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'Dr. Z' Gets Vote of Confidence

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DETROIT The Chrysler Group said it would extend its employee pricing discounts on most 2006 models until Sept. 5, along with its "Ask Dr. Z" ad campaign featuring CEO Dieter Zetsche as pitchman.

The campaign has thus far run only to support the discounts.

The move comes as the automaker disclosed that U.S. sales slid 34 percent in July from the same period a year ago. The falloff has been largely attributed to less enticing discounts compared to last year, when a price war broke out among the Big Three carmakers, resulting in hard-to-top sales figures.

The Chrysler discounts, which began on July 1, were originally to expire July 31, but the drop in sales prompted Chrysler to keep the deals in effect. In addition to giving employee discounts to the public, buyers are also offered a choice between zero financing for up to three years or a rebate.

The Dr. Z campaign, via BBDO in Detroit, incorporates print, broadcast and Internet elements.

Some analysts have criticized the campaign, saying it has sent a mixed message to consumers.

But Chrysler officials held firm, insisting during a late Tuesday conference call with analysts that the Dr. Z campaign was working.

"We track the effectiveness of the campaign from the top of the funnel and it was gaining momentum as it went through the month," said Mike Manley, Chrysler vp of sales strategy and dealer operations. "We believe that as we go through August, that momentum will pick up."