Does the name "Chrysler" get your juices flowing? Make you crave the open road? Conjure visions of yourself in your dream car? Compel you to open your wallet?
Anybody who answers yes might want to rush out and buy a Chrysler right away (deals abound!) because the enduring American nameplate might not be around that much longer. While much of the alarming news from Detroit over recent weeks has focused on General Motors and Ford—which could both run out of cash in 2009 and face the prospect of bankruptcy—the No. 3 U.S. automaker is probably in even worse shape.
Overall Chrysler sales, which include the Jeep and Dodge nameplates, are down 26 percent for the year, compared with 15 percent for the industry and 21 percent for the three domestic automakers combined. Chrysler, arguably, has no compelling small or midsize passenger cars of the kind thrifty buyers want these days. It recently canceled one of its more innovative vehicles, the Dodge Durango hybrid, just weeks after introducing it—a panicky move. Even worse, GM bailed out of a proposed merger with Chrysler to tend to its own mounting problems, which leaves Chrysler's regretful owner—the private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management—increasingly desperate to unload its unloved stepchild.
But what if Chrysler LLC suddenly became the Jeep Corp.?
That's an intriguing idea floated by CNW Marketing Research, an Oregon-based research firm with a track record of predicting industry trends. In a fresh study, CNW found that the Jeep brand resonates much more strongly with car shoppers than any other brand under the Chrysler umbrella. The findings suggest that Chrysler might not survive the worst automotive downturn in decades, but it might have a better chance if it consolidated its vehicles under the Jeep name. Details of the study:
The Jeep brand is much cooler than Chrysler. No surprise here, since Jeeps still connote rugged off-roading and teenage adventure. Specifically, CNW found that a Jeep vehicle is nearly twice as "acceptable" to friends, relatives, and colleagues as a Chrysler vehicle, which is considered more stodgy. And Jeeps convey a much stronger self-image to their owners.
Even baby boomers prefer the Jeep brand over Chrysler. That's surprising, given that Jeep models like the Wrangler and Liberty, designed for unfriendly terrain, tend to punish aching backs, while Chrysler products like the 300 sedan or the Pacifica crossover are pretty plush. But boomers are probably voting with their egos.
Jeep connotes quality. The perception isn't entirely accurate: The Jeep lineup scored below average in J.D. Power's 2008 quality ratings, on a par with Mitsubishi and Suzuki. But apparently, the ability to ford a stream counts as quality, even if the A/C or cruise control blinks out occasionally.
Chrysler LLC could drop most of its Chrysler and Dodge products. Consumers would barely notice, even though it would throw thousands of workers out of their jobs and cause upheaval at the company.
Some Dodge trucks could take the Jeep badge. The Dodge Ram pickup truck still commands a loyal following. And Jeep has no pickup: You do the math. Dodge SUVs like the Durango and the Journey could survive just as well if they were Jeeps.
Some old Jeep names still resonate. Retired names like Wagoneer, Comanche, and Renegade could be revived and applied to Dodge products.
There's one question CNW can't answer just yet: If the whole company became the Jeep Corp., what would happen to Chrysler's minivans, its one other successful lineup? Surely Jeep aficionados would gag if a gaggle of staid minivans joined the rowdy family. But what about selling the minivan lineup to GM? The last competitive minivan that GM fielded was the . . . well, there never was one. In fact, Chrysler's minivans are the one part of the product portfolio GM could use the most. A fanciful idea, perhaps. But Detroit could use a few of those.