CHRYSLER'S TEAM CONCEPT PUTS MEDIA IN DRIVER SEAT

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For Neon, marketing influenced manufacturing.

Early on, Chrysler Corp. planned to build and ship 1994 Neon models to dealers beginning in November 1993, as is traditional in the industry. But because of input from marketing executives on the platform team, shipments were delayed until January.

Why? So the car could be sold as 1995 models, and also so Neon could get a big sendoff on Chrysler's $50 million sponsorship of Winter Olympics broadcasts in February.

"It might be the first time a manufacturing plan changed because we had a media plan that was advantageous," says Marty Levine, Dodge division general manager.

The incident illustrates how the platform team concept adopted by Chrysler in the early 1990s has made the automaker more flexible and responsive to opportunities. It's a major reason the once-struggling automaker has become a powerhouse.

Decision-making authority has been pushed down into the teams, made up of representatives from disciplines such as design, engineering, finance, manufacturing and marketing.

Jim Yetter, Dodge marketing plans and merchandising executive, and the coordinator of the Neon marketing launch committee, says the group was able to modify manufacturing schedules because discussions on marketing benefits took place early in Neon development.

"We saw a window of opportunity and we asked the manufacturing guys, `What can you do?'," Mr. Yetter says.

Chrysler also increased the percentage of white Neons it initially built because a white model is featured in advertising.

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