CHRYSLER'S EAGLE HEADS FOR EXTINCTION: LONG DOWNWARD SPIRAL WILL END AS AUTOMAKER PULLS PLUG ON BRAND

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Say goodbye to Eagle, currently Chrysler's Corp.'s worst-performing brand.

Created in 1987 to woo import intenders, Eagle started an unabated sales slide after 1993, and Chrysler will put the line out of its misery at the end of the '98 model year next September.

"Chrysler never gave it an image of its own," said auto consultant Art Spinella, a VP at CNW Marketing/Research. Eagle "didn't exist as far as shoppers were concerned."

Mr. Spinella's annual buyer-intention survey in June found Vision was the only Eagle product to show up, barely, and at the bottom of buyers' lists.

EXISTED UNDER AMC

Eagle existed as a car name under American Motors Corp., but AMC killed off the four-wheeldrive Eagle wagons and cars before Chrysler acquired AMC in '87, said Martin Levine, general manager of the Chrysler-Plymouth/Jeep-Eagle Division.

Chrysler revived the Eagle brand that year.

"Chrysler brought the brand called Eagle to life," Mr. Levine said. "We were starting a brand, but there was much more equity in our other brands."

The carmaker's other brands had K-car-based products that attracted older buyers, so in the early 1990s, Chrysler turned its main attention to those brands with a blitz of new products for Dodge, Chrysler, Jeep and Plymouth.

Eagle's demise has been apparent for a while because its limited "product plans were showing," said Tom Healey, a partner at J.D. Power & Associates.

DOWN TO 1 PRODUCT IN '98

Chrysler announced in spring 1996 it would kill Eagle Summit, available as a small coupe, sedan or wagon, after the '96 model year. In 1997, Eagle had two products, the Vision and Talon. There's only the Talon sports coupe in the '98 model year.

Annual Eagle sales peaked in 1993 at 71,225 units, according to Automotive News. But sales have declined every year since then. Through August 1997, only 11,927 Eagles had been sold this year.

Chrysler tried to pump up Eagle sales in '94, when it spent $87 million in measured media on a test-drive campaign with then-TV personality Greg Kinnear. The push was Eagle's biggest ever, and ad spending started dropping after that.

Mr. Kinnear, who went on to movies, split as spokesman in the summer of 1996. Spending for 1997 will no doubt be significantly lower than last year's $30 million, and 1998's lower still because it will be only regional.

Eagle tried another test-drive ad campaign last year. "The strategy was excellent," Mr. Levine said. But the push was ineffective because there are so few Eagle dealers. Of 2,300-plus Eagle dealers, 700 don't have an Eagle in stock today, he said.

LITTLE EFFECT ON BOZELL

Mr. Levine said the death of Eagle will have little effect on its ad agency, the Southfield, Mich., office of Bozell.

"There's no impact on commissions if there's no activity and no one was working on it," he said. "The people there were focusing on Jeep."

Bozell, which declined comment, also handles Chrysler's Plymouth and Chrysler brands, as well as its corporate account.

Eagle may also be a victim of a declining car market, said Dan Gorrell, a VP at consultancy Strategic Vision. "The small, sporty segment has been declining," he said.

The brand had some success because it attracted a unique set of buyers to Chrysler, Mr. Gorrell added. His research earlier this year shows Eagle Vision drew higher-income and younger buyers than Chrysler's Dodge Intrepid or Chrysler Concorde cars.

CHALLENGE FOR CHRYSLER

"Chrysler's challenge will be to find a home for those people," Mr. Gorrell said.

Mr. Levine contended Chrysler already has: "Eagle brand became somewhat

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