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.

  • Dusterdude @El scotto , I'm aware of the history, I have been in the "working world" for close to 40 years with many of them being in automotive. We have to look at situation in the "big picture". Did UAW make concessions in past ? - yes. Do they deserve an increase now ? -yes . Is their pay increase reasonable given their current compensation package ? Not at all ! By the way - are the automotive CEO's overpaid - definitely! (That is the case in many industries, and a separate topic). As the auto industry slowly but surely moves to EV's , the "big 3" will need to be producing top quality competitive vehicles or they will not survive.
  • Art_Vandelay “We skipped it because we didn’t think anyone would want to steal these things”-Hyundai
  • El scotto Huge lumbering SUV? Check. Unknown name soon to be made popular by Tiktok ilk? Check. Scads of these showing up in school drop-off lines? Check. The only real over/under is if these will have as much cachet as Land Rovers themselves? A bespoken item had to be new at one time. Bonus "accepted by the right kind of people" points if EBFlex or Tassos disapproves.
  • El scotto No, "brothers and sisters" are the core strength of the union. So you'll take less money and less benefits because "my company really needs helped out"? The UAW already did that with two-tier employees and concessions on their last contract.The Big 3 have never, ever locked out the UAW. The Big 3 have agreed to every collective bargaining agreement since WWII. Neither side will change.
  • El scotto Never mind that that F-1 is a bigger circus than EBFlex and Tassos shopping together for their new BDSM outfits and personal lubricants. Also, the F1 rumor mill churns more than EBFlex's mind choosing a new Sharpie to make his next "Free Candy" sign for his white Ram work van. GM will spend a year or two learning how things work in F1. By the third or fourth year GM will have a competitive "F-1 LS" engine. After they win a race or two Ferrari will protest to highest F-1 authorities. Something not mentioned: Will GM get tens of millions of dollars from F-1? Ferrari gets 30 million a year as a participation trophy.