Chrysler Suicide Watch 24: Now What?
Since Cerberus removed Chrysler from German control, the crisis corporation’s modus operandi appears to remain unchanged. Other than some relatively minor dealer antagonism (since smoothed over), there’s been none of the slash-and-burn stylings formerly attributed to ex-Home Depot CEO Bob Nardelli and his new, private equity employers. Perhaps a companywide excrement – fan collision awaits the conclusion of United Auto Workers negotiations. Meanwhile, Chrysler better start getting its you-know-what together on the product front, ‘cause the cupboard is almost completely bare.
In the last year or so, Chrysler has rolled out over a half-dozen new models. Only one can legitimately be called a “hit”: the Wrangler Unlimited. Yes but– much of the buzz surrounding the vehicle can be attributed to low supply. We’ll have to wait for the initial rush to end before we'll know if the Jeep model has "legs:'" sufficient staying power to match increased production and become a corporate cash cow.
Elsewhere, the bloom is off the 300 and its derivatives. Sales are down 15 percent year-to-date. The good news: Chrysler has the relatively affordable, large-and-in-charge American sedan market to themselves for a while longer. And the “niche” is generating a cool quarter million sales per year. The bad news: the previous regime pushed 300 production well past consumer demand, and then dumped 44 percent of total production into fleet sales. Owners are heading for a major hit at trade in time– which will do neither 300 sales nor the brand any favors.
At the same time, the company’s REAL profit centers are rotting on the vine and taking it on the chin. The Dodge Durango and Chrysler Aspen (a TTAC Ten Worst Automobiles Today (TWAT) winner) are both down by double digits. And again, Chrysler sent its “extra” units to bulk buyers. Some 33 percent of Durangos and 31.2 percent of Aspens sailed with the fleets.
Ye Olde Ram pickup is also in dire straits. The Ram was always going to have problems keeping up with the refreshed Chevrolet Silverado and “newer than thou” Ford F-150. With the slump in the building trades and Toyota jumping in and playing price war games with their Tundra, the Ram is on a hiding to nowhere.
Chrysler’s “new” introductions are also lost in [dealer lot] space. Though let down by poor reliability, the designs that fueled Chrysler’s pre-merger renaissance were daring and innovative (e.g. the cab-forward line and the Neon). They kept their competition awake nights and wrote the tickets for more than a few former Chrysler hands (one of whom has been chasing the magic at GM ever since).
After the 300, Chrysler’s new models landed with a gigantic thud. Jeep Commander excepted, they weren’t “bad” designs; just incredibly bland. The much-anticipated Sebring hit the market and went straight to rentals. Even the nicest of the buff books could find little nice to say. The Caliber was an interesting idea that can only dream of the old Neon’s volumes. And the lack of a model priced beneath the Caliber is crippling.
The Pacifica has been cut and reprieved several times. At the moment, as Chrysler supposedly considers paring down its offerings, there isn't even an update on the drawing board. As Chrysler’s only entry in the hot large-CUV market, the Pacifica should be capturing some of the more profitable parts of the SUV refugee and people-hauler business. The Pacific wasn’t quite good enough when it was new. It’s less so now.
Other than their new minivan, Chrysler has one– count it one– more new vehicle on the near horizon. The new retro-styled Challenger has been getting good ink, but it’s diving into a shrinking pool (Mustang sales are tanking) and competing directly with Chevy’s new Camaro.
At least Chrysler doesn’t share GM’s and Ford’s worries about trying to eke out a profit from imported Europe-designed models. Chrysler don’t have any. One of the main “reasons” behind the now-abandoned DCX merger: Chrysler had no overseas presence. Their European subsidiaries were dogs, and got sold off during Iacocca’s reign. Chrysler Europe isn’t a great drain, but it sure isn’t going to be the company's savior.
Worse, Chrysler’s old “partner/contract designer” Mitsubishi has been twisting in the wind for the last decade. Historically, designing and selling parts/designs to other manufacturers has been Mitsubishi’s path to success (such as they’ve had). Surveying Mitsi's equally aged line of lackluster models indicates that a last-second hook-up with Chrysler won’t help either of them.
Whatever the new regime has planned for Chrysler, it looks like DCX shot their wad before handing over the keys. The new minivan better be “number one with a bullet," 'cause it’s the only one Chrysler's got chambered. Meanwhile, the lack of bold decisions on the new/refreshed product front may indicate management indecisiveness, a secret plan to tie-up with foreign automakers or an equally covert op aimed at stripping and flipping the core business (loans). Or, perhaps, all three.
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