Ralph Gilles -- formerly Chrysler's wunderkind designer and the force behind vehicles like the Chrysler 300 -- is now president and CEO of the Dodge brand, and he admits he has his work cut out for him.
In laying out his plans for the troubled division at a press conference during Chrysler's day-long, five-year plan event on Nov. 4, Gilles said that for the Dodge division, being best-known for the Ram truck brand is part of the challenge. "If you ask the average American what Dodge is about, they talk trucks," he conceded. "That is a bit of the problem."
To address this, going forward, Ram -- although still in the Dodge division -- will be made a sub-brand (minus the Dodge name) that is marketed separately from all other Dodge products, Gilles reported. The Dodge name will be all about cars, with a new "Dodge" logo to help clearly differentiate it from Ram, Gilles reported.
The Ram rebranding efforts commence on the evening of Nov. 4, with a major ad push bearing the theme: "My name is Ram." The company will air new creative on NBA, NHL and other major sports programming, as well as across the prime-time spectrum (190 airings in all).
The new ads feature a series of salt-of-the-earth voiceovers, each starting with the new "My name is Ram" brand declaration. (Sample copy: "My tank is full. I am fueled by optimism, stopped by nothing, a can-do spirit in a get-it-done body" and "I'm a technological marvel: all brawn, all brain, built not to last but to outlast, not to achieve but overachieve.")
The campaign is part of a grand strategy to focus the Ram brand on hard-core commercial and recreational users. "First we will create a Ram brand identity; second, we will focus on truck customers and emphasize trucks and commercial vehicles," said Fred Diaz, president and CEO of the Ram brand.
Ram's relationship to the Dodge parent brand should now be viewed as being akin to the relationships of iPod, Mac, or iPhone to Apple, according to Diaz. "They are part of Apple, but also compelling brands on their own," he said.
As for the direction of Dodge cars, "we will amplify the youthfulness of the Dodge brand that resonates with 'inner mojo,'" declared Gilles, noting that people are retaining young attitudes and lifestyles. "Fun is ageless," and Chrysler "has to reflect that in our products," he said. "We will create cars that are functional and still spirited."
All Dodge vehicles "will represent lifestyle, not age groups or price classes," Gilles stressed, punctuating the statement with a video showing how Dodge cars will be central to Chrysler's efforts to establish street cred as a performance brand.
The near-term plan will be a revision of current product packaging. "We will try to do as much as possible in this quarter, then hit hard in the first quarter of next year with a complete rebranding and new marketing," he reported, adding that the changes include ditching the classic "base, mid and high" paradigm for vehicle packaging. "The reality is that most buy in the base. But they see what they want and can't afford."
Instead, Dodge will create packaging based on personality types like "Uptown Luxury" and "Cool and Extroverted."
Specific changes include a repackaging of Dodge Nitro to create a more youth-focused vehicle. "Every product will go through that treatment," Gilles added. "We will take it through the filter to make it cooler than it ever was and improve the fundamentals, including retuning the driving experience. I want my cars to feel different. I want to bring the Fiat feeling to Dodge."
All told, by 2014, Dodge will have 11 products that are either all-new or refreshed. But the Viper muscle car will not be among them: Chrysler will make 500 more and then end that line, according to Gilles. Instead, it will focus on rolling out a Viper replacement, based on Fiat's sports-car platform, in 2012.