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Ralph Gilles is one of the relatively few people who have jumped the fence from design to marketing. Gilles, who made his name at Chrysler Group with vehicles like the Chrysler 300, was appointed president of the company's Dodge brand in October. Actually, he's still penning vehicles, but now gets to draw up marketing decks as well. Marketing Daily caught up with him at the New York International Auto Show this week.

Q: You moved from design and marketing. How is that different from what you were doing?
A: I still do the design piece, and I think what I bring -- what I hope I bring -- is [that] when we design vehicles, we think about the customer intrinsically, so we really try to get into their minds and souls. What I look at now is the original intent of each of my nameplates and wonder if they have drifted from the original vision: were they misrepresented or poorly marketed.

Q: What are some of the challenges with the Dodge brand now?
A: For starters, I want to play to my strengths. When I took over the Dodge brand last year, we immediately looked at our product line and at what was selling and what wasn't. We talked to our dealers and they were very blunt with us about options they would have liked to see at different price classes. We went through and repackaged every model, and now I'm pleased to say that this month everything is in action, all products can be ordered with these new packages.

Q: What's an example?
A: Dodge Nitro. Last year, it didn't do too well. In my Nov. 4 presentation, I used Nitro as an example of a vehicle that was designed to be one thing, but launched as another. So we took the 20-inch wheels and sub-woofer sound system on this $30,000 package and got it down to the low-$20,000 range, and it's selling really well now.

Q: What about the Dodge brand equity? Where does it stand now?
A: Let's look at it this way: We have some very powerful nameplates. The Challenger nameplate has huge recognition, one of the highest in the industry. We have the Charger, which is still doing really well for us. Caliber is picking up. Viper is known all over the world. Fundamentally, the products are there, but the awareness is not. I have a huge job ahead of me to get Dodge awareness way up, much higher than what it is now.

Q: How are you going to define the Dodge brand?
A: We are a bit bipolar to be honest. We have our muscle cars -- the fun, high-image cars -- and then we have family cars: Caliber, Avenger, Caravan and Journey. Going forward, the analogy I want to use is, I want to take a syringe in the back of Dodge Challenger and put it in every other car.

Q: Is that reflected in marketing communications at all yet
A: Our commercials are a little more intelligent. There's a direct conversation we are having. We are talking to our customers as if we understand their strife. We are trying to give you a car at a really good value that makes you feel great. Part of the mantra is giving consumers more than they thought they could get for the same money. We will talk about fundamentals, the value proposition now that we have repackaged our products. Next step is getting our perceived quality where it belongs with new products coming out.

Q: What's next up in terms of advertising campaigns?
A: Spring is when we do our best on minivans, so we are going to emphasize that. We have a new campaign starting in a few weeks that takes the minivan and looks at it in a totally different way. I believe minivans are great for toting kids, but they are also great for many, many other things. So we will have fun talking about that.

Q: When you look at the saturated auto market in the U.S., where is there an opportunity for Dodge?
A: Most of cars out there have become commodities, and there's a huge underserved population of people out there who love cars for what they were always meant to be: devices for transportation and also symbols of freedom. People who buy Chargers and Challengers feel that way, and I think we can spread that love beyond those kinds of vehicles.

From MediaPost.com
 

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Sounds like he's a Challenger fan. :)
 
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