikes! -- car platforms. They'll compete with the likes of Subaru, but they aren't meant for rugged off-roading, which probably will bring a round of loud howls and squawks from Jeep traditionalists. The stronger the brand, the more difficult it is to stretch. And Jeep is a strong brand.
On top of that, there's buzz that the Chrysler brand may get an SUV based on the Dodge Durango. Imagine: In a couple of years the Chrysler brand could comprise the PT Cruiser, Sebring, Sebring convertible, Crossfire, 300 cars and an SUV.
Now that's a stretch.
There's a fine line between expanding a brand and diluting it. The trick is to know where it is.
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