Dream Cars: Reviving...DeSoto?
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April 7, 2013
The 2000's have been a bloodbath for automobile marques. Oldsmobile, Saturn, Mercury, Saab, Plymouth, Pontiac, Hummer. Only one car company has come up with a new marque...Chrysler Group's Ram. Okay, Ram had been around for decades as the full-size truck division of Dodge, but only recently had it been marketed as a separate brand.
A New Brand? Really?
How can CG possibly create a whole separate marque when it just closed hundreds of dealerships? Because Ram requires no dealership network. Chrysler Group's consolidation of all marques under one roof in each sales area allowed it to branch out without issues over who would be selling what in which dealerships. This consolidation means each brand does not need to be a stand-alone full line.
When each brand does not need to be a stand-alone full line, you have more flexibility to explore market niches.
An Opening in the Market...
One hugely ignored market niche is the vast Hispanic market in the United States. Sure, automakers photograph Hispanic people in their cars and publish the ads in Spanish-language magazines, but they're still selling the same cars that were designed by and for a different culture.
There's a funny scene in the movie The Mexican where Brad Pitt asks a rental car company for an authentically Mexican car and ends up with a Chevrolet El Camino. That name is about as Hispanic as any car company has gotten in the last quarter century.
Once the cars leave the dealership lots and are in the hands of the owners, Hispanic car culture has a style all its own, just as different as classic American muscle is from Euro modern style. However, car customizers always have to work off of someone else's canvas, and those who want the style ready-to-drive from a dealership are flat out of luck. Worse than unlucky...just plain ignored by the automakers.
The first car company to really cater to this huge market has a huge competitive advantage. As Chrysler needs the most help, has the best dealership network for it, and a little history backing them up, I'll work my hypothetical case on Chrysler Group.
DeSoto in History
Many decades ago Chrysler Corporation, as it was back then, created a car brand called DeSoto. It was, unlucky for the brand, just before Chrysler's acquisition of Dodge, making the new DeSoto redundant to the established Dodge. It stuck around about a quarter century anyway, but is nearly forgotten today.
The brand was named for Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto, the first European to have crossed the Mississippi River. De Soto was known for being a great leader, he has a respected place in history, and exploration is a great theme for automobile names.
Okay, I know the thought of honoring a Spanish man exploring the American south might well annoy some folks to put it mildly, but fuck 'em if they're going to find a car to be an outlet for their hate. You can't let the hateful few amongst the customers influence business decisions.
DeSoto in Modern Times
Chrysler could come up with a design studio somewhere in Spain or Mexico and employ the best Hispanic automotive designers from around the world to come up with new styles and names for it's existing platforms, probably starting with the Dart, Avenger, and Charger.
The new cars would be advertised primarily in Hispanic-oriented marketing and Spanish language media. Even though the production would be off of the same lines as existing Dodge cars (such as Belvidere, Illinois for the Dart), giving the brand an office in the Latin world and official status as a division from another country (in the way that Scion is technically an American company based in Torrance, California but run by Japanese Toyota) would further show respect for the buyers they're trying to reach and help them distinguish themselves as more than a Dodge with a few cliche bits of trim that reminded a European American of a place he's never been, which is a real danger if it's run out of Detroit.
Looking through the history of Hernando de Soto, a few nice potential car names pop up. Hidalgo, a type of untitled nobility, would be excellent for a Charger-based sedan. Caudillo is Spanish for a type of leader. The Spanish word for explorer, Explorador, is too close to the English, which is taken by Ford (told you exploration was a good theme!). Lejanía is the word for remoteness, an outstanding name for a car with good fuel efficiency, perhaps the Dart equivalent? And this is just what a white guy working with Google Translate can come up with, someone with a real knowledge of the language and cultures could come up with much better!
The point is, politically whether you like it or not, the United States has a huge Hispanic population. They're not going anywhere. As you may have seen from the aisles at Walmart, they have their own foods, their own language, and their own style. I'm sure that they would love to have their own mass-market car company, too. The first one to do it stands to reap huge rewards for being the only real player in a market that respects those that reach out and embrace it. Chrysler has the best chance here as the company with the most integrated dealership network and the company that should be looking to take a big risk to get back in the game.
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