DaimlerChrysler AG's Chrysler Group is trying to complete an agreement with former Chrysler Corp. Chairman Lee Iacocca to appear in commercials promoting the automaker's offer of an employee discount to all buyers.
Actor Jason Alexander, who appeared in the television show "Seinfeld," will also star in the commercials, uttering Iacocca's line, "If you can find a better car, buy it," Chrysler spokesman Mike Aberlich said. Iacocca, Chrysler's chairman from 1979 to 1992, used that line in 1980s TV commercials that helped rescue the company from near-bankruptcy.
Chrysler announced July 1 it would match General Motors Corp.'s employee discount incentives, which helped GM increase June U.S. sales 47 percent. GM, the world's biggest automaker, began offering all buyers the same discount it gives to employees on June 1 after its U.S. sales through May fell 6.7 percent and inventories of unsold vehicles climbed amid cuts in production.
The GM program hurt Chrysler's June sales, limiting gains to 5 percent, less than the 16 percent industry average for the month, Chrysler sales chief Gary Dilts said last week.
Chrysler released details of its offer on Wednesday. Its discount combines a lower price with rebates, Aberlich said. For example, a Grand Caravan SXT minivan model sold for $24,450 in May with $3,500 in rebates. This month, the same model will cost $22,832, he said.
Chrysler spokesman Jason Vines, who said he used to write jokes for Iacocca when he was at Chrysler, said he called the former executive about noon on July 1 and got him to agree in principle to the campaign.
Iacocca, 80, is negotiating to be paid a fee now and an additional $1 for every Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep vehicle sold from July 1 to Dec. 31 to support the Iacocca Foundation for diabetes research, Vines said. He wouldn't give the upfront amount. Iacocca's wife, Mary, died of diabetes complications in 1983.
The commercials with Iacocca pushing the employee discount plan were filmed this past weekend in California and are ready to run as soon as a deal can be worked out, Aberlich said.
Iacocca was part of billionaire investor Kirk Kerkorian's unsuccessful hostile bid to buy Chrysler in 1995. Acrimony over his role in that episode has faded, Vines said.
"It's going to get them huge awareness," said Jim Sanfilippo, executive vice president of Automotive Marketing Consultants Inc. "Baby boomers buy half the cars in this country, and they're going to remember Lee Iacocca."