Ford, Crysler gear up for battle

The family sedan market should be shaken up in the next few months when Chrysler rolls out its all new Cirrus and Stratus import fighters and Ford weighs in with its Contour and Mystique 'world cars.'General Motors will remain largely above...

The family sedan market should be shaken up in the next few months when Chrysler rolls out its all new Cirrus and Stratus import fighters and Ford weighs in with its Contour and Mystique ‘world cars.’

General Motors will remain largely above the fray in this segment this model year.

Stew Low, a spokesman at GM of Canada’s headquarters in Oshawa, Ont., says the gm cars that will battle it out in this segment fall between the Oldsmobile Achieva and Buick Skylark models and its higher priced Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme and Buick Regal vehicles.

Pinning down import competition for the Cirrus and Stratus largely depends on who is doing the pinning down.

The auto industry considers such well-established cars as the Honda Accord, the Volkswagen Jetta, the Toyota Camry, the Nissan Altima, the Mazda 626, and the Subaru Legacy as falling into the upmarket family sedan segment, with cars costing from $16,000 or so to more than $20,000.

Family sedans in this range, whether domestic or imported, account from 24% to 26% of all new auto sales in Canada.

Contour and Mystique

As well as taking on the Japanese, Walt McCall, a spokesman for Chrysler in Windsor, Ont., says the Cirrus and Stratus will also take ‘dead aim’ at the Ford Contour and Mercury Mystique, but is reluctant to say much beyond that.

Jon Harmon, product information manager at Ford of Canada in Oakville, Ont., rejects the ‘dead aim’ argument, suggesting Chrysler will seek to avoid market confrontation with the Contour and Mystique.

The Cirrus, from Chrysler, comes out next month. The Stratus, from its Dodge division, is due in the spring.

Michael Fyshe, executive vice-president and managing director of BBDO Retail, Chrysler’s agency in Toronto, will not reveal details of the automaker’s promotional plans for the Cirrus and Stratus, citing industry competition.

But Fyshe does allow Chrysler will use the traditional media mix to advertise the Cirrus.

He says every advertiser is trying to do something different, adding, Chrysler’s ads are designed to make consumers think.

Interestingly, former Formula One champion and Indy Car driver Emerson Fittipaldi from Brazil worked on the development of the Cirrus and Stratus.

Fittipaldi is a familiar face to Canadians because of his Molson Indy car appearances in Toronto and Vancouver.

In the past, Chrysler has favored celebrity spokesmen for its cars.

Many Canadians will remember actor Ricardo Montalban’s tv spots and those of former Chrysler boss Lee Iaccoca.

Harmon says Ford has massive amounts of money riding on the Contour and Mystique.

He says these world cars – there is just a single version called the Mondeo sold outside North America – cost US$6 billion to develop and Ford intends to spend ‘a huge amount of money’ to advertise the Contour and Mystique.

The two Ford cars come out Sept. 29.

One auto industry observer, admittedly partisan, wonders how sound Ford’s world car strategy is.

He says the message to marketers these days is to be nimble and responsive, adding, how Ford can be both with a world car has not been answered.

Harmon says the market for the new Ford products can be split three ways, noting there is: the young, fairly affluent family; what he calls the ‘single again’ buyer, and the young, never-married person.

According to Robert Lutz, president of Chrysler, it is crystal clear who his company has to sell the Cirrus and Stratus to: university-educated 30- to 40-year olds buying their first four-door sedan.

‘Driveability’ and price

Harmon says key marketing points for the Ford cars will be ‘driveability’ and price.

He points out although the Japanese have a powerful grip on the upmarket family sedan segment, the strong yen is pushing the cost of the imports ever higher.

Fyshe says a strong selling point for the Cirrus and Stratus is their cab forward design, giving both cars ‘a very interesting look,’ more interior room, and a longer and wider wheelbase, which means greater safety.

And, says a Chrysler briefing document, stress will be placed on how much more the company offers for less than what the Japanese charge.

Where Canadian and u.s. marketing tactics for the Cirrus and Stratus could part company is on personal security features.

Canadians may not want or need such options as remote keyless entry with panic alarm button, a security alarm and hidden storage compartments.