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Dodge refocuses marketing muscle for Challenger, Ram

From Automotive News:

Dodge refocuses marketing muscle for Challenger, Ram
Craig Trudell
Automotive News
June 9, 2008 - 3:23 pm ET

DETROIT -- Dodge will play up fuel economy and affordability as its 2009 Challenger car enters a market with buyers more interested in miles per gallon than muscle.

Among the three Challenger trim levels is the six-cylinder SE, which gets 18 mpg in the city and 25 mpg on the highway and starts at $21,995, including shipping.

Dodge expects the R/T, with its 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 engine, to be the biggest-selling Challenger. The SRT8, with a 6.1-liter Hemi V-8, rounds out the lineup.

A change of focus is needed to adjust the brand's message of power, which has been the thrust of its past marketing, Dodge brand director Mike
Accavitti said during a press event this morning here.

"We can't be all about the monster Hemi and smoking tires, and we realize that," Accavitti told reporters while giving prices for the Challenger.

"Nobody wants to be the gas guzzler brand," he said. "There's not a real secure future in that type of marketing strategy."

Dodge doesn't expect $4-a-gallon gasoline to affect its targeted buyers of the R/T and SRT8, who value performance more than better fuel economy. The R/T starts at $29,995, and the SRT8 is priced at $39,995. Both prices include shipping.

Still, even the 5.7-liter Hemi's 5 percent gain in fuel economy from last year will become a part of the message in Dodge's marketing, Accavitti said.

Refocus for Ram, too
The same Hemi engine will be available for the 2009 Dodge Ram full-sized pickup, which arrives this fall.

Accavitti said Dodge doesn't plan to cut production of the Ram, which has long been its best-selling vehicle but enters a crumbling U.S. market for big trucks.

What will change is more of the same adjustments in the message Dodge uses in its marketing for the Ram.

"We want to go from a message of power, to strength," Accavitti said. "It's not a complete, revolutionary change in direction, but we are evolving to something better-suited to today's marketplace."
"The Hemi guys have had their time," he said.

Study: Dodge a downer
Accavitti said the brand is refocusing after finishing 28th of 36 brands in last week's 2008 J.D. Power and Associates Initial Quality Study.

"That was a missile across our bow, there's no question," he said.
"We understand what happened, though. We were really bottomed-out in our cost-reduction programs. Our interiors were sparse. We took out sound deadening and things like that, and our customers have told us that you shouldn't have done that."

Dodge has made "several hundred" engineering changes since the cars that were included in the survey were built to improve quality, Accavitti said.
"You're always looking to reduce costs, but the challenge becomes how do you do that in a way that doesn't impact the customer, and there are ways," he said.

"There's nothing to look forward to except better quality products from us, and we'll have to wait, unfortunately, for next year's results to see how much we gained."
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