Tuesday, July 3, 2007

'New' Chrysler plans debut party

Automaker, dealers to celebrate return to American ownership

Christine Tierney / The Detroit News

Soon-to-be-single Chrysler is sending out invitations and party kits to its 3,700 dealers to celebrate its rebirth as an all-American company.

Chrysler hasn't set the date but has told Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep dealers the big event is likely to take place between July 25 and Aug. 10, after DaimlerChrysler AG completes the sale of the Auburn Hills automaker to Cerberus Capital Management LLC.

The new company, which will be called Chrysler Corp., also will reach out to consumers with bold TV, radio and print advertisements, according to a memo sent to dealers that was obtained by The Detroit News.

Chrysler spokesman David Barnas declined to discuss details but confirmed the company was planning a big coming-out event.

"We're including the entire family in our plans to launch the new company, including our dealer body," he said.

Dealers have been seeking reassurance from Chrysler after months of uncertainty following the Feb. 14 announcement that the automaker was up for sale.

"It's a great idea," dealer Ken Zangara of Zangara Dodge in Albuquerque, N.M., said of the "New" Chrysler premiere event.

"It's very exciting to be an American company once again. It's positive for Chrysler and its employees, and for dealers and their employees," Zangara said.

Houston dealer Alan Helfman is lining up local musicians for the big night and planning a buffet.

"I'll probably do chicken wings. I'm going to do Hickory Barn Bar-B-Q sausage on a stick. Maybe I'll do a little dirty rice," said Helfman, vice president at River Oaks Chrysler Jeep. "It's going to be a nice evening."

Chrysler had proposed to offer customers free oil changes for their vehicles as part of the event but dropped that idea after sounding out dealers.

The company is studying other possible rewards, such as coupons, to attract prospective car buyers. It will send dealers banners to hang in their showrooms and decorations featuring Chrysler's new logo.

"The 'New' Chrysler is the beginning of an important new chapter in Chrysler's history," Chrysler sales executives Darryl Jackson and Mike Keegan said in the memo.

The cost to launch the "New" Chrysler, including the party kits and advertising campaign, is expected to run in the tens of millions of dollars.

Chrysler's bid to reinvent itself as an American company will have little impact on consumers "unless they can take that and say, 'American means this when it comes to brand image and design,'" said Wes Brown, a partner at Iceology, a brand consulting firm in Los Angeles.

"If they can do that, then maybe you've got something if you find that emotional connection with consumers," he said. "They need ultimately to decide who they want to be, and make sure the product line supports that."

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