Would You Trade Places With A Chrysler Dealer?

Edward Niedermeyer
by Edward Niedermeyer
would you trade places with a chrysler dealer

It’s not a question that should leave many folks on the fence, but apparently there are at least a few Detroit-area journalists who might be willing to consider the career change. “Dealers optimistic about Chrysler’s future” proclaims the Detroit News headline from NADA’s annual convention. A more accurate headline (such as USAToday‘s “Chrysler dealers face new-model drought”) probably should have included the term “punch-drunk” to better explain this unexpectedly sunny outlook. One grizzled ChryCo dealer sums up the mood with aplomb:

We’re the toughest fighters. We’ve always been 3 or 4 (in the marketplace). We’ve never been spoon-fed. We have to fight for every piece of ground… There’s light at the end of the tunnel; I just don’t like the length of the tunnel.

Bizarrely (or, for those familiar with the dynamics of Detroit’s media, not), The Freep’s Mark Phelan dons his Pollyanna chapeau and goes for broke with the headline “Chrysler has lots of products to crow about.” Because the “game of survival” claptrap you hear from the people who actually have to sell Chryslers is just so much bellyaching. Phelan kicks off with a plea to “stop shoveling dirt onto Chrysler’s grave for a moment” (not bloody likely, mate), and then breaks into some prose that would be tough to describe as anything other than advertising copy.

SUVs became emblematic of Detroit’s dysfunction, but there’s still a market for them, and the new Grand Cherokee looks like a winner. Its elegant looks sheath a classy interior and the go-anywhere ability that make Jeep one of the auto industry’s strongest brands.

A brand-new seven-seat crossover SUV for Dodge — the brand’s first vehicle in the popular segment dominated by models like the Toyota Highlander and Chevrolet Traverse — is to follow the Grand Cherokee out of Chrysler’s plant off Jefferson Avenue in Detroit in the third or fourth quarter of this year.

At about the same time, dynamic new versions of the exciting Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger sedans are to arrive in dealerships.

Get the picture? This is a lot of faith in Cerberus-era products for a guy who just 15 short months ago said:

Cerberus’ ownership of Chrysler is a strip-and-flip operation. Chrysler’s leaders spent much of the nine years they were part of DaimlerChrysler approving vehicles that didn’t stand a chance in the market.

And yet the last of the Cerberus-developed models, which first appeared in Chrysler’s laughed-out-of-Washington viability plan, are somehow worth breaking out the ad copy thesaurus for? One wonders what Phelan thinks of the widely reported sense of relief at the NADA conference that Chrysler would not be pushing extra inventory as they did last year.

In any case, product is only one of many major issues facing Chrysler’s dealer body. The ongoing arbitration aimed at bringing justice to Chrysler’s bankruptcy-era dealer cull is dragging on, while the critics of the cull like AutoNation CEO Mike Jackson blast ChryCo inpublications like Automotive News [sub]:

Chrysler went first, and I think they did a terrible job. Why they took out any rural small-town dealers, I don’t know. It’s a strength for them. Blows my mind.

But Chrysler must have a fairly different take on the importance of culled dealers, as it has resisted arbitration since the idea first came up in congress. Most recently, Chrysler reserved the right to challenge arbitration legislation in a letter to dealers, prompting Rep. Chris Van Hollen to lay into the Pentastar-crossed automaker:

Chrysler’s suggestion that they may now challenge this legislation is very troubling and will do nothing to help turn the struggling car maker around. It is my hope that Chrysler will allow the arbitration process to play itself out and abide by the outcome of these deliberations.

As if to underline these tensions, Chrysler has announced to Automotive News [sub] that it has commissioned third-party audits of dealers’ performance in customer care, aftersale care, facility and management. The audit firm SGS Group will score dealers in these areas and provide undisclosed rewards to dealers achieving top scores. The rest? Given the tension over arbitration, look for these audits to be Chrysler’s bully stick to off the dealers it so desperately wants to be rid of.Meanwhile, with product and dealer relations in trouble, finance is forming the third leg of Chrysler’s stool of misery. With GMAC pushing for more lease marketing, dealers are reporting that this is not the road to salvation (go figure). One dealer explains to USA Today:

They drop cars off lease and they’re gone. We lose these people. That will hurt once the new product starts to flow again. They’re leaving us in droves.

But then the government has already backed GMAC and Chrysler in hopes of somehow rescuing both. If GMAC needs to push leases, it will be hard for Chrysler to say no. Chrysler’s dealers, meanwhile, are long used to not having the option either way.

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4 of 16 comments
  • Fb556812743 Fb556812743 on Feb 15, 2010

    Where is the competitive vehicles in the subcompact, compact, and midsized FWD segments? Jeep still has equity to me and the minivans are still decent (although Hyundai and Kia are on their heels for the lower priced minivan). Last time I looked Chrysler had some of the cheapest interiors going. I am heading to the autoshow in Toronto later this week. I will see if Dodge/Chrysler has improved their interiors or now.

    • See 1 previous
    • Hakata Hakata on Feb 16, 2010

      No change as of NAIAS. Check out the Ram Laramie interior. That is their best effort and I have to say pretty good. The control haptics feel like a real car. Now, compare the Charger/300/Sebring, which feel like they are put together with extremely high-quality cardboard covered with extremely cheap plastic.

  • Pgcooldad Pgcooldad on Feb 16, 2010

    Apparently, this one is doing very well for himself and others: Chrysler Group LLC proudly saluted Scott Wood, owner of Scott Wood Chrysler, Jeep®, Dodge in Batesville, Ark., for being chosen the 2010 Time magazine’s “Dealer of the Year.” The Time magazine “Dealer of the Year” award is one of the automobile industry’s most prestigious and highly coveted awards for new-car dealers. Recipients are among the nation’s most successful auto dealers, but they must also demonstrate a long-standing commitment to effective community service. Wood’s dedication to his community touches nearly every aspect of life. The list of groups he supports is extensive and includes the Batesville Kiwanis Club, the Boy Scouts, Lyon College (then Arkansas College), East Elementary School, Central Elementary School, Batesville Community Theatre, Batesville Area Arts Council, Friends of the Pioneers (Batesville School District Athletics), White River Health Systems and the First Baptist Church where he has been active as a mentor, teacher and fund-raiser. Wood considers his work to improve the area’s public schools his most meaningful civic achievement. A member of the Batesville School Board since 2001, Wood and his fellow members have facilitated changes that make education more effective as evidenced through improving test scores. In addition to the district receiving national recognition, students want to attend school because they are having fun.

  • MRF 95 T-Bird Back when the Corolla consisted of a wide range of body styles. This wagon, both four door and two door sedans, a shooting brake like three door hatch as well as a sports coupe hatchback. All of which were on the popular cars on the road where I resided.
  • Wjtinfwb Jeez... I've got 3 Ford's and have been a defender due to my overall good experiences but this is getting hard to defend. Thinking the product durability testing that used to take months to rack up 100k miles or more is being replaced with computer simulations that just aren't causing these real-world issues to pop up. More time at the proving ground please...
  • Wjtinfwb Looks like Mazda put more effort into sprucing up a moribund product than Chevy did with the soon to be euthanized '24 Camaro.
  • Wjtinfwb I've seen worse on the highways around Atlanta, usually with a refrigerator or washer wedged into the trunk and secured with recycled twine...
  • Wjtinfwb Surprising EB Flex hasn't weighed in yet on it being the subject of a recall...