The moment the Chrysler – Fiat hookup was announced, savvy pistonheads nasally ejected their coffee. Chrysler and FIAT? That’s like throwing a drowning man an anvil. Ignoring the brands’ histories of complete crapitude, the mainstream media took the idea seriously. Their complicity/complacency has done wonders for the executives and elected officials in charge of this epic non-starter, but it does nothing to serve the public interest. After all, we’ve got to pay for this turkey. Now that Chrysler is about to axe dealers, permanently shutter plants, fire union workers and ditch a big ass chunk of their pensions and benefits, the MSM is beginning to consider the possibility that the deal sucks. Or, as the ever-faithful Detroit News puts it, “After bankruptcy, Chrysler still faces uncertain future.” Ya think?
After bankruptcy court, the Auburn Hills-based automaker must survive on American and Canadian loans now pegged at $6 billion until vehicles inspired by its new partner, Fiat SpA, begin rolling off North American assembly lines in 2011.
Let’s see . . . It’s 2009. Chrysler lost $4.7 billion this year AND sucked-up $6 billion in kiss-’em-goodbye “bridge loans” and $4 billion in federal zombie maintenance payments. So now they’re going to stretch $6 billion over two years. Riiiiight.
Key actions Chrysler must take to bridge the gap include slimming its dealer network, further reducing its hourly work force, piggybacking on Fiat’s foreign dealer network and global buying power, and hustling some Fiat technology to Chrysler’s U.S. assembly lines.
So Chrysler is going to save money by using Fiat suppliers and Fiat’s going to sell Chrysler’s abroad. Riiiight.
At the same time, car sales can’t take a dramatic plunge from the 10 million vehicles predicted for this year. And gas prices can’t spike, since Chrysler’s product line is tilted heavily toward pickups, sport utility vehicles and minivans.
Notice the word “dramatic.” And says who? David Cole! The head of the Center for Automotive Research, whose chicken little study laid the foundation for this $65 billion—and counting—boondoggle.
“Chrysler has lowered its structural costs, reduced its break-even point and put itself in a position to be very profitable in the midterm with a Fiat alliance,” Cole said.
I guess we’re putting our money where Cole’s mouth is. Again. Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal has discovered that Chrysler’s propensity for building horrible cars could be a problem on the sales side of things.
Michelle Payan loves the styling and roominess of her 2006 Chrysler 300 sedan, but a defective air conditioner and transmission have turned her against the brand. “I’m not buying another Chrysler,” says Ms. Payan, a 26-year-old insurance-claims adjuster in Phoenix.
In announcing Chrysler LLC’s government-negotiated bankruptcy filing, President Obama expressed the hope that new-car seekers would consider buying American. But new car buyers are less accustomed to seeking advice from the president than from Consumer Reports. In its annual automotive issue last month, Consumer Reports recommended 166 models—not one of them a Chrysler, Dodge or Jeep, the three Chrysler nameplates.
Uh-oh! It looks like we have a perception gap perception gap.
But while Ford and GM are largely battling outdated perceptions of questionable reliability, “at Chrysler it’s a reality,” says George Peterson, president of AutoPacific Inc., which each year surveys about 40,000 car owners. “To survive, Chrysler needs to get its quality at least to the level of Ford and GM.”
This reliance on cross-town qualitative measurement has isolated GM and Chrysler execs from reality, and destroyed their ability to compete. Despite C11, Motown’s media lap dogs continue to enable this suicidal self-delusion. The WSJ article, which starts with a bit of Hai Karate, ends-up on its back, feet wiggling the air. Shame on them all.
The government-directed reorganization plan of Chrysler calls for it to merge with Fiat and start making Fiats in the U.S. In Europe, Fiat has received low rankings in reliability studies, but its performance has been improving.
Meanwhile, Chrysler will continue making trucks and SUVs. Its Jeep Wrangler and Jeep Grand Cherokee, by nearly all accounts, lead the pack in off-road performance, and both sport an iconic design that sets them apart. Similarly distinctive is the mammoth Dodge Ram pickup. But all of those models have suffered reliability problems. Of seven full-size pickups reviewed by Consumer Reports, only one — the Dodge Ram — failed to make the recommended list.
Yet there is hope. The redesigned 2009 Dodge Ram is winning rave reviews for performance and style, and is expected to win endorsements if it proves largely free of defects.
And Chrysler has a history of staging comebacks from product-driven financial quandaries. The quality problems of the Dodge Aspen (and its sister, the Plymouth Volare) contributed to the crisis that led Chrysler to seek a government loan in 1979. After recovering from that brush with bankruptcy, Chrysler entered a nearly two-decade period of winning kudos for its cars, trucks and minivans.
And so the cycle continues . . .