Monday, April 14, 2008

Boomers' babies a Challenger market


Dodge Challenger SRT at its Chicago debut

PASADENA, Calif. -- More than just a trip down memory lane for baby boomers, the new Challenger performance coupe could establish Dodge with buyers in their 20s and 30s if the brand plays its cards right.

Most buyers in their 20s and early 30s "don't know what Dodge is. That's scary, but it's also a huge opportunity," Mike Accavitti, director of Dodge marketing and Chrysler LLC's SRT performance group, said after a day driving the 2008 Challenger SRT8 over twisting mountain roads through the Angeles National Forest west of Pasadena, Calif.

"Our opportunity is to reach them with the Challenger's expressive looks. Design drove Scion's success," Accavitti said, citing Toyota's youth-oriented brand as a model.

It seems counterintuitive that a five-passenger performance model that revives the name and shape of a 1970s muscle car could be Dodge's ticket to buyers who hadn't been born when the car was new, but Accavitti said company research supports the plan.

Generation X, the baby boomers' children, has been the largest group on the Internet showing an intent to buy a Challenger, he said, and the Dodge Charger and Caliber both sell surprisingly well to women younger than 29, the age group demographers call "millennials." The high-horsepower Caliber SRT4 also has begun to catch on in the youth-dominated front-wheel drive drag-racing circles, he said.

"Our data supports Dodge's conclusions," said Rebecca Lindland, analyst with Global Insight, Lexington, Mass. "I'm not surprised at all that millennials like the car."

Global Insight has done extensive research into what motivates buyers in differing age groups, including its Generational Dynamics study that automakers use in their planning.

The 2008 Challenger SRT8's $37,320 base price and EPA fuel economy ratings of 13 m.p.g. in the city and 18 m.p.g. on the highway may put it out of reach for most young buyers, but Accavitti isn't worried.

"We absolutely expect young people to buy it when we have the full line available this fall for the 2009 model year," he said. Dodge hasn't revealed pricing for the base Challenger model, but look for the 250-horsepower V6 car to start well under $30,000 and get 17 m.p.g. in the city and 25 m.p.g. on the highway.

Accavitti won't give any specific sales goal, but millennials account for 6% of the total car-buying public and he expects their share of Challenger sales to exceed that.

In addition to the Challenger's unique looks, he expects the car's main drawing cards to be performance, rear-seat room, value compared with other sporty coupes, and options like hands-free phone capability and a hard drive to hold thousands of songs.

Accavitti admits that Dodge isn't certain why cars like the Charger and Caliber seem to have struck a chord with up-and-coming buyers.

"I'm interested to see how this plays out," he said. "The Challenger is a test case. It's up to us. How do we market the car to these people?"

Many baby boomers have affection for cars like the Challenger, while many of their children -- Generation X -- feel distrust or antipathy toward Detroit's brands.

"The millennials haven't developed an impression, yet," he said. "They're up for grabs. We think we can get their attention with the Challenger.

"Then we have to create the rest of the product line to draw them in and keep them."

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