FCA US and Stellantis claim to be trying to strengthen local nameplates, marketing the mystique of Dodge and Jeep, the capability of Ram, and the history of Chrysler. Yet, in the same press releases, they mark down these names by constantly reminding us that they are just brands—just nameplates on the side, just words.
There has never been any reason for Dodge people to refer to “the Dodge brand.” It’s just Dodge. Nobody thinks that Dodge City, Phelps Dodge, or Grace Dodge is making cars. The only car company with the Dodge name used to be Dodge Brothers… and Dodge Brothers didn’t make other brands of cars, so there’s no historical confusion either.
Unless FCA US or Stellantis intends to replace all the American heritage marques with some global name (FCA and Stellantis aren’t catchy or evocative names), which seems very unlikely there’s no reason to keep calling its marques “brands.” Chrysler didn’t even do that in the 1960s when it was bragging about what a big, awesome rocket-making company it was. They put a small pentastar on each car’s fender—and that was about it.
Nobody needs the extra words in the press release; they add nothing but detract from the strength of the marques. GM doesn’t refer to “the Chevrolet brand,” especially in headlines. It’s Chevrolet, proudly wearing Louis’ name for nearly a century. Saying “the Jeep brand” is exactly the same to anyone else as saying “Jeep,” except it’s demeaning. It says, “Jeep (or Ram or Dodge or Chrysler) isn’t real. It’s just a nameplate, and we’re going to rub your nose into it.”
This all comes as FCA US has started Jeep-only stores, shifted Jeep press releases to a unique look, and ran “brand strengthening” ads for Dodge, Chrysler, and Ram. It’s as though nobody realizes that brands are weakened when their owner makes it clear that they are just a marketing ploy of a large company.
The new dealership design says “I’m unique;” the repetition of “the Jeep brand” says “I’m just a nameplate on an everyday car.”
In fairness, many brands are marketing ploys of large companies. Kia hasn’t been needed for ages, since Hyundai bought them; and Genesis is clearly artificial, along with all Japanese luxury brands. At this point, the former Auto Union (Audi) is a bit artificial, too, along with the remnants of Rolls and Bentley, and of course Lincoln, Cadillac, and so on, though all of these have their roots in real companies.
Dodge comes from the Dodge Brothers. Chrysler comes from Walter Chrysler. In some ways these are more than “brands.” (Jeep and Ram, in contrast, come from a nickname and a Dodge hood ornament, respectively.)
Alfa Romeo mostly escapes being called “the Alfa Romeo brand,” though their chief leads “the Alfa Romeo brand.” Most of the time, it’s “the legendary Alfa Romeo.” Sales charts refer to Chrysler Brand, Ram Brand, Fiat Brand, etc.—and Alfa Romeo. Never mind that Dodge, Jeep, and Chrysler can all match Alfa Romeo in rich histories with times of impressive engineering. All have had periods of strong innovation; and Jeep and Chrysler, at least, have both transformed parts of the industry at least once. But never mind, we’ll dismiss all that at “the Chrysler brand.”
Nothing takes away from dignifity or legendary status like “the xxxx brand.” Strong brands, like Apple and Toyota, aren’t called “the Apple brand” and “the Toyota brand.” They’re Apple and Toyota. While it may cause some confusion to have Ford as part of Ford and Toyota as part of Toyota, there is no such confusion about Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Ram, or Mopar.
It’s bad enough that the company, through several changes of leadership and ownership, chose to shove all its marques into the same dealerships, instead of keeping them separate and trying to make them more distinctive. (The rationale, that it’s easier to have product discipline when dealers aren’t demanding their version of every car, suggests weak leadership more than a strategy.) Okay, we understand why everything is labeled “FCA US” under the hood. But making the marques mere branding exercises to the general public only cheapens them, and the last thing they need now, as competition intensifies and whole new lineups are soon going to sink or fly, is to be cheapened.
So go on, Stellantis. Keep telling us how we should respect Chrysler’s heritage, or Dodge’s heritage, or Ram’s independent spirit, or Jeep’s heritage—but don’t tell us to respect, say, “the Chrysler brand’s heritage.” Brands don‘t have “heritage.” Brands are here to be diversified and cheapened and thrown away, brands are Proctor & Gamble names that keep getting overextended and meaningless. Celebrate your marques and stop calling them brands—even if, yes, they really are just brands.