Will Sex Sell for Chrysler?

Can sex sell cars at troubled Chrysler? On Nov. 4, Chrysler Group (now controlled by Italy's Fiat Group (FIA.MI) and almost 10% owned by the U.S. government) finally told the world how it plans to storm back: with a dose of Viagra.

At a presentation for auto analysts and reporters, Olivier Francois, the Frenchman in charge of the company's namesake brand, showed a three-minute promotional video infused with glamour, style, and sexual imagery. At one point, a scantily clad model slipped out of a Chrysler, revealing her tattooed thigh. At another, a tagline appeared: "Let's make cars people want to make out in again." In case anybody missed the drift, Francois—who turned around Fiat's top-shelf Lancia brand four years ago—announced to the crowd that Chrysler's cars should be depicted as "models on a runway."

It's hardly the first time Chrysler—or any carmaker—has used sexual innuendo to move inventory. Some years ago, a Chrysler minivan ad included wink-wink allusions to wife-swapping. In another old spot, a kid asks why her sister, sitting in the roomy backseat of her parents' Concorde, is named Concorde. Or consider the "Lingerie Bowl" proposed in 2003 by Julie Roehm, then Chrysler's marketing chief. Her idea: offer a gridiron match between lingerie-clad women as a pay-per-view alternative to the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show. (After parent groups complained, the idea was scratched.)

The new ads aim for sensuality over sex. Still, a friskier Chrysler will be a tough sell. The brand's sales are off 50% this year. And after the new 300 sedan makes its debut in 2010, a batch of fresh cars won't arrive for three more years. "They're trying to show a return to style," says IHS Global Insight (IHS) analyst John Wolkonowicz. "But you have to have products to match the imagery." How do you sex up a PT Cruiser?

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