Thursday, October 25, 2007

Dodge Taps Tuner Market To Promote Caliber SRT4

by Karl Greenberg, Thursday, Oct 25, 2007 5:00 AM ET

WITH THE SEMA SHOW AROUND the corner, 'tis the season for supercharged sub-brands. Automakers are taking time out of the salt mines to focus on hot wheels produced in-house or through association with private skunk works.

Chrysler's Dodge division has just introduced its Caliber SRT4 and is tapping the tuner market --people into customizing who are driving the $36 billion-plus aftermarket business--to promote it.

The company is launching a promotion centered on DodgeRUTunedOut.com, a play on words referring to people who are so into their wheels that they neglect their human relationships. The promotion is based on the conceit that the SRT series means never having to do your own tuning, so you can pay attention to all the people you've neglected in favor of superchargers, nitrous oxide tanks and oversized woofers.

Registrants must submit a 250-word essay answering the questions, "Why are you or your significant other tuned out?" and "How will an all-new Dodge Caliber SRT4 help you or your significant other tune back in?"

An independent panel of judges will review all of the entries that are received and will select four finalists, who will be announced Nov. 29.
Dodge is one of several automakers using this month's SEMA show in Las Vegas to roll out factory-tuned cars and trucks.

One benefit of factory-tuned versions of mass-market cars is that they carry a factory warranty. Typically, the factory voids owner warranties if owners add steroids to their engines.
The Caliber SRT, which has a turbocharged 285 horsepower motor and wears a $22,995 price tag, also gets Chrysler's standard three-year power train warranty (although not the lifetime coverage that Chrysler debuted this year).

Honda is rolling out 1,000 tricked-out versions of its Civic. The car, Civic Mugen Si, which has a full body kit and a 197-horsepower engine, is also backed by Honda's warranty.

As are Honda's two factory-modified versions of the new 2008 Accord Coupe, bearing the Honda Factory Performance (HFP) name, that are rolling out at the SEMA show.

The company says that when a dealer installs accessories at the time of purchase, Honda's HFP products--the company launched the sub-brand in 2002--carry the same three-year/36,000 mile, bumper-to-bumper warranty as the rest of the vehicle.

That is a very big deal, says Todd Turner at L.A.-based consultancy Car Concepts. He points out that factory-approved parts installed at dealerships at time of purchase not only boost dealer revenue, but also give consumers peace of mind.

"We are starting to see changes in the industry based on providing consumers an advantage," he says. "At [Toyota's] Scion, for example, there is a factory-installed supercharger kit-- installed by the dealer--with full warranty coverage. And that's a huge benefit to the consumer."
He says offering that sort of coverage is not without risk to the factory. "There have been situations where manufacturers have gotten into trouble offering engine kits then backing out," he says, when the automaker learned that owners were participating in street drag-racing events.

But he says such programs are critical for automakers, although the sales are a fraction of the volume they garner from their more tame vehicles. "I think it gives them an edge. The very people they are hoping to attract are the most enthusiastic of car buyers who religiously keep up with things. And they are extremely influential."

And, he adds, although the volumes are small, "there's a lot of profit in that segment of the market."

Karl Greenberg can be reached at karl@mediapost.com

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