By on September 14, 2009

I can hear TTAC’s audience wincing at the headline. It should be “differently,” not “different.” Of course, if you imagine this executive exhortation spoken by an Italian mobster—a reasonable re-imagining given the fact that Chrysler is now controlled by Fiat—it still doesn’t work. In that case, it should be “We gotta do business different.” Preferably preceded by the word “Hey.” This ode to illiteracy appeared in a dealer document comparing Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep advertising’s effectiveness to that of Ford and Toyota. (Guess who scored higher?) So, did anyone notice the literary mistake? I’m serious. You can concentrate on what Chrysler plans to do different before it goes Tango Uniform, or you can wonder why these guys never, ever sweat the details.

Actually, it’s more about causation than a straight either/or choice. To survive, Chrysler has to learn how to sweat the details: to make interiors, engines and transmissions that don’t suck and fit them together in such a way as they don’t break, fail or fall apart. And then, gradually, inexorably, make them better, until they’re better than all their competition’s. As for branding, it’s no biggie. Jeeps go off road, Dodges go the distance and Chryslers have class. Off you go, boys. Don’t forget to pay me my $14,312,130,642 when you get the chance.

But noooooo.

“To save Chrysler Group LLC, Chief Executive Officer Sergio Marchionne has to create a mid-size sedan that can compete with the world’s best,” Bloomberg asserts. “It’s a three- to five-year job, and he may have two years to do it.”

You can forgive the ADD-afflicted media for its ongoing love affair with The Next Big Thing. But the days are gone when Chrysler could join its cross-town rivals in pinning its hopes for a turnaround on a single vehicle. Ford and GM have the cash needed to sustain the delusion that what they really really need is a hit vehicle—instead of say, a gradual return to respectability via improved version of the products they already have. Chrysler can’t even afford the vig.

Even if Chrysler were rolling in dough, what are the odds that the former bankrupt can create a box-fresh Camry killer in a truncated product development cycle? The automaker behind the Sebring and Avenger is going to build a brand new class-leading vehicle in the most competitive segment of the market in the most competitive market in the world? Led by the head of Fiat? It’s just as preposterous now as it was before Uncle Sam decided to save American jobs by handing Chrysler’s keys to the Italians.

And even if they did build it, who would buy it? It’s not like Ford, Honda, Hyundai, Nissan and Toyota owners are wondering when the hell Chrysler’s going to offer them something demonstrably better than what they’re already driving. How do you get satisfied consumers to buy a vehicle from a company widely known for creating crap cars, whose taxpayer-provided existence is, in and of itself, off-putting? You know; if they were buying. Which, in the main, they aren’t.

We shall not see. Meanwhile, all the rest.

Sometime in the next two weeks, Sr. Marchionne will present his product and marketing plans for Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and Mopar (not to mention Fiat and Alfa) to the nine-member Chrysler board. Huh? While I’m a firm believer that intelligence gathering is a sign of intelligence, I’d kinda hoped that the head of the semi-nationalized automaker would have had a clear idea of what he was going to do with Chrysler before our elected representatives put him in charge of the aforementioned [nearasdammit] $15 billion “investment.” Forty-two days later, what do we know? Nothing.

Whatever Marchionne’s plan may be, Chrysler’s nine-member Board of Directors is bound to rubber stamp it. With each day’s delay, the pressure for doing something builds. With each day’s delay, the natural human tendency to consolidate power in the hands of a “man of action” grows. (Pretty good for a Canadian accountant eh?) I’m not saying Machionne is hiding behind a cult of personality. Oh wait, I am.

Whether it emanates from Marchionne’s minions or represents a mainstream meme, Chrysler’s press is increasingly focused on Sergio’s style. Bloomberg breathlessly reports the Divine Mr. M’s arsenal of cell phones, minimal sleep, and five days vacation per year. Well so what?

What we need from Chrysler is proof that they’re doing things differently, not a sneak peak into the seven highly effective work habits of sleep-deprived automotive executives. And while a[nother] new Chrysler sedan could be a showcase for New Chrysler’s capabilities, the only real proof that Chrysler has refashioned its corporate culture would be found on the showroom floor, in its existing products.

It’s not there. And it won’t be there. Even if Chrysler’s Best and Brightest hadn’t already headed for the hills (or away from the Hills), even if the company’s employees work full tilt, the company simply doesn’t have enough time to fix all the quality issues bedeviling its vehicles. And it certainly doesn’t have the ten years needed to correct a well-earned reputation for also-ran products.

Zombies are different from you and me. But they are not so different from each other. Whether its GM’s headless chicken product plans or Sergio’s [theoretically] carefully-crafted vision for Chrysler’s future, the undead are doomed. Anyone who thinks any different is deluded. “It has to work this time,” an unnamed Chrysler board member supposedly told Bloomies. “A patient can only be operated on so many times before he dies.” What if they’re already dead? Fuhgeddaboutit. If only we could.

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22 Comments on “Chrysler Zombie Watch 8: “We have to do business different”...”


  • avatar
    jjdaddyo

    Steve Jobs talks like an Italian mobster?

  • avatar
    Wordprof

    Your blog is great, your writing style engaging and fun, and your insights right on. Chrysler is indeed the walking dead, which Obama will cast off and blame on Fiat when it’s finally interred. GM, however, will become Government Motors when the truth of its zombie-ness overwhelms even Obama (he can’t let it die–too many UAW dollars and votes at stake).

    However, since you corrected The Divine Mr. M.’s English, let me point out your un-use of the subjunctive in this clause, “Even if Chrysler was rolling in dough….” In this case, you should’ve used the conjunctive “were rolling in dough.”

    (And yes, I did gag on the headline when I saw “different” when it should’ve been “differently.”)

    Great job, though, no need to sweat the small stuff like the subjunctive when everything else is so well done, fun to read and insightful.

  • avatar

    Wordprof:

    Whenever you criticize someone else’s grammar, BANG! Text amended.

  • avatar
    97escort

    How Marchionne is managing Chrysler:

    http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601109&sid=awHymjXNOYdI

  • avatar
    tsofting

    @Robert,
    Oh no, you didn’t fool me into anxiety attacks by writing “different”. You were gracious enough to put it in quotation marks, so I immediately smelled that this was from the mouth of some sloppy auto exec who was too busy drawing cars in his textbooks during his (or theoretically, her)English lessons, to grasp the difference between an adjective and an adverb.

    Apart from that; great piece, right on the money!

    @Wordprof:
    You beat me to that one :-)!

  • avatar
    26theone

    Think how long it took Hyundai to get where they are today. What Chrysler is trying to do is not possible.

  • avatar
    tsofting

    As to Marchionne’s arsenal of handheld devices, I mean gimme a break, one device for each company, you gotta be (seriously) kidding! Didn’t anybode tell him that any mobile device, including the CrackBerry, can be set up with a large number of email accounts, webmail, Exchange – you name it? So, a guy with so little grasp of technological possibilities is gonna save ChryCo – yeah right!

  • avatar
    windswords

    “Of course, if you imagine this executive exhortation spoken by an Italian mobster — a reasonable re-imagining given the fact that Chrysler is now controlled by Fiat…”

    Are you serious? Are we going to go down that old road? Hey, isn’t there a carmaker part owned by some oil sheiks in Dubai or somewhere? Are we going to have cracks about terrorists or “towel heads” when you write about them?

  • avatar
    texlovera

    Chrysler does not have enough time to develop a mid-sized sedan Camcord killer.

    But does Fiat already have something design-wise in the works that could buy them time? My gut says no, but …..

  • avatar
    iceracer

    They want to sound like athletes. Adverbs do not exist in the world of sports.

  • avatar
    6c1500

    I think the number of jobs saved at Chrysler will turn out to be about eighteen (18). Here’s how: All North American production will be moved to Mexico, except for Jeep, which will move to India in a Fiat-Tata deal. The rational will be that Asia offers the greatest volume potential for Jeep. The jobs in the US will include six port supervisors, plus twelve guys in a hot little ad shop in Sausalito, handling the national account.
    Six + twelve = 18
    I’l bet I’m not far wrong when the 2014 figures are analyzed.

  • avatar
    Sinistermisterman

    I think you’re right. Chrysler have absolutely nothing in their back pocket when it comes to a engineering a ‘mid sizer’ in the next few years.
    My gut would say that you may end up seeing various Fiat designs (like the Bravo and Grande Punto) with Chrysler badges on them.
    However my head would say that even Fiat aren’t dumb enough to let their products be associated with a doomed brand like Chrysler.

  • avatar
    colin42

    Chrysler does not have enough time to develop a mid-sized sedan Camcord killer

    True but there are plenty on niches left completely empty by all the other manufactures. The fact that there are rumors that they’ll use a cut down 300C platform for this mid size would make it unique (especially if they can keep the weight down) as the only rwd non premium entry in this market.

    Another niche they should fill pronto is adding the Cummins light duty V8 to the Ram 1500 – currently Ford, GM & Chrysler have all walked away from this market – but every blog site i reads people are crying out for a non heavy duty diesel pickup truck

    Finally start work on a small pickup call it RAM 1000 – and again add a diesel(Cummins V6 maybe).

    To use an analogy of warfare Chrysler are not going to win by lining up there troops on a battle field but if they were to use guerrilla tactics and take the ground that no-ones else is watching then maybe they can survive long enough to rebuild a good reputation

    So in summary

    Unique Products
    Niche Products
    Great Quality
    Superb reliability
    Good Price

  • avatar
    iNeon

    You are aware the Sebring was new for 2007, right?

    It’s now the 2010 model year.

    They’ve been working on this “they’ll never have the time” car for 3 Years.

  • avatar
    wsn

    colin42 :
    September 14th, 2009 at 5:19 pm

    So in summary

    Unique Products
    Unique stuff doesn’t sell in quantity. With the number of jobs to save at Chrysler, please tell me how many UAW workers to layoff, if Chrysler is to sell unique cars?

    Niche Products
    How many UAW workers to layoff, if Chrysler is to sell niche cars?

    Great Quality
    Quality comes at a cost. Since Chrysler is not as productive as other car makers, if it is to build quality cars at a competitive price, it has to cut cost somewhere. Please tell how much pay cut UAW workers can tolerate?

    Superb reliability
    How much pay cut UAW workers can tolerate?

    Good Price
    How much pay cut UAW workers can tolerate?

  • avatar
    FloorIt

    Chrysler isn’t the only one who got it wrong.
    http://dare-to-do-it-different.com/

  • avatar
    ihatetrees

    How do you get satisfied consumers to buy a vehicle from a company widely known for creating crap cars, whose taxpayer-provided existence is, in and of itself, off-putting?

    Saving either Chrysler or GM would have been tough. Saving both? In this economy?!?

    This administration looks more naive than Cerberus.

  • avatar
    Eric Ethier

    Chrysler has had excellent products even more recently, but has had just as many misses. I think that they need to strike a balance throughout the entire product line in order to be able to sustain their ~10% marketshare (remember when it was ~20% in 1996?).

    1. Trim products lines without losing a ton of customers.

    The rebadging thing is passe. Chrysler needs to rid themselves of what I would call the ‘fat’ on their brands. These would include: Durango, Nitro, PT Cruiser, Liberty, Compass, Commander, Aspen. (I know some of these have been announced as being in their final years already). Some of these customers will find another Chrysler brand vehicle to purchase (due to loyalty to the brand, etc.) and tons will be saved in production.

    2. Replace key vehicles to gain a larger customer base in those areas.

    Get the 200C to replace the Sebring (please Chrysler do not change the outside, it is gorgeous). A Dodge rebadge of the 200C to replace the Avenger could work if done nicely. Replace the Caliber with a Fiat based (at least their powertrain) small hatchback.

    3. Use what you have learned from the Ram 1500 and the 2010 HD Rams and the 2011 Grand Cherokee and apply those same design cues and quality principles to all new vehicles.

    After drving a 2009 Dodge Ram Laramie, I am absolutely amazed. WHAT A TRUCK! I wish people could open their minds and at least TRY the new Ram… it’s better than the rest of the competition in my opinion. Use the same passion put into that truck on other vehicles and I am confident that Chrysler can build winning vehicles.

    4. Tidy up the brand’s image.

    There are subtle things that don’t cost a whole lot that can really made the brand look like a whole new company. For instance, making all factory workers wear a uniform instead of looking like total slobs. When you see a UAW worker ont he news wearing ripped jeans, a gross t-shirt and a bandana… it doesn’t instill much confidence in consumers.

    These are just a few of my thoughts, and I’m sure most of you think the same thing.

    At the same time, as I read your comments I realise more and more that we do not know many of the factors/reasons that companys to the things they do. There are underlying motivators and information that we cannot see or do not hear about that may affect their decisions.

    Either way… thank god the UAWs got put in their place.

  • avatar
    colin42

    wsn

    Unique Products
    Unique stuff doesn’t sell in quantity. With the number of jobs to save at Chrysler, please tell me how many UAW workers to layoff, if Chrysler is to sell unique cars?

    Niche Products
    How many UAW workers to layoff, if Chrysler is to sell niche cars?

    Great Quality
    Quality comes at a cost. Since Chrysler is not as productive as other car makers, if it is to build quality cars at a competitive price, it has to cut cost somewhere. Please tell how much pay cut UAW workers can tolerate?

    Superb reliability
    How much pay cut UAW workers can tolerate?

    Good Price
    How much pay cut UAW workers can tolerate?

    I’m confused by your comments – It sounds like your saying that Chrysler should continue down their resent path so no more UAW workers loose there job or have to suffer further pay cut (did they actually ever receive a pay cut in the 1st place?). The problem is the resent history shows that this is not working and therefore continue on this path and there will be no more Chrysler – then ALL UAW workers will receive a 100% pay cut!

    My suggestion was find areas that the big boys are ignoring and dominate it – None premium RWD & diesel are 2 area that I think are untapped markets in the US. Sure perhaps several more UAW members will be without a job but if the company survives then this has to be better then every UAW worker being out of work

  • avatar
    tscurt

    The sound wind makes as it blows through a windowless empty building.

  • avatar

    Oops. This should be in the editorial section!!!

  • avatar
    joeveto3

    Just this weekend, I saw a truckload of brand new Sebrings headed to dealer lots…And I pondered that sight and wondered…Who in the hell is going to buy those things? That was one truck with a handful of new Sebrings. To think they are still cranking them out, with the hope of finding buyers…Preposterous.

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