Chrysler Group wants to keep its stake in the ground in the minivan segment, which has seen a big drop in volume as consumers flee for crossovers, and new versions of competitive vehicles from Toyota and Honda.
The automaker is introducing a "Minivan Pledge," allowing those who purchase a new 2011 Chrysler Town & Country or Dodge Grand Caravan during April to return the vehicle -- no questions asked -- within 60 days. Consumers can also choose customer cash or special financing starting at 2.9% for 60 months.
Other incentives offered by the Auburn Hills, Mich. automaker are $750 in cash for consumers who buy a Town & Country, up to $1,500 in trade-in bonus cash and $1,000 owner loyalty cash for buyers of the Dodge Grand Caravan.
The company is also putting cash on the hood of other vehicles in all divisions: buyers of the 2011 Chrysler 200 Convertible are eligible for $750 or as low as 0% for 36 months. The 2011 Jeep is offering $3,000 in consumer cash or as low as 0% for 60 months on Liberty; $500 worth of "Mopar Bucks" accessories with 2011 Jeep Wrangler; and lease deals on other Jeep models. Dodge is offering cash deals on its vehicles and the Ram Truck division is offering $1,000 in trade-in cash or attractive financing rates for pickups.
Jeremy Anwyl, president of Edmunds.com, says the waters are choppy when it comes to predicting where incentives will go, but says that chances are they won't be around for long, particularly with smaller vehicles. "It's a real mixed bag," he says, adding that fuel prices, shortages consequent to the disasters in Japan, and -- for minivans -- competitive pressure from other segments are driving incentives up in some areas and down in others. But he says that as supplies get short toward summer, incentives may become harder to find, regardless of vehicle segment.
"If you had a friend who came up wondering if they should wait to buy a car, your best advice would be 'don't wait for the summer,'" he says. "Most consumers are conditioned to expect sales in July and August, but across the board, the impact of shortages will be really starting in May. There's absolutely no reason for people to wait and every reason to buy."
He says Chrysler is focusing on minivans because vehicles like the new Honda Odyssey and Toyota's Sienna are very competitive. "Chrysler has been very public about not wanting give up their position of dominance, especially as the segment has been declining." The biggest competitors, he explains, are not minivans at all -- but crossovers like the Ford Explorer, which the automakers are pitching for their minivan-like people-hauler qualities. "These vehicles are essentially minivans with big hoods and big wheels. They are actually less practical than minivans, but people buy them anyway."
Indeed, Brandon Rea, VP of automotive sales at Vibrant Media, a digital marketing firm that does contextual advertising linked to specific words in editorial content for a range of automakers, says he sees marketers targeting consumers with feature-specific pitches for crossovers around features like "does it have three rows."
Interestingly, his firm has launched a new creative approach for Ford's Explorer. Instead of ad windows with sidebars showing pricing offers, they now have social-media pitches. "We incorporate buttons on the left side, and typically these are low-funnel actions, like search inventory, find a dealer, get a quote, etc. But we are flipping that now with 'follow us,' 'like us,' 'watch us,' or 'come to our site,' that lets a user decide which social media outlet they want to engage with."