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Chrysler Seeks to Hike German Sales

October 23, 2002

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BERLIN (AP) _ U.S. automaker Chrysler hopes to finally find the onramp to the autobahn with a new ad campaign aimed at boosting its minuscule sales in Germany, Europe’s largest car market.

The campaign, unveiled Tuesday by company executives, uses classic Chryslers such as the curvy 1934 Airflow to try to win over Germans who might know that Chrysler merged with their familiar Daimler-Benz in 1998 _ but otherwise have only foggy notions of the U.S. half of the deal.

Chrysler, still embroiled in a turnaround effort that brought it back into profit in the first quarter of this year after six quarters of losses, has a long way to go in the land of Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen.

It sold 17,251 Chrysler-badged cars in Germany last year, far behind U.S. rivals Ford and GM, which have had strong European images and subsidiaries for years. German authorities registered 296,550 Fords and 394,586 cars from Opel, GM’s subsidiary, last year.

That gives Chrysler just 0.69 percent of the market. It hopes to raise that to 1 percent by 2006 _ hardly enough to worry rivals, but close to a 50 percent increase in sales for the company.

Unveiled at Berlin’s Tempelhof airport, the ads draw on the more stylish cars in Chrysler’s history and the glamor of American cultural icons, such as actor Humphrey Bogart, who either drove a Chrysler or were in a movie with one.

``Route 66 meets the German autobahn,″ said Hartwig Hirtz, the executive responsible for Chrysler and Jeep at DaimlerChrysler’s sales and marketing office in Berlin.

``Right now the Chrysler brand is not well known in Germany,″ Hirtz said. ``If you ask a BMW driver what he’s driving, he says a BMW, not a BMW 7-series. But if you ask someone driving a Voyager what they’re driving, they say, ’A Voyager.‴ They say, ’Oh, it’s a Chrysler?‴

The campaign, which starts Monday in major German magazines and newspapers, is the latest effort to wring synergies out of the sometimes-rocky 1998 merger with Daimler-Benz. One of the reasons that pushed Chrysler, based in Auburn Hills, Mich., toward a deal with its foreign partner was its own lack of sales outside North America.

German consumers may know the name mainly from news media coverage of Chrysler’s recent financial woes. Headlines have called the U.S. division ``the American patient″ dragging down the group’s profits, which have been buoyed by the Stuttgart-based Mercedes-Benz and Smart division during rough times.

Combining the different divisions’ strengths is a key part of Daimler-Chrysler chairman Juergen Schrempp’s strategy to forge a truly global mass-market auto maker. Officials said they hoped to burnish the brand to pave the way for the introduction next year of the Chrysler Crossfire, a U.S. sports car with a Mercedes-Benz engine and transmission, and the turbocharged version of the PT Cruiser.

A TV version of the ads is planned for the coming weeks, company officials said.

The print ads use, among others, writer Ernest Hemingway, said to have driven a Chrysler New Yorker during his years in Cuba, and actor James Dean, who drove a Chrysler Imperial Roadster in the film ``Giant″ _ though in real life he was driving his favorite Porsche 550 Spyder when he was killed in a 1955 accident.