Mr. Patane, who had been the principal owner of Louis Dodge and Louis Chrysler-Plymouth/Jeep-Eagle in Avondale, Ariz., will be a key player in Chrysler's efforts to sort out its brand identities when he joins the automaker Sept. 1. The creation of the new post signals that "we want to put even more time and focus into building brands," said A.C. "Bud" Liebler, Chrysler VP-marketing and communications.
Despite coming from the retail side of the business, Mr. Patane, 45, was involved in brand identity issues while a member of the National Dodge Dealer Council from 1986 to 1994, serving as its chairman in his final year. Up to now, Mr. Patane had also been serving as VP of the Dodge Dealer Advertising Association.
At Chrysler, Mr. Patane will report to Mr. Liebler and be responsible for corporate and divisional advertising, merchandising and marketing plans, media operations, motorsports programs, interactive media initiatives and other product marketing programs.
Mr. Liebler said Chrysler is eager to use Mr. Patane's experience "on the firing line" to bring a dealer's perspective to Chrysler marketing efforts. But the primary assignment for Mr. Patane, who declined to be interviewed, will be to strengthen brand images.
Currently, Chrysler's strongest brands are Jeep and Dodge. Jeep has been able to translate its rugged, outdoorsy image into an upscale appeal that helped create the surging consumer demand for sport-utility vehicles. Dodge, with a slew of new products, has positioned itself as the affordable performance brand.
This fall, the automaker will introduce a Chrysler brand campaign aimed at establishing a contemporary luxury image for the corporate flagship brand. The company is also testing a new positioning for value brand Plymouth, based on customer-friendly service, clever products and accessibility through non-traditional means.
Eagle is still "struggling," Mr. Liebler acknowledged. Despite a $100 million ad effort featuring TV personality Greg Kinnear launched a year ago, Eagle 1995 sales through July are up only 4.3% compared with last year and its car-market share remains less than 1%.
BBDO Worldwide, Southfield, Mich., handles Dodge, and Bozell handles the Chrysler, Plymouth, Jeep and Eagle brands.