Chrysler Suicide Watch 2: Say It Ain't So Joe

Frank Williams
by Frank Williams

Germans don’t like the phrase “assisted suicide.” The preferred term is aktive Sterbehilfe (active assistance in dying). Apparently, it's not a crime. Euthanasia is a crime. Assisted suicide is not. However you slice it, it's clear that this “activity” is not unknown in Germany’s corporate culture. While DCX’ leadership keeps insisting they want to nurture the Chrysler group back to health, they seem Hell bent on helping it meet its demise.

DOA: Joe Eberhardt. In the summer of 2003, the Dark Lords of DCX appointed Herr Eberhardt Chrysler Group Executive Vice President – Global Sales, Marketing and Service. From the time he arrived, everything Jolting Joe did seemed to reflect a callous disregard for his employer's survival. In three years, Eberhardt managed to turn a company on the verge of a renaissance into an organization standing on the precipice.

For one thing, Eberhardt approved the two worst automotive ad campaigns in recent history. The cartoonish “Ask Dr. Z” commercials succeeded in making a fool of both his boss and his boss’ company, while the “WTF?” Dodge Nitro spots almost achieved the impossible: slowing sales of a hot-selling product. Joe was just getting warmed-up. When sales started tanking, Joe started banking. By reneging on Lee Iacocca’s promise not to build vehicles regardless of customer demand, Eberhardt’s Chrysler boldly went where Chapter 11-aversive executives fear to tread.

And then Eberhardt plunged Chrysler Group deep into rebate Hell. The company’s incentives are now double the industry average– and growing. And if that wasn’t enough to convince Chrysler’s German masters that it was time to confiscate Joe's belt and shoe laces, Eberhardt unleashed his pièce de résistance: alienating the entire Chrysler/Dodge/Jeep dealer network. Never a one for the subtle approach, Joe forced dealers to take vehicles they couldn’t sell, then insulted their sales abilities when they didn't sell them. No wonder the President of Southfield Chrysler said “Joe needs to work on his people skills a bit.”

In this case, there’s no need for the old “Did he jump or was he pushed?” debate. Think of Mr. Eberhardt’s corporate demise as aktive Sterbehilfe and call it good. But where does Jolted Joe’s departure leave the automaker with enough unsold inventory to give every person in the state of Wyoming a new vehicle (assuming they’d want a Chrysler product)– not including the suspiciously undisclosed number of vehicles they have stashed away in that infamous sales bank? Fleet sales!

When reporters asked Chrysler's [remaining] execs why they're offering both a soft top and a retractable hard top on the new Sebring, the expense accounters said the ragtop was a “lower cost alternative” for the rental market. You don’t have to be a Taurean to know that positioning a new model in the resale toilet from the outset isn’t a very smart move– unless you’re trying to make dumb ones. Hmmm.

While we’re second guessing management motivation, those of you who’ve wondered if Chrysler’s got a cunning plan to build up the sales bank as a hedge against UAW actions needn’t. If that were the case, the company wouldn’t be overproducing and backlogging Rams and Pacificas and other models that aren’t selling; models that will continue to wither against fresh models from GM, Ford and Toyota. If riding out an extended strike was the plan, Chrysler would be would amassing Calibers, Wrangler four-doors and other popular models.

How’s this for a theory: Daimler-Benz wants Chrysler to fail. There were plenty of German execs who thought the “merger of equals” sullied MB’s good name. Perhaps powerful factions within DCX denied Chrysler the resources it needed (e.g. advanced engineering) so that the American automaker and its German supporters would be hoisted by their own petard. Maybe they actively worked to destroy Chrysler so they could fill the power vacuum left by the automaker's eventual bankruptcy/sell-off. It wouldn’t be the first time that one part of a large company plotted against the interests of the other, in a fight to the death for control.

Maybe it didn’t start that way, but I bet that's the way it is now, as executives scramble to diassociate themselves from DCX' all-American adventure. I mean, why did Dr. Z and his zealots stand around so long, watching Eberhardt drive Chrysler over a cliff? Surely someone above him should have yanked Joltin' Joe out of the game a long time ago. You could even say that Joe's superiors are as guilty as Eberhardt for Chysler's declining physical and mental health. Oh… that’s right. They can’t be guilty. That’s not a crime in Germany.

Frank Williams
Frank Williams

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  • Jerry weber Jerry weber on Dec 11, 2006

    It seems that the bloggers have made an inadvertant consensus on chrysler. That is Joe Eberhardt could not have done all of that damage and the company is now on the way to happiness without this one exec. It seems quite clear that Joe and Lasorda and others were backed into the corner of beiong committed to labor contracts, parts orders and a production schedule that the uber sales man in chief was not responsible for. Eberhardt became like the comedy skit with Lucy trying to eat all of the bon bons she couldn't put into the boxes in time at the candy factory as the line was running too fast for her to keep up. When you read toyota ahead another 14% last month, did it not occur to any one that in a stationary or contracting market, these added sales were going to come out of someones hide. Since the other volume foreign makers were either ahead or slightly behind, then who was this business taken from? Obviously when everyone was pointing at gm and ford, they forgot chrysler. With the same problems of identical legacy and labor costs as their rivals, chrysler would need some super products to keep from getting decimated like their cross town rivals. With their own share of ancient engines, transmissions and body designs,chrysler was also ready for a fall. It's just that with the gm kekorian news all this year, and then ford mullaly news we weren't watching. Now I guess everyone will.

  • Acx Acx on Jan 14, 2007

    who would pay mercedes millions in phantom consulting fees if chrysler went bye bye?

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