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CHRYSLER PONDERS FUTURE OF EAGLE;VISION, TALON MODELS GETTING UPDATES, FALL ADS IN MEANTIME

By Published on .

Chrysler Corp.'s Jeep/Eagle division is studying whether to roll its Vision and Talon models into another brand, probably Chrysler, outside suppliers to the automaker are saying.

Chrysler already markets the Eagle Vision as the Chrysler Vision internationally.

The automaker won't talk about future plans for the brand.

Any possibility that Eagle will move under another Chrysler nameplate "concerns future product plans and we don't discuss that," said James Holden, the automaker's exec VP-sales and marketing.

To prove the brand has a future, he said Chrysler has given the Talon some updated styling for the '97 model year and is redesigning the Vision for 1998. Eagle's Summit model fades into the sunset with the '96 model year.

TALON TO GET PUSH

New Eagle advertising is coming this fall from Bozell, Southfield, Mich. And two media reps said Chrysler has shifted ad dollars from Vision to Talon for the fourth quarter, partly because the Talon is fresher and partly because new marketing staffers changed their predecessors' plans.

"They are constantly shifting media plans," a Chrysler spokeswoman explained, downplaying the shift from Vision ads.

Chrysler doesn't plan to spend nearly as much in media support for Eagle. Last year, the brand received $65 million, part of an unsuccessful $100 million push that started in fall 1994 featuring TV personality Greg Kinnear, who didn't renew his contract in September.

DEMISE HAS BEEN RUMORED

Eagle's demise has been widely speculated for years among industry observers. The marque may be dropped by the end of the decade, according to Automotive News.

Chrysler President Robert Lutz recently described the Eagle brand as "a work in progress."

Eagle's `96 sales through August were 22,500, down by 43% compared to the same period in 1995.

Eagle has no brand awareness, said Art Spinella, VP of auto consultancy CNW Marketing/Research. "Eagle doesn't even show up on shopping lists. People have no perception of it," he said.

Mr. Spinella conducts annual buyer-intention surveys.

`EMOTIONAL REPUTATION'

"It's hard to revive a brand with marketing. What you really need is great product and some sort of emotional reputation," said Susan Jacobs, president of consultancy Jacobs & Associates.

She described Eagle as a weak, niche franchise, which Chrysler doesn't need to meet its strategic objective to woo import buyers.

"If sales are down by 50%, how much equity could be in that name?" she said.

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