Jun 6 2014, 10:32am CDT | by Forbes
Fiat Chrysler is pivoting further in a new marketing direction as it launches TV advertisements on Saturday for the completely overhauled new version of its Chrysler 200 sedan.
The biggest change is that for the first time since the company emerged from bankruptcy, the car is the real star of a Chrysler-brand commercial.
Gone in the new spots is four years of emphasis on the brand’s gritty Detroit roots as actual Chrysler vehicles, understandably, played second fiddle. It was only a makeshift 200 that first bore the badge when the nameplate was introduced in the Eminem commercial during the Super Bowl in 2011, a re-skinned Sebring that deliberately lurked in the shadows of the iconic “Born of Fire” ad.
The new “Born Makers” ads are “the first signal of — I don’t want to call it the ‘new Chrysler brand’ — but the first step of what you’ll see happening with the brand and our products over the next five years,” Marissa Hunter, global director of brand advertising for Chrysler Group, told me. “It shows the kind of innovation and technology that we’re very committed to, with the promise of more to come.”
Indeed, this time around, early reviewers confirm that the new 200 is a winner — what amounts to a completely new entry that finally makes Chrysler a worthy competitor in the U.S. small-car market. Or, as Chrysler itself claims in the new 60-second spot, the new 200 is “a car with swagger. Intelligence. Soul. A car that proves a well-made sedan doesn’t have to cross an ocean to be worthy of American driveways.”
The “supporting lead” in these new commercials actually is the Sterling Heights, Mich., plant where the 200 is assembled. There are plenty of glimpses in the ads of the plant’s state-of-the-art production technology. And in that sense, Chrysler workers, too, are featured.
“The plant has been completely reconstructed, with wholly new processes, and all of the plant’s workers have been [re-trained], and the technology is world-class,” Hunter said.
As Hunter put it, “We believe the car represents Chrysler on its best day.”
So far, Chrysler dealers, at least, seem to be agreeing. The new 200 began arriving in Chrysler dealerships in small numbers in May, with greater volumes expected by July; 10,000 vehicle orders were placed by dealers on the first day, and more than 17,000 in the first two days.
It’s crucial for the new 200 to do well out of the gate because the Chrysler brand lineup is about as threadbare as it can get at the moment. And the brand has got to start to make up some sales-volume ground if it is to come anywhere close to CEO Sergio Marchionne’s goals of more than doubling global Chrysler sales by 2018, to 800,000 units from last year’s 350,000, and of positioning Chrysler to compete seriously with established mid-market brands including Ford and Toyota.
With production and sales of the old 200 being phased out lately, Chrysler brand sales were down 22 percent in May overall compared with a year earlier and 14 percent for the year to date.
The larger 300 sedan — a sensation in its own right when it was launched several years ago, and demonstrating remarkable staying power since then — has suffered an 11-percent drop in sales for the year to date.
The lone bright spot in Chrysler’s stable has been a surprising one: Town & Country, the only other Chrysler nameplate, has seen sales rise by 16 percent so far this year even though the major competing minivans, Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna, have experienced flat sales in 2014. The Dodge Caravan minivan has experienced even more success than its sibling, with sales rising by 21 percent for the year.
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