The Chrysler brand competes against other auto brands like Ford and Chevrolet. But Saad Chehab, president and CEO of Chrysler, has a few other business comparisons.
Chehab, speaking after an Automotive Press Association event on Tuesday, likened his brand's strategy to those of Starbucks Corp. and Nike Inc.
That's right, the namesake brand of Chrysler Group LLC — just four years removed from its Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing — is modeling itself after the two hip, successful companies.
Chrysler is using their strategies in taking existing products and creating multiple variances of each — most in higher-end, limited-edition trims — in an effort to reach new audiences looking for personalized experiences.
"There's a gazillion ways you can get your drink at Starbucks and that's a powerful reward," Chehab said. "That's a cachet-reward factor that Starbucks has, no different than Nike does it with the Nike ID," referring to the service that allows customers to personalize their own merchandise. "I see us as one of the first ones to look at those types of venues and lifestyles, and attend to those needs," Chehab said.
The most recent addition, a 2013 special-edition Carhartt Inc.-themed 200 S, is the latest example of Chrysler trying to reach a small but influential audience: Only 2,000 Carhartt 200 S models will be produced.
The $28,870 car that was unveiled at the Detroit event Thursday includes black, water-resistant fabric selected by the Detroit-based workwear maker. It has Carhartt logo seat accents and black-painted finishes. The car will have a Pentastar V-6 engine, which will get 283 horsepower. The car joins other special-edition models like the 300C John Varvatos Limited Edition — named after the menswear designer — and the 300 Motown and Glacier Editions.
"This kind of special edition is typical when a vehicle is nearing the end of its life, so this is different," Michelle Krebs, senior analyst at Edmunds.com, said of the Chrysler 200, which debuted in 2011. "It's a way to keep conversation and interest in the vehicle going until they can add more vehicles to their lineup."
The Chrysler brand, which has just three models, sold nearly 308,000 vehicles last year — a 39 percent rise compared to 2011 — but special models don't make up a huge portion of the overall sales total. Chehab says that's not the point, because the car is playing well in untapped markets like California and Florida. "As long as we're differentiating, that's what's important," he said.
Chrysler is making these special, limited-edition Detroit-themed models in lieu of additional models (for now) and a large marketing budget. The brand is reaching influencers through their partnerships with Varvatos and Carhartt, and is even receiving some unsolicited marketing assistance.
Rapper 50 Cent last year asked to use a 300C Varvatos Limited Edition for his music video, "My Life." The car is displayed throughout the video, which has been seen nearly 35 million times on YouTube.