At the time of the merger between Chrysler and Daimler-Benz eight years ago, the latter owned one of the world’s best-known brands equated with engineering quality -- Mercedes. It would have made sense to port the Mercedes name over to Chrysler, giving the fading Detroit brand some instant German engineering street cred. Instead, eight years later, they’ve finally given it a German voice.
The trouble was, the merger became a classic case of a brand extension that turned into a muddled compromise in order to avoid cheapening the original brand. In other words, while the Mercedes brand would have brought some much-needed engineering panache to the Chrysler name, the reverse spelled trouble -- who would want to buy a Mercedes that was associated with Detroit’s number three automaker, Chrysler?
Instead, Chrysler was paired with the name of the German parent company most Americans don’t know from Adam, and which, just to add to the confusion, was spelled “DAME-ler” but pronounced “DIME-ler.” Recently it finally occurred to the company that most Americans had no idea what DaimlerChrysler was. That’s why the hyphenless hyphenated company has sent chairman Dieter Zetsche -- “Dr. Z” -- online and out on the road to scare reporters with his aggressive driving skills and puzzle schoolchildren with his jokes about muddy Jeeps. And to park his “stache” atop Google’s search listings for “mustache.”
Among the 2.2 million questions that have been submitted to AskDrZ.com since its creation July 1 came this query: “What happened to Lee Iacocca?” It is the question DaimlerChrysler officials hope most who see the ads will not ask.Maybe we will. Lee had a gift for simplicity that Dr. Z lacks: “If you can find a better car, buy it!” It's hard to improve on that, no matter how much you talk about German engineering while casually bouncing soccer balls off your head.
Even Mr. Zetsche’s computer-generated double seems uncomfortable. “As Dieter himself will probably tell you,” Dr. Z responds, “a rigorous sales season warrants a rest afterwards. Maybe we’ll see him again!”