You have to give Tim Kuniskis credit for one thing: He’s not the guy who chooses the well-worn path when it comes to marketing.
Kuniskis was the beneficiary of a newly created position last October that put him in charge of the Dodge, Chrysler and Fiat brands as head of passenger cars for Fiat Chrysler. Those aren’t exactly the easiest brands in the stable to run right now, given that car sales in the U.S. have slipped 5.3 percent this year while light-truck deliveries have increased 11 percent, and all three brands have car-heavy lineups.
But in the last month, Kuniskis has:
- Launched an overhaul of Fiat’s entire U.S. business model, aimed at helping struggling dealers.
- Cracked the checkbook to move slow-selling Chrysler 200s and Dodge Darts, offering subvented zero-interest loans of up to 84 months to move a backlog of the struggling sedans.
- Begun a campaign to introduce Chrysler’s redesigned minivan, the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica, aimed squarely at fathers and not mothers.
I’ve written at length about the changes with Fiat. Only time and dealers will tell how that plays out. But let’s talk about these other moves, starting with the minivan.
Chrysler this week rolled out a series of commercials starring comedian Jim Gaffigan for the Pacifica under the hashtag #DadBrand. The central theme for the spots is, roughly, that driving the Pacifica is safe and the kids like it, and that makes dad more popular.
You could argue -- and you’d get no argument from my immediate family -- that marketing minivans to moms is both played out and ineffective. In fact, when it first launched the 2017 Pacifica, Chrysler actively tried to untie its latest minivan from its past minivans, all aimed at moms, by changing the name.
But minivans are, after all, automotive tools that are far more flexible than SUVs, crossovers, pickups and cars. And traditionally, who’s naturally attracted to tools? Men are. Trust me; the attraction is deep and comically unavoidable: just consider the sales success of virtually any “As Seen on TV” product.
The Pacifica campaign, I think, is creative and likely to work. But I’m not as sure about the efficacy or even the wisdom of seven-year, no-interest loans for the Chrysler 200 and Dodge Dart.
There’s no doubt that car sales are taking it squarely in the teeth, especially as low fuel prices have made larger, taller vehicles more financially attractive. Car sales, as a whole in the U.S., are off 5.3 percent so far this year, while light truck sales are up 11 percent.
But it’s also tough, as a consumer, to bypass the offer of free money from anybody. Who doesn’t like borrowing $30,000 for seven years with a payment of $357.14?
The problem, however, will come if and when those consumers crash one of those cars, or if they try to trade it in before it’s paid off. Both the 200 and the smaller Dart have poor retained value ratings compared with competitors, according to Truecar.com.
According to Truecar’s calculations, a typical new 200 or Dart loses just under half of its value in the first 12 months of ownership, and after five years retains just about a quarter of its initial value.
Yet Kuniskis and FCA still have to entice consumers to buy these sedans. As of April 1, the automaker had a 150-day supply of Chrysler 200s and a 104-day supply of Dodge Darts. A 60-day supply is considered optimal.
While many consumers might not think about the financial consequences of a seven-year loan, perhaps dealers and Chrysler Capital should act on their behalf. After all, such a finance incentive paired with free or greatly reduced GAP coverage would go a long way to easing those fears.
And moving the metal -- which is what Kuniskis’ actions are all about.