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Dodge Following Trim-Line Tradition to Letter

Word-based trim designations “added a little bit of complexity” to Chrysler showrooms, new Dodge chief Reid Bigland says.

New Dodge President and CEO Reid Bigland is proving to be a man of letters as he revamps the brand’s trim-level designations for model-year ’12.

“The immediate bias for Dodge will be just simplifying the product portfolio, partly to get back to the traditional SE, SXT, SXT-Plus, RT, RT-Plus kind of nomenclature, where possible,” he tells Ward’s in his first U.S. interview since being named to succeed Ralph Gilles.

Soon after Gilles was appointed Dodge chief in 2009, he endeavored to replace the price-oriented stigma of letter-based trim codes with words that suggest lifestyle such as “Heat,” “Lux,” “Mainstreet” and “Express.”

But some names such as Detonator and Shock, both exclusive to the Nitro cross/utility vehicle, are peculiar to certain models.

And the idea, though inspired, Bigland says, “added a little bit of complexity” to showrooms that also play host to the Chrysler, Jeep, Ram and Fiat brands, in some cases.

Dealers seem receptive. “Keep it simple for the customer,” urges Brent Ravelle, general manager of Bustard Chrysler in Listowel, ON, Canada.

Dodge customers know SE represents entry-level and RT means performance, Ravelle says, adding: “I can’t even remember what Heat means.”

Expect to see continued use of the “Crew” and “Rallye” labels, Bigland says. “They are classic Dodge names.”

Through May, Dodge car sales in the U.S. lag like-2010 by 3.1%, according to Ward’s data. But light-truck sales were tracking 32.7% ahead of prior-year.

Chrysler shuffled its executive deck June 7. Gilles, who also is senior vice president-product design, was tapped to lead the auto maker’s newly established SRT high-performance brand.

Bigland retains his position as president and CEO of Chrysler Canada and adds U.S. sales responsibility in addition to his job at Dodge.

“That’s, kind of, Sergio’s thing,” Bigland says of Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne’s management structure. “There are a lot of us that have multiple roles.”

Total Chrysler sales were up 19.3% in the U.S., outpacing the industry which was running 13.9% ahead of 2010, as of May 31.

Bigland expects Chrysler will turn in “strong” results for June, predicting the industry will maintain its upward trend through year’s end.

Describing the learning curve associated with his new duties, he adds: “Right now I’m drinking out of a firehose.”

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