LARGER HONDA, NISSAN MINIVANS START UPHILL BATTLE VS. HOT DODGE: RESTYLED VEHICLES GET NEW DRIVES IN BUSY SEGMENT

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American Honda Motor Co. and Nissan Motor Corp. USA are readying shots across the bow of Detroit's minivans. Based on spending plans, they could be slingshots.

Both introduce bigger, redesigned minivans in October.

Chrysler Corp., the first to introduce the model, has been the perennial minivan leader; Dodge Caravan is the U.S. sales leader. Dodge also spent the most on minivan advertising -- $103.8 million, according to Competitive Media Reporting, out of a total $466 million spent in the segment in 1997.

BLITZ FOR RESTYLED ODYSSEY

Honda is preparing a major blitz for its restyled, bigger and more powerful Odyssey, breaking in late October via Rubin Postaer & Associates, Santa Monica, Calif. Observers expect Honda to at least double the $11.9 million it spent in measured media on the brand in `97.

Nissan's push for its 1999 Quest, also redesigned and bigger, won't be as aggressive as Honda's, based on its media plans.

Quest will be launched in national and regional newspapers Oct. 30, with magazine ads running in December consumer books.

There's no national TV, only a 30-second spot that regional dealer groups can tag locally in a 7-second window, said Vinnie Tucker, model-line planner in Nissan's marketing department.

The consumer print is targeted at families, she said. The TV spot discusses features of the new Quest -- bigger, more powerful, a new fourth door and flexible seating.

TBWA Chiat/Day, Playa del Rey, Calif., handles the campaign, which keeps the "Enjoy the ride" tag.

Nissan is trying to rebound from a North American loss of $517 million in its fiscal year ended March 31. It sold 18,813 Quests in the first eight months of 1998, vs. 32,664 the same period a year ago, according to Automotive News.

The marketer spent $10.8 million on advertising for the minivan in 1997, according to CMR.

General Motors Corp. and Toyota Motor Sales USA got back in the competitive saddle last year with redesigned models. GM's new styling for its Chevrolet Venture, Pontiac Transport and Oldsmobile Silhouette minivans, combined with a total of $113.6 million in advertising, helped spur sales.

SIENNA ARRIVED LAST FALL

Toyota launched its restyled Sienna minivan last fall, with a $22 million push. Sienna, replacing the long-in-the-tooth Previa, is selling well at 52,309 units through August.

Ford Motor Co. will launch its redone Ford Windstar Oct. 29 and its Mercury Villager this week (see Page 6). Ford spent $51.5 million in media for Windstar last year and $32.9 million on Villager.

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