Dodge must pick up on European niche

DaimlerChrysler intends to follow up its recent success of the Smart Car with the launch of Dodge. But the brand, famous in the US for its pick-up trucks, may struggle to appeal to a European market.

The launch of a new car marque is not undertaken with the frequency of other consumers goods. But DaimlerChrysler is considering following up its recent launch of the Smart Car on the UK market by introducing another brand, Dodge, famous in the US for its pick-up trucks (MW last week).

Under the instructions of vice-president of global sales and marketing Jim Schroer, DaimlerChrysler is evaluating the possibility of launching Dodge outside the US, in particular in Europe.

While there may be nothing particularly exciting about another car brand being introduced to an already over-crowded market, Dodge will bring something completely new to the UK. But it also faces a huge potential stumbling block: the classic pick-up truck, so popular with US drivers, may not appeal to a European market.

That said, style guru David Beckham last month bought a &£24,000 pick-up truck, the Ford F-150 supercab designed Dodge by Harley-Davidson. Whenever he buys something, the media has a feeding frenzy and the product is touted as the next “big thing”. If he is indeed the trendsetter the tabloid press make him out to be, then DaimlerChrysler could be onto a winner.

But as with any new car marque, DaimlerChrysler must carve out a positioning for Dodge that sets it apart from existing brands.

Probably one of the most successful launches of the past decade was Daewoo. The little-known Korean car giant eased itself into the UK market in 1995 by cutting out the middleman and opting for quirky, no-nonsense marketing.

Daewoo’s strategy of not having dealers – which it has since reversed – was an attempt to differentiate itself from other car manufacturers.

Daewoo took a one per cent share of UK sales in its first 12 months, but only after the company had spent a lot of money on advertising.

Tom Vick joint managing director of DFGW, the agency responsible for Daewoo’s advertising, believes the biggest issue for DaimlerChrysler will be attracting enough buyers of Dodge-branded cars to make any European launch worth the US company’s effort.

“The issue with any brand launching in a mature market is: can it gain critical mass?” says Vick. “Whether, in other words, it can gain that all important one per cent of the market.

“If DaimlerChrysler is going to launch Dodge over here, then its success would depend on which models it chooses to distribute in Europe.”

DaimlerChrysler produces 11 cars for the Dodge line-up. Seventy per cent of the brand’s sales are achieved by pick-up trucks. The best-selling models are Dakota and Ram, which retail at around $16,000 (&£10,500) to $20,000 (&£13,100) in the US. In the UK it is very likely that they would have a higher price, as cars are generally a lot cheaper in the US than the UK.

In order to gain that crucial one per cent of the UK car market, DaimlerChrysler would need to sell around 30,000 models a year.

But the Dodge brand is not just about low-cost pick-ups. It also has several saloon-style cars. In addition, Dodge produces what is considered to be the ultimate American sportscar: the 450-horsepower Viper, with a V10 engine.

Viper is best-known for its participation in Le Mans 24-hour endurance race held in France each year.

Viper retails in the US at about $75,000 (&£49,200) and if introduced to Europe, it would be marketed as a luxury car. If DaimlerChrysler could can sell 500 of the sportscars at about &£50,000 a year, the model would constitute a viable business for the company.

But the model that is most likely to sell in Europe is the Dodge M80, a mini pick-up concept unveiled at this year’s Detroit Motor Show in January. While some European markets, such as Germany and Sweden, favour large cars, the desire to drive huge “gas-guzzling” vehicles in Europe is not as great as it is in the US.

Mustoe Merriman Levy planning director Andrew Levy knows the difficulties of launching a new car marque. He worked on Kia’s 1999 relaunch in the UK after an absence of two years.

“The most important thing DaimlerChrysler will have to establish is its positioning. What we had was a cheap car from Korea, a &£6m media spend and a brief to make the car stand out,” says Levy.

Kia Cars adopts a “green strategy” with its advertising. The strapline is ” Think before you drive”, which allows the company to promote alternative transport solutions. The policy encourages consumers to limit their use of cars and to seek alternative transport, such as cycling or walking, when possible.

Levy adds: “Volvo got hold of the idea of safety, Volkswagen has reliability, and BMW is about your success as a consumer,” he adds. “We decided one of the biggest issues was the impact cars have, so we launched a campaign about thinking before you drive.”

DaimlerChrysler will have to carve a niche for Dodge too. Perhaps not so tall a task for a car manufacturer with recent experience of launching a brand on the UK market, having unveiled the Smart Car and its own network of dealers last year. The car has proved a success and is to be launched in the US later this month.

The tiny two-seater city car is reasonably priced and economical to run. It retails from about &£6,000 and to fill its tank costs about &£16. NCP has reportedly created small spaces especially for the car, which are cheaper than normal spaces.

Maher Bird’s managing director Graham Monk, who worked on the launch of the Smart Car, says: “We don’t think of Smart as being a car, it’s more a lifestyle.”

At another extreme, DaimlerChrysler is also reintroducing a luxury marque, the Maybach. The car is touted as “motoring refinement at the highest level”. And highest level it is. There will be two models: the Maybach 57, retailing at E310,000 (&£198,243), and the Maybach 62, which starts at E360,000 (&£230,218).

If the Dodge is introduced and a dealer network is established, many people believe Europeans, particularly in countries such as the UK and Germany, will buy them.

Banks Hoggins O’Shea.FCB managing director Sven Olsen says: “The car market is becoming more niche, and Europeans haven’t discovered pick-ups before, but I bet they do well.”

Recent car launches seem to prove that there is always room for one more marque, especially if it supplies the market with a product that stands out from the crowd.

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