Chrysler Suicide Watch 22: A Tangled Web
Aside from select Jeeps, Chrysler's sales suck. Given this inescapable fact, you'd think that the hard-pressed born-again domestic automaker would do everything in its power to keep the folks on the American front lines happy. After the sales bank debacle, after brazen "channel stuffing" (forcing dealers to take cars), after barring "under performing" Chrysler dealers from the company's life-sustaining used car auctions, after sending these dealers letters threatening to shut them down, you'd think Chrysler's corporate clowns would have run out of ways to alienate the troops. Wait! Here's a new one: exclude some dealers from the corporate Internet sales funnel. Way.
Automotive News discovered the Crisis Corporation's Internet shenanigans by searching online for Chrysler dealers within a specific zip code. They got a list of all the dealers in that area. When they clicked on the name of one of the dealers, they either did or didn't get transferred to the dealer's website. A decision made at the top level prevented some (if not most) dealers benefiting from leads generated (or now not) by the company's all-singing, all-dancing brand-specific websites.
Chrysler, Dodge or Jeep dealers who don't have the corporate "Five Star" dealer rating (Chrysler pentastar, geddit?) get screwed. If you select a Five Star dealer, you can request a quote, search inventory, schedule a test drive or set up a service appointment. If the chosen dealer didn't quality for the five-star designation, you get a message to call or visit the dealership. End of story.
What makes a Five Star dealership worthy of such consideration? According to www.fivestar.com, Five Star dealers must meet "specific requirements set by DaimlerChrysler." They have "strict facility requirements [so] you can expect a clean and pleasant place to shop for a vehicle or have your vehicle serviced" and employ "consistent, proven processes focused on satisfying every customer every time."
Even better, they're staffed with "sales professionals [who] are product experts trained to make sure you find the vehicle that best suits your needs [and] service and parts professionals… trained by DaimlerChrysler to properly diagnose your vehicle, repair it right the first time, and get you back on the road quickly." At this automotive nirvana, "employees work together as a team to ensure that, once you purchase a vehicle from them, you have a seamless ownership experience that can only be called Five Star."
If you stop to think about it, a dealer answering to the above description is kinda what a customer has a right to expect from a "normal" car dealer. Chrysler's Five Star folk are only doing what any well-managed, customer-focused dealership should be doing. In that sense, maybe Chrysler's right to cut out its non-Five Star dealers from the cyber-loop. Of course, Chrysler dealers who don't have the Five Star rating don't quite see it that way.
B.J. Brickle runs both a Chrysler-Jeep dealership and a Nissan franchise in South Carolina. Customers can access his Nissan inventory via Nissan's on-line services. Not so his Chrysler product. "I have a guy just handling Internet leads [at the Nissan dealership]. If you respond to me on the Internet, I'm back to you in an hour. With Chrysler, I don't have that option."
Chrysler's e-favoritism is a classic case of rhinectomy for facial spite. In areas where there are no Five Star dealers, customers looking for local inventory are denied a peek at Chrysler stock– unless a dealer with fewer than five stars wants to bear the expense of listing their inventory on their own site. Even if they do, the vehicles aren't accessible from the corporate mothership's site, where many buyers begin their car-buying adventure.
In typical Big Three Kremlin style, Chrysler says it's "studying" the problem. They say the selective electronic referrals are designed to reward Five Star dealers and encourage lesser stores to work toward certification. "We're re-evaluating all elements of the Five Star program and hope to have a resolution soon," said spokesperson Lidia Cuthbertson.
This is beyond nuts. With precious few exceptions, Chrysler's sales are down across the board, with no immediate prospects of resurrection. At best, the company has a truck-heavy, mediocre lineup. While you can certainly understand Chrysler's general desire to trim its bloated dealer network, there are dignified ways to go about it (e.g. Chapter 11). Now is not the time to demoralize dealers struggling to put food on their table and, by extension, Chrysler's.
One thing's for sure: Chrysler needs to stop "re-evaluating" their web policies and understand the number one rule in sales: make it easy to buy. Stupid moves like this serve no useful purpose. The two-tier internet strategy pits dealer against dealer, and dealers against the company. It may not violate the letter of their franchise agreement, but it annihilates the spirit.
New owners or no, Chrysler still seems Hell-bent on self-annihilation.
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