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When Jim Yetter joined the team developing the Neon in 1990, the idea of bringing marketing into the process was still a radical one around Detroit.

But as Neon marketing manager, Mr. Yetter, 39, helped prove that marketers could positively affect the styling, and even the timing, of a new vehicle. With Mr. Yetter acting as a liaison among Chrysler's marketing staff and Neon's designers and engineers, the automaker effectively targeted the small car at Generation X and capitalized on high-profile media opportunities.

Mr. Yetter compares Chrysler's old style of management to a relay race in which marketing didn't get the baton until a car was already slated for production. In contrast, the platform-team concept brings designers, engineers, finance, manufacturing, marketers and others together from the start.

"By working with the platform team early in the process, the result is a product that's more tuned to the target market, and a marketing plan that's more attuned to what the product is," says Mr. Yetter, currently marketing plans manager for Plymouth.

Market research midway through development led to the decision to accentuate the fun, friendly aspects of the vehicle. That eventually showed up in design cues such as oval headlights, the choice of bright exterior colors and the "Hi" tagline that marked Neon's debut advertising by BBDO Worldwide.

The original production schedule meant April 1994 would have been the logical time to launch, based on when dealers would have a supply of Neons. But Mr. Yetter pointed out that Chrysler could capitalize on its 1994 Winter Olympics ad presence in February if manufacturing could accelerate. Actually, Chrysler bumped it up a few more weeks to give Neon an ad sendoff on the 1994 Super Bowl.

Marketed under both the Dodge and Plymouth brand names, the Neon has made Chrysler an important player in the small-car segment. In 1994, Chrysler sold 178,960 units, beating out small-car competitors like Nissan Sentra and Toyota Tercel. Chrysler sold 77,381 Neons in the first five months of 1995, putting it on pace to top 185,000 units this year.

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