It’s not a question that should leave many folks on the fence, but apparently there are at least a few Detroit-area journalists who might be willing to consider the career change. “Dealers optimistic about Chrysler’s future” proclaims the Detroit News headline from NADA’s annual convention. A more accurate headline (such as USAToday‘s “Chrysler dealers face new-model drought”) probably should have included the term “punch-drunk” to better explain this unexpectedly sunny outlook. One grizzled ChryCo dealer sums up the mood with aplomb:
We’re the toughest fighters. We’ve always been 3 or 4 (in the marketplace). We’ve never been spoon-fed. We have to fight for every piece of ground… There’s light at the end of the tunnel; I just don’t like the length of the tunnel.
Bizarrely (or, for those familiar with the dynamics of Detroit’s media, not), The Freep’s Mark Phelan dons his Pollyanna chapeau and goes for broke with the headline “Chrysler has lots of products to crow about.” Because the “game of survival” claptrap you hear from the people who actually have to sell Chryslers is just so much bellyaching. Phelan kicks off with a plea to “stop shoveling dirt onto Chrysler’s grave for a moment” (not bloody likely, mate), and then breaks into some prose that would be tough to describe as anything other than advertising copy.
SUVs became emblematic of Detroit’s dysfunction, but there’s still a market for them, and the new Grand Cherokee looks like a winner. Its elegant looks sheath a classy interior and the go-anywhere ability that make Jeep one of the auto industry’s strongest brands.
A brand-new seven-seat crossover SUV for Dodge — the brand’s first vehicle in the popular segment dominated by models like the Toyota Highlander and Chevrolet Traverse — is to follow the Grand Cherokee out of Chrysler’s plant off Jefferson Avenue in Detroit in the third or fourth quarter of this year.
At about the same time, dynamic new versions of the exciting Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger sedans are to arrive in dealerships.
Get the picture? This is a lot of faith in Cerberus-era products for a guy who just 15 short months ago said:
Cerberus’ ownership of Chrysler is a strip-and-flip operation. Chrysler’s leaders spent much of the nine years they were part of DaimlerChrysler approving vehicles that didn’t stand a chance in the market.
And yet the last of the Cerberus-developed models, which first appeared in Chrysler’s laughed-out-of-Washington viability plan, are somehow worth breaking out the ad copy thesaurus for? One wonders what Phelan thinks of the widely reported sense of relief at the NADA conference that Chrysler would not be pushing extra inventory as they did last year.
In any case, product is only one of many major issues facing Chrysler’s dealer body. The ongoing arbitration aimed at bringing justice to Chrysler’s bankruptcy-era dealer cull is dragging on, while the critics of the cull like AutoNation CEO Mike Jackson blast ChryCo inpublications like Automotive News [sub]:
Chrysler went first, and I think they did a terrible job. Why they took out any rural small-town dealers, I don’t know. It’s a strength for them. Blows my mind.
But Chrysler must have a fairly different take on the importance of culled dealers, as it has resisted arbitration since the idea first came up in congress. Most recently, Chrysler reserved the right to challenge arbitration legislation in a letter to dealers, prompting Rep. Chris Van Hollen to lay into the Pentastar-crossed automaker:
Chrysler’s suggestion that they may now challenge this legislation is very troubling and will do nothing to help turn the struggling car maker around. It is my hope that Chrysler will allow the arbitration process to play itself out and abide by the outcome of these deliberations.
They drop cars off lease and they’re gone. We lose these people. That will hurt once the new product starts to flow again. They’re leaving us in droves.
But then the government has already backed GMAC and Chrysler in hopes of somehow rescuing both. If GMAC needs to push leases, it will be hard for Chrysler to say no. Chrysler’s dealers, meanwhile, are long used to not having the option either way.