TRIO OF NEW DODGES MAY PICK UP $210 MIL IN ADS: HOT-PERFORMING CHRYSLER UNIT READIES SEDAN, PAIR OF TRUCKS

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Chrysler Corp.'s hot Dodge Car/Truck Division is expected to spend as much as $210 million to market three new vehicles later this year.

"These are big launches for us," said Ray Fisher, general manager of Dodge, discussing the Ram Quad-Cab four-door pickup, Durango sport-utility vehicle and redesigned Intrepid sedan-all due as 1998 models in the second half of this year, when marketing pushes will begin.

Although he wouldn't discuss ad spending, Mr. Fisher said that would be consistent with previous Dodge launches. Dodge's restyled, full-size Ram van will also debut later this year, but the largely commercial vehicle won't get a mass-media push.

`BOLD' CHARACTER CONTINUES

Mr. Fisher said he expects creative for the introductory ads from the Southfield, Mich., office of BBDO Worldwide to retain Dodge's "bold, powerful and capable" brand character.

While media plans are still undecided, Mr. Fisher said that TV was still important to the brand. Spending on each model will be between $60 million and $70 million.

BBDO has helped reposition Dodge in the past four years with consistent advertising; TV spots have been narrated for the past several years by actor Edward Hermann.

Dick Johnson, BBDO Southfield president-chief creative officer, has mandated that virtually every TV spot be shot in a studio, have no people and show off product. Commercials use title cards for Dodge spots with slogans including: "We're changing everything," "We're breaking the rules" and "It's full of surprises."

For the Quad-Cab Ram, "I think we'd want to feature the four doors because we are breaking the rules; we're the first in the industry offering that," Mr. Fisher said.

The campaign for the Durango will likely follow the "More" theme used at its debut presentation during the Detroit Auto Show in January, said James Holden, exec VP-sales and marketing.

Dodge, according to Competitive Media Reporting, spent nearly $320 million in measured media during the first nine months of 1996, making it the sixth-largest spender during the period.

INTREPID'S CHALLENGE

The Intrepid sedan poses a bigger challenge for Dodge, which sells more trucks and minivans than cars.

In 1996, Dodge broke an overall calendar-year record of nearly 1.3 million vehicles and set new annual records for its Ram truck and Caravan minivan. But Intrepid sales were off 1.5% from 1995.

Auto consultant Chris Cedergren said Intrepid probably lost steam because it was in the last year before its redesign.

But, said Mr. Cedergren, managing director of Nextrend: "This new version pushes the envelope from a design standpoint, and that should mean higher sales for the car line and get converts to the Dodge brand."

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