By on February 15, 2010

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.

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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16 Comments on “Would You Trade Places With A Chrysler Dealer?...”

  • avatar

    “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.”

    What an idiotic statement by a dealer. What does he think the customers that bought their products are doing?

    It’s as if he doesn’t understand the benefit to the dealer of leasing is to get the customer back in the showroom on a regular cycle and not have a vehicle with so much negative equity that they can’t trade out of it.

    Most likely the reason those customers are leaving in droves was the vehicle itself.

  • avatar
    crash sled

    “There’s light at the end of the tunnel; I just don’t like the length of the tunnel.”

    … and I think that tunnel has a little sign over it that says… “Arbeit Macht Frei”.

    I think it’s over, and the clock is just ticking down. Chrysler and its legendary Dodge Boys dealers will be no more.

    • 0 avatar

      With downsizing i think Chrysler could come back. They just need more hit vehicles. The truth is, their last line of vehicles: PT cruiser, 300, charger, RAM trucks, JEEPS, etc had some flaws, but were still standout vehicles.

      the chrysler dealerships near me in and outside of NYC are going strong while most of the Cadillac dealers and some Ford dealers have closed. i see more new 300’s now than ever before. I think local sales are fine…national sales are probably hurting but, I think they may be capitalizing on Toyota’s failures because I see people crosshopping Camry for Chargers.

  • avatar

    The dealer pictured above is in Kalamazoo MI. It is Orrin B. Hayes. Their slogan is “Service Sold It”. They sold Oldsmobiles starting in 1920. They didn’t sell Jeeps until after Chrysler acquired AMC. Last time I checked, the only new franchises they have are Mercedes and Mazda

  • avatar

    I drive past that dealer every AM. It’s a shame the picture didn’t include their big rotating sign. It’s easily the best neontastic old-school light-up sign in the whole area. (if you like that sort of thing)

    • 0 avatar

      Back in my college days I lived 2 blocks from this dealership. A great example of the old time car dealership that is hard to find anymore: downtown, small showroom and lot, and a sense of history.

      These dealerships are small, old, don’t have enough selection/ inventory, have bad access and parking, and are retail relics. They were designed for the days when you went to the showroom to order your car and wait for it to be delivered. Every city has a few of them that are closed or have been “repurposed” after the dealer moved to the suburbs years ago. Many have great pre 1970’s design that that makes them a time capsule from another era.

      Just like most old retail stores, I miss having them around. I just don’t miss having to shop at them.

  • avatar

    Flashpoint ” I see people crosshopping Camry for Chargers.”

    LOL enough of your ignorant propaganda of lies. 300’s and chargers saw sales DROP yet again for January. Also people who buy Toyota’s DO NOT BUY American yet alone a crappy chrysler product. I know toyota owners who said they wouldn’t want to own a chrysler for FREE! Chrysler is going down as sales continue to fall HARD. You can spread all the propaganda you like but the FACT is sales CONTINUE TO FALL. Here is the proof.

    Chrysler January 2008 sales 137,392 units
    Chrysler January 2009 sales 62,175 units
    Chrysler January 2010 sales 57,143 units

    Wow try to spin that .

    • 0 avatar

      “LOL enough of your ignorant propaganda of lies.”

      First of all, he was talking about local sales, not national. Second, you are close to if not in violation of the no flaming rules of this site, which will get you banned.

  • avatar

    I recently bought my 2006 Grand Caravan off lease. I was way under on miles, and I couldn’t find anything better for the price of my residual value. I was not tempted by anything in the Chrysler/Dodge/Jeep showroom. I leased my van 3 1/2 years ago because I wasn’t confident in Chrysler’s future. If not for a few $ billion from the government, Chrysler wouldn’t be here now. I don’t know how much longer they’ll be here in the future, but I figure with a few hundred thousand 05-07 Chrysler minivans on the road, I’ll still be able to get parts.

  • avatar

    @ Edward:

    I think the Grand Cherokee looks like a winner too. And let’s not forget that while this nameplate doesn’t sell in droves as it did during the SUV heyday, it still sells in respectable numbers, in a highly relevant market segment.

    How having a seven passenger CUV for Dodge hurts them is beyond me. Ditto for having a new Charger and 300 to sell.

    This stuff alone won’t lead them out of the woods, but it’s a start. And none of it is warmed-over restyles – they’re all either completely new platforms (or, in the case of the Cherokee, an adaptation of an excellent Mercedes design), or thorough reworks. Just because these were designed during the Cerberus days doesn’t make them bad products.

    • 0 avatar

      I think those are dubious claims at best. The volume on mid size and full size SUV’s has plummeted. Last year, despite heavy discounts, Chrysler sold just 50,000 Grand Cherokees, which trailed the Explorer, Trail Blazer, and 4Runner in that segment.

  • avatar

    “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.”

    Unfortunately, this is the nature of leasing – people chuck them in at the end. Any dealer that doesn’t actively track its customers whose leases are coming up, and try to get them in the door for a new car, is completely incompetent.

  • avatar

    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.

    • 0 avatar

      “Where is the competitive vehicles in the subcompact, compact, and midsized FWD segments?”

      They are on the way. But it will take time to get them. The new GC and 300 were started years ago. It takes a minimum of 3 years to develop a new vehicle. Fiat based stuff will be introduced in the 2010-13 time frame.

      “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).”

      I’ve rented the Sedonia. It’s competant, but not superior to Chrysler’s offerings. If the Hyundai is the same vehicle then ditto.

      “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.”

      Daimler did them no favors. As soon as Cerberus took over, they started redoing interiors. The Compass and Patriot got the first makeover. I don’t know why they left the Caliber alone. Maybe they didn’t to up the price. This year the Caliber gets a new interior. The Ram and GC have great interiors. They may have upgraded the materials in the current Charger and 300. You can bet the new ones will be much better. Please let us know what your impressions are in Toronto.

    • 0 avatar

      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.

  • avatar

    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.

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