DODGE DAKOTA STEERING CLOSER TO SIBLING RAM;REDESIGNED TRUCK WILL BE SUPPORTED BY ADS PLAYING ON ITS PERSONALITY

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Chrysler Corp.'s redesigned Dodge Dakota, going on sale this fall, clearly is the son of Ram.

But it has a different role than the hot-selling full-size pickup (see story, Page 20).

"The Ram has a balance of work and personal-use product attributes to appeal equally to a diverse group of customers," said Martin Levine, Dodge general manager. But compact trucks are typically not bought to do a particular job, and virtually all Dakota customers buy them for personal use.

"The reasons for buying are far more emotional than for full-size pickups," Mr. Levine said.

That's why the Dakota's fall ad campaign from BBDO Worldwide, Southfield, Mich., will carry emotion that leverages the truck's personality, Mr. Levine said. The new theme: "It's full of surprises."

"Right away, of course, you know this is a Dodge, with its family resemblance to our enormously popular full-sized Ram pickup," said Chrysler President Robert Lutz as he unveiled the '97 Dakota last week.

INITIAL CONFUSION

Dodge confused buyers when it first launched Dakota as the first and only midsize pickup, Mr. Levine said. "We learned that we positioned the truck in a category many people couldn't relate to-they didn't know whether the Dakota was a small truck with work truck aspirations or a big truck that acted small."

Dakota ads changed focus in 1992 to compete head-to-head with compact trucks, with the theme "Dakota is a little bigger and a lot better.

BATTLING RANGER, S10

The Dakota should hurt sales of its closest rivals-Ford Motor Co.'s Ranger and General Motors Corp.'s Chevrolet S10-but not drastically, projected James Hall, VP-industry analysis at marketing consultancy AutoPacific.

"It's bigger than the competition and the only one with a V-8 engine" optional, he said. Plus, Dakota is the only new design among compact trucks.

"New [designs] sell and the Dakota is in the visual image of the Ram truck, which is in short supply," he noted.

The Dakota may even steal some sales from Ram. He predicted the Dakota's new styling "is going to send competitors back to their drawing boards" to redesign their compact pickup entries.

The only drawback to the Dakota, which Mr. Hall called a missed opportunity, is that it doesn't have a third door.

A potential downside to the overall compact pickup segment is the growing competition from compact sport-utility vehicles.

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