Chrysler Suicide Watch 31: False Dawn

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago

“It’s a New Day.” Unless you’re terminally ill or the guest of a terrorist cell, this observation won’t come as much of a surprise or, in itself, cause much delight. And yet that’s the tagline for the [now] combined Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep brands. In an explanatory TV ad, an animated child tells viewers that the American automaker will [now] listen to YOU and build cars the cars YOU want. The ad is an excellent example of what Adolph Hitler called The Big Lie: a falsehood so “colossal” that no one would believe that someone “could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously”. To wit: if any single automaker ISN’T building the cars YOU want, it’s Chrysler.

Ipso facto. Chrysler’s U.S. market share is swirling around the toilet bowl. Although they’re now a privately-held company exempt from full public financial disclosure, analysts reckon Auburn Hills accounts for just 14 percent of the America’s new car sales pie– and falling. Not to mention the bulk sales propping-up that share. And no wonder: Chrysler’s three brands are suffused with poorly-built, hugely discounted, high-depreciation product that YOU would be crazy to buy.

The timing of Chrysler’s new day new tagline adds to the cognitive dissonance. Why would Chrysler announce its newfound desire to build cars customers want (sounds crazy but it just might work) just as it’s about to decimate its entire model lineup? This forthcoming execution of ten or more Chrysler losers makes perfect sense: the first part of making the cars YOU want is shit-canning the cars YOU don’t want. But it’s a PR nightmare. Customers will [rightly] see the bloodletting as an abject admission that Chrysler isn’t clued-in to its customers’ need.

Don’t worry! It’s a New Day! (How Mein Kampf is that?) Yes, well, what about all those customers who helped keep Chrysler alive by buying all the models that the company is now killing? Unless these owners plan to take their lame duck car or truck to the grave (via their very own personal lifetime warranty), Chrysler’s producticide will add depreciation insult to depreciation injury. Should old acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind? Guess so.

The discrepancy between Chrysler’s New Day sloganeering and its past and current predicament isn’t the only reason that their new tagline is a Big Lie. The automaker’s inability to implement this consumer-centric philosophy in the future also puts paid to their Napoleonic declaration that history begins… now.

Let’s set aside the fact that Chrysler’s new owners’ intention to sell the company to someone else (talk about commitment: we’re going to build the cars YOU want until we can get SOMEONE ELSE TO DO IT). To bring meaning to Chrysler’s New Day promise to listen and respond to customers’ needs, they’ve got to change they way they do business.

Hence the tagline’s tagline: “you talk, we listen.” The evidence for this communications revolution is weak. The official website proclaims the New Day and invites customers to “see the difference” on 12 models. The majority of the enhancements are options (i.e. extra expense), rather than new “you asked for it, you got it” standard features. Are we really to believe that Charger customers clamored for “Cool Vanilla” paint? At best, these changes result from the same old focus group filtration. At worst, Chrysler’s spinning to create a false sense of consumer “empowerment.”

For evidence of Chrysler’s supposed desire to “get close to the customer,” we turn to their official blog. Not only is Chrysler leaving this electronic forum to rot on the [not Jason] vine, but even a cursory glance reveals that it’s nothing more than corporate propaganda written by insiders, hacks and Spinmeisters. “Yes a truck can be a family vehicle;” “A new day dawns at our dealerships;” “Unleashed.” In a web swimming with millions of car buyers and enthusiasts, most blog posts get single digit (including 0) responses. ‘Nuff said?

It’s too bad that Chrysler’s New Day is a Big Lie. They’ve missed a huge opportunity to make an enormous competitive leap. If Chrysler really wanted to revolutionize its business, to create a genuine new dawn, they could do so by throwing open the company to its customers, dealers and workers. They could use the net to destroy the walls separating “us” and “them,” and establish a sophisticated feedback loop where the company COULD listen to its customers— and act upon that information in a timely way.

Yeah right. Chrysler is owned by Cerberus, a private equity company known for its obsessive, Kremlin-like secrecy. Of all the automakers in the world, Chrysler is the LEAST likely to let its guard down. There will be no Glasnost in Auburn Hills. Chrysler’s New Day is nothing more than a false dawn for those gullible– or desperate– enough to believe that the sun will come out tomorrow for the product-challenged, financially troubled American automaker.

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  • Cayman Cayman on Feb 23, 2008

    Many people here have missed Chrysler's major error. Sadly, it happens to be one that many other manufacturers are making today. Chrysler started to throw away its in-house product development & detail design experience over 15 years ago. Today they can't make a cohesive, high quality product. The decision looked great on the accounting books. A bunch of young guys on CATIA workstations can determine how Supplier 1 part A bolts to Supplier 2 part B, and the Chrysler design center can crinkle the sheetmetal differently every 5 years very cost effectively. But the R&D, the constant advancement of technology, the true engineering got axed back to a fraction of what it should be. Those gearheads who tinkered with cars on weekends, wore out tires at SCCA events, slaved for hours optimizing minute design details because they knew from real experience what a solid product needed to offer, and waged passionate battles against the beancounters to ensure that cost-cutting didn't undermine quality -- these guys don't work at Chrysler anymore. Many of the best left before the DCX days. Chryser accelerated offloading major systems development to low-bid suppliers (the suppliers that have every incentive to slash quality that doesn't immediately show itself to the customer). Chrysler thought they were saving money, and the stylish vehicles in the showroom sold well for a while. Feature count and price targets trumped solid engineering. Unfortunately, we now see where inattention to engineering detail has led Chrysler. Its products, for the most part are: - lowest in their classes in fuel economy - lowest in their classes in resale value - rated poorly in initial quality - rated poorly in reliability - amongst the least respected for interior design and material quality - consistently outperformed in objective performance measures by competitors - least-liked by professional automotive reviewers ...and so on. Don't get me wrong -- they had their hits, and i give them full credit for getting some cars right. - The Viper has been refined into a truly competitive car that doesn't leak through all the door seals anymore. It has staying power. - The PT was a styling hit and actually a decent budget mobile -- better than its successors. - Dollar-per-horsepower on SRT models has always been decent. - The choice of Cummins diesels have earned a solid reputation. Mr. Farago is spot on: Chryserberus is dying a slow but inevitable death. Pieces will be parceled off to other companies -- Jeep will probably become the "tough" brand for Toyota or Honda, and other Asian manufacturers might be interested in picking up a few manufacturing sites for another decade of truck & ute production (unless fuel becomes truly expensive and the oversize vehicle fad abruptly ends). ... which brings us to the most glaring point of all. Since fuel is becoming an increasing percantage of the average American family budget, consumers certainly will embrace smaller, more fuel efficient cars. Chrysler has little -- almost nothing -- to offer them. No serious product development in over a decade means no small diesels, no electric hybrids, no competitive compact chassis, no respected marketable name in economical cars whatsoever. What's the best they can do? a 1.8 liter Caliber that offers 24/29mpg and 148 hp? For goodness' sake, a Jetta Sportwagen offers 30hp more with equal fuel economy, and VW's 40+ mpg diesels are on the way. So sad you're going out in a wimper, Chrysler.

  • Sadjeepdlr Sadjeepdlr on Feb 27, 2008

    Just found this site, very interesting. This company has changed so much in the last 8-10 years. We used to have customers that would NEVER even think of buying a GM Ford or god forbid a import. It started with axles and brakes on 99 grand cherokees. In all my years as a dealer I have never seen so many pissed off people! Jeep was not the reliable vehicle we had sold for so many years, and our customers were not afraid to tell people that. Now we have the Compass/Patriot a car in Jeeps clothing. Actually would be a nice add to the line if it got good fuel economy. I have customers that look at the EPA and laugh because the old LeSabre with a 3.8 gets better. The Wrangler is nice but not enough with good equipment were built! When you have to wait 7 months for a Rubicon sold order to be built, something is wrong. And as long as I'm complaining how about a Jeep pickup? Like the old days. A real truck 1/2 ton 3/4 ton and 1 ton not a wrangler with a box. Remember the Scrambler? we couldn't give those away. Enough bitching for now.

  • Daniel 16500 pesos
  • IanGTCS Blue jays games are on AM so if I happen to be in the car when they are playing I listen. Sometimes I'll tune into the comedy station as well. If AM went away I'd really only miss listening to baseball but I imagine they would migrate to a local FM station.
  • Syke I still listen, primarily because Richmond Flying Squirrels (AA - Giants farm system) road games are on 910AM.
  • Timothy I have heard nothing in this article about the problems with the 3.3 liter engine. I have a 2014 Sorento with 3.3 v6. Purchased it from original owner with 68,000 miles on it. Drove it for 3 months, then leaking headgaskets! come to find out there is problem with head bolts pulling out of the block. Kia even has name for it, "soft block issue"! Dealer said not under warranty because I'm not original owner. I called customer service and they said same thing. They told me it was a defect but not under warranty. Pretty sad. After my Hyundai engine went bad and now this with Sorento, I'm done with both.
  • IBx1 Telling employees to relocate when housing prices are hyperinflated and interest rates are kissing double-digits, right before the next great depression deletes all that "value" they'd have to buy?