Chrysler Suicide Watch 22: A Tangled Web

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, 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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  • Pete Gravell Pete Gravell on Feb 23, 2008

    Yeah Toyota wants your buisness. Then after you buy it, you'll be right back at the Dodge dealership trying to trade it in, BECAUSE THERE A BIG DISAPOINTMENT. AND IN THE WORLD WHERE EVERYBODY IS CONCERNED ABOUT BEING "GREEN" THE TUNDRA IS A HUGE LET DOWN. 10-12 MPG WITH PREMIUM FUEL REQUIREMENTS AT REALLY HUGE PRICES IS NOT GREEN> in any sense of the word. If You want to tow 10,000 lbs get a DIESEL!!. everybody loves to slam Chrysler, they want to see them fail. but not everybody in the world can afford a new vehicle, and there is ALOT of old Chrysler/Dodge/Jeep still out there as well as Ford/Mercury and Chevorlet/Buick in a million times better shape than a 1997 toyota, or honda. AND I HAVE SEEN ALOT OF BIG 3 Products with 200,000 or more miles, still strong and in good shape, despite fender benders and the winter. It's just like the media and politicians, nobody listens to the silent majority. because there too afraid of people with common sense. Just like people who think corn alcohol is the fuel awnser. what you dont hear about is the 1.5 gallons of diesel fuel burned per gallon of alcohol made just to plant/till/harvest then add on the requirements to boil and purify the alcohol. DUH!!!!

  • Pete Gravell Pete Gravell on Feb 23, 2008

    ooooooh, almost forgot. as for the demise of Chrysler. there like Cockroaches and Kieth Richards , nuke the world, they would survive. Good ol' "Ma Mopar"

  • MaintenanceCosts I don't and realistically won't drive on track, but I think the performance characteristics of EV powertrains are just plain superior on the street. You get quicker response, finer control over the throttle, no possibility of being out of the powerband and needing a time-consuming shift, more capability in the speed range where you actually drive, and less brake heat. The only "problem" (and there are many situations where it's a plus, not a problem) is the lack of noise.
  • JMII After tracking two cars (a 350Z and a C7) I can't imagine tracking an EV because so much of your "feeling" of driving comes from sound. That said you might be able to detect grip levels better as tire sounds could be heard easier without the roar of the engine and exhaust. However I change gears based mostly on sound so even an automatic (like a C8) that would be a disappointment on track. Hearing an engine roar is too important to the overall experience: so tracking an EV? No thanks!I've driven an electric go-kart around a track as my only point of reference and its weird. It sort of works because a kart is so small and doesn't require shifting plus you still hear the "engine" whirring behind you. The sensation is like driving cordless drill, so there is some sense of torque being applied. You adapt pretty quickly but it just seems so wrong. With a standard ICE car, even a fast one, RPMs raise and fall with each shift so there is time to process the wonderful sounds and they give you a great sense of the mechanical engine bits working to propel you.I feel track toys will always be ICE powered, similar to how people still enjoy sailing or horseback riding as "sports" despite both forms of transportation being replaced by superior technology. I assume niche companies will continue to build and maintain ICE vehicles. In the future you'll have to take your grand-kids to the local track to explain that cars were once glorious, smoke spewing, noisy things. The smells and the sounds are unique to racing so they need to stay that way. Often a car goes by while your in the pits and you can identify it by sound alone... I would hate to lose that.
  • Kjhkjlhkjhkljh kljhjkhjklhkjh "20 combined city/highway"...sigh
  • MaintenanceCosts Not sure this is true for electrified products. The Pacifica Hybrid continues to have its share of issues and there have been some issues with the 4xe products as well.
  • Ajla I'm probably not going to buy an EV performance car. I just don't think the power delivery and silence are going to do it for me.Most likely is that I'll have an EV/PHEV "premium" vehicle, (which is where I think EV attributes make the most sense) and then have a "classic" ICE car for Sunday trips to Culver's.