Canadian Chrysler Dealer's Firmly Held Belief in Brand's Future

Samir Syed
by Samir Syed

Scott Held draws a line in the sand. “I firmly believe we will be selling Chrysler for quite a long time.” Held is the president and managing partner of Sherwood Partners. In the same year that Chrysler’s U.S. sales have shrunk by 35.9 percent, his group has just spent CA$18m on a new, super-sized Chrysler dealership in Edmonton, Alberta. What if Held’s wrong and Chrysler goes belly up? “I know I am taking a risk,” Held admits. "But I have faith."

Held’s been in the business for fourteen years, including the last three managing or running dealerships. He’s lived through Chrysler’s chequered past– and sees good things in its future. He disputes the widely-held belief that Daimler-Benz pillaged Chrysler.

“Yeah, it was a take-over. I mean, all the Chrysler execs were fired and replaced with Benz guys. But under Benz, I saw some of the product development; it gave us access to some high-technology Mercedes components we would never have had access to,” he states matter-of-factly. “It was better for Chrysler than it was for Benz. Benz bought the company for $40b and sold it for $7b,” he reminds me.

And yet, the sharp decline in bankable market value didn’t set off warning signs that Chrysler may be in bad shape.

Several factors fuel Scott Held’s optimism, not the least of which is the 22 straight months of sales increases for Chrysler’s Canadian retail operations. The success is in stark contrast to Chrysler’s U.S. misfortunes. Held attributes the Chrysler’s Canadian success to “aggressive marketing and incentives”, and, surprisingly, product.

“The Patriot, Caliber and Compass are giving us access to young people we’d never have seen… The Caliber is doing much better than the Neon.”

It’s difficult to say if Held’s analysis is on the mark. Though smaller SUVs have always fared better in Canada (where gas prices are currently hovering near $5.20/gallon), Chrysler advertises heavily in the U.S. also, and all of the models Held named are also on sale there. And doing badly.

Chrysler was one of the earliest automakers to cut Canadian MSRP to achieve parity with U.S. prices. I asked Held if he thought the move created a sales bubble, foreshadowing an eventual decline.

“They addressed the [rising dollar] very early. It didn’t give us a boost. November and December [2007] were tough months for all of Canada but we still kicked ass. If anything that just let us keep our customers we would have lost to the U.S.”

Held is fully confident in Canadian demand for Chrysler products; no bubble here, move along.

Held admits Chrysler has made a few mistakes over the years, most visibly on the Sebring. “That’s an easy one to pick on,” he jests. He was also worried about Chrysler dropping the short-wheel base Caravan for the new 2008 generation. “It did a lot of stuff for not a lot of money.”

But the bravado of the salesman always returns to the discourse. Those things “have been addressed” now. Old Sebring buyers are going for the Avenger, and SWB Caravan shoppers are going for the new Dodge Journey. “I’m surprised at how well that thing is doing,” he muses.

Despite the “good years” under Daimler, Held thinks Cerberus is a better fit for the troubled Detroit automaker. “I’ve met Bob Nardelli,” he mentions. “They’ve done a significant amount of restructuring. They’ve committed to spending large dollar amounts on product development and on hybrids.”

Daimler, he recalls, was much more obsessed with diesel-powered cars, as befitted its European heritage. Held thinks the hybrid Durango/Aspen twins will be some great sellers. He’s so confident, that he’s ordered a “bunch of them” for his dealership. “A more volume-selling [i.e., smaller] hybrid is on the way. I think that’s where Jim Press wants to go.”

When prodded about Chrysler’s lengthy development time, Held concedes that Chrysler is a bit late to the hybrid party, but it still has to be done. “Honda and Toyota have the most success with hybrids on cars that are already fuel-efficient. We’ll be a bit late to the party, but I don’t think the party will be over.”

Held isn’t sure when such a car will come, as he doesn’t hear from Chrysler’s new, mysterious overlords much earlier than the Internet does, but his optimism isn’t tainted.

To my relief, Held’s not fazed by any of the doom-and-gloom I bring to the conversation. “I think that ‘operational bankruptcy’ thing was played up by the press because it makes a good story. The brand isn’t going to disappear.” One thing’s for sure: time will tell.

Samir Syed
Samir Syed

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  • Cleek Cleek on Jul 09, 2008
    psarhjinian Says: As a socialist myself, I don’t see this as a bad thing. You're fortunate. Most hardcore socialists have only been provided the expertise to post on TTAOC : The Truth About Ox Carts. But lest I forget the Trabant... ;-)
  • Gnmtal Gnmtal on Jul 09, 2008

    nice to hear from other edmontonians! i think we in alberta are stupid in that our economy is so good we're super-willing to pay uber-high prices for cars compared to americans. these dealers have no incentive to lower prices. if we all held back for a couple of months we'd probably see some serious movement in pricing. and seeing so many kids driving $50k sti's, people in all sorts of bmw's, and king ranches is evidence that we're not cheap! anyway, that's probably why we're seeing dealers able to spend multi-millions of dollars on new facilities.

  • FreedMike Well, if you want a Swedish cockroach that's easy to work on, here's your ticket. Tad overpriced but it's an asking price, after all. And those old Volvo seats are divine. It'd be worth a look.
  • SCE to AUX "...has arguably advantaged the Asian nation by subsidizing electric vehicles, it has attempted to prioritize more domestic manufacturing by pouring money atop the relevant industries via the so-called Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act"Seems like you're trying to diss the Biden Administration before crediting its protectionism in the IRA.Chinese-made EV batteries aren't part of the subsidy program, so subsidizing EVs hasn't advantaged China. But the general sourcing of Chinese-made components - whether in a subsidized car or not - does help China.This is a general problem in the US economy. Everybody wants to wave the flag, but nobody wants to be the high-cost supplier, and nobody wants to pay more.The same scenario played out 50 years ago, except the competitor was Japan. At the end of the day, protectionism didn't work, and consumers got what they wanted.
  • Bkojote I'm so glad I bought a Kia Telluride instead of a Toyota Tacoma given all these recalls. I wanted an off roady looking vehicle so I could impress the secretary we hired but instead my wife left me when she saw my phone messages and now I'm stuck making the $1200 monthly payment until I can refinance at a lower rate than 28% even though I lost my job last month. I'm hoping the Kia dealers will let me trade to the new one with the bigger infotainment tooFunny enough the secretary's new boyfriend is driving a Tacoma but with the recall maybe I'll have a shot.
  • Buickman Stop the Invasion. Boycott Envision.I am the top Buick salesman in history, bar none.have never sold this Commie Car and will not until they are built
  • SCE to AUX Nice car for a nice price. I'd replace the headlights.