Sunday's congregation of DaimlerChrysler dealers saw the autosellers leave the franchisee event in happier mood than that prevailing on their arrival.

Meeting during the National Automobile Dealers Association convention in Las Vegas, DC's ground troops made clear their dissatisfaction with the carmaker's recent advertising strategy -- not least the decision to sign singer Celine Dion for $14 million (€11.24m; £7.68m). The songbird's image, claimed the dealers, failed to resonate with their customers.

Nor did they applaud DC's so-called Lingerie Bowl in December, a pay-per-view Super Bowl halftime display involving females in frillies more notable for paucity than their relevance to autos. The company has since pulled its sponsorship of the event.

However, the downhearted dealers perked up when Joe Eberhardt, Chrysler vp of global sales and marketing, unveiled the manufacturer's spring lineup and details of its new advertising campaign.

Following the franchise meeting, several dealers told the Wall Street Journal of their excitement at upcoming new products -- particularly the Dodge Magnum sports tourer and Chrysler 300C sedan, both based on the LX rear-wheel drive platform.

DC insists it has overcome the technology problems associated with rear-wheel drive, although dealers in the US snow belt remain unconvinced. According to Eberhardt, one of the company's main marketing objectives in 2004 will be to convince the public that RWD is as effective in snow conditions as front-wheel drive.

Dealers were also eager that DC hit back at Ford Motor Company whose recent advertising majored on unfavourable comparisons of Dodge trucks with its own products. But Eberhardt was cool at the prospect: "I don't think we'll stoop that low," he said.

Data sourced from: The Wall Street Journal Online; additional content by WARC staff