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Jeep to lead local Chrysler revival

The year of the Jeep: The Grand Cherokee kicks off a bumper year for Jeep.

Fiat-owned Chrysler to focus on American brands, for now

Chrysler logo31 Jan 2011

CHRYSLER Group Australia has announced an American-branded, fresh product-led recovery over the next three years, spearheaded by Jeep this year, Chrysler in 2012, and Dodge after that – including the possibility of Ram trucks and muscle cars.

This strategy will preclude the short-term adoption of Chrysler’s European sister brands for the time being – including Fiat, Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, Maserati and even Lancia – as the Australian arm of the US company focuses its limited resources on growing Jeep, Chrysler and Dodge.

However, whether the manufacturer-owned importer will eventually take on the Italian marques from existing Australian importer Ateco Automotive is not yet known, even within local management ranks, according to Chrysler Australia managing director Clyde Campbell.

“This year is all about Jeep,” Mr Campbell told GoAuto last week.

“We don’t have anything fresh with Chrysler or Dodge in 2011, so Jeep is what we are going to concentrate on. But I want to say that Chrysler will be our focus next year.”

Asked if or when the Italian marques will switch to being brought in by Chrysler Group Australia, Mr Campbell admitted that he has not yet had that discussion with his Fiat Group superiors in Italy.

“I haven’t even asked my (Fiat) bosses… and I honestly do not know, so I can’t say,” Mr Campbell said.

“My plate is full right now growing the three American brands.”“In the past, previous bosses were not given the full resources they needed to achieve their goals. It’s now been made available to us for our team to go out and make a go of it.”

 center imageFrom top: Chrysler Australia managing director Clyde Campbell, Dodge Challenger, Chrysler 200 sedan.

Chrysler is confident that the lower repositioning of the Grand Cherokee against the top-selling Toyota Kluger and Ford Territory – dropping the entry-level price by $15,000 – is the first step towards a more prosperous future, as it will expose the revitalised medium SUV to a new and larger audience in Australia.

Although he would not be drawn on sales expectations (“the customer certainly doesn’t care if a company makes its volume targets – only the manufacturers do”), Mr Campbell said that doubling the Grand Cherokee’s best year is the long-term goal.

“We will more than double the 2000-and-a-bit we did in the best year with Grand Cherokee,” he said.

Other new model activity from Jeep in the next 12 months will include a revised Wrangler series (the brand’s bestseller by far), facelifted Patriot and Compass compact SUVs, the addition of an all-new diesel engine in the new petrol-only Grand Cherokee range and a raft of 70th anniversary Jeep special editions.

In the Chrysler corner, the new-model avalanche arrives from 2012 with the new-generation 300C, as well as the restyled Sebring mid-size sedan, which has been rechristened the Chrysler 200.

While Dodge will bounce along with the current Jeep Cherokee-based Nitro mid-size SUV (569 sales in 2010), Journey people mover/crossover wagon (1228 sales in 2010) and Caliber small car (only 120 sold last year), there is potential for boosting the brand’s fortunes in Australia.

“We’re trying very hard to get some sort of right-hand drive production deal going with other markets,” Mr Campbell said of the next-generation Ram truck range.

“And I can’t see why (Dodge in America) could not engineer a right-hand drive version of the Durango (medium SUV) … since it is based on the Grand Cherokee anyway.”

Mr Campbell denied that he was considering killing the Dodge brand in Australia due to slow sales.

“We’re lucky that we have three products and that two of them are successful (Journey and Nitro), so that creates a reason for us to say, ‘let’s keep going’.

“We’re also lucky in that there are some platforms that they’re building future Dodge products on overseas that give us hope that we can get it, and we will continue to pursue that. But, until we have a concrete announcement, we don’t want to put any false hope in the marketplace about what might or might not be available.”

Asked about the chances of Australia getting the Dodge Challenger – a Chevrolet Camaro and Ford Mustang muscle car competitor – Mr Campbell said he would “love to” sell it.

Tellingly, he said that global Fiat chief Sergio Marchionne has pledged to engineer all future products for right-hand drive, opening the way for the next-generation of all Chrysler and Fiat group vehicles to be eventually sold in Australia.

“I’ve heard him tell the engineering team that ‘if you’re going to draw up a car, draw it for both right and left-hand drive if you come back and show me a left-hand drive only, you had better have a very compelling reason as to why that is the case’… so (the order) has come from a very high place and it has very simple logic: do it right in the first place, and the rest will flow.”

Expect all future Jeeps, Chryslers and Dodges to adopt the “value added” strategy pioneered on the new Grand Cherokee. As a former Mercedes-Benz Asia Pacific executive, Mr Campbell helped formulate a similar plan for the successful W204 C-class launched in Australia in 2007.

“That was seen as a very risky strategy within Mercedes-Benz. It had never been tried before and many people were worried, but it worked really well.”

Nevertheless, he admitted that Chrysler Australia needs to move away from the price reduction and retail-heavy promotions that have been the main focus for Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge since 2008.

“We’ve been in a bad spot over the last two years where we’ve had to do heavy discounting. It’s not been a brand-building exercise, but it did work.

“In the past few years people have been buying our deals rather than our cars. That is going to change.

“I’ve told my dealers that if they want to discount, then they can do it at their dealerships only.”

Growing volume profitably for both the dealerships and Chrysler Group Australia is Mr Campbell’s immediate plan.

“Our ambition is to be a credible business proposition for our dealers and a viable proposition for our buyers,” he said.

Mr Campbell is confident that the group will achieve another record-breaking year in 2011 and will continue to grow the business strongly after that.

“Exceed 12,000 sales in 2011? Comfortably,” he said.

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