By on April 29, 2010

Back in February, we took note of Chrysler’s “principled” stand on new-product secrecy, concluding:

Let’s face it: Chrysler needs buzz, hype, awareness, some kind of excitement surrounding its future generally and its forthcoming products in specific (if only in the irritating “teaser” format) almost as much as it needs anything else. Because as things stand right now,the baseline perception of Chrysler is of a dying company with nothing to offer. In this light, Chrysler’s principled rejection of hype is far more likely to be interpreted as keeping rushed semi-refreshes under wraps so they won’t be mocked to death by the time they go on sale. If that’s not the case, Chrysler has nothing to lose and everything to gain by building consumer awareness of new products. If it is, well, the truth will out sooner or later.

And apparently we’re not the only ones who think so. In fact, if the Detroit News is to be believed, literally everyone seems to think that Chrysler needs to start being more open, not only about its forthcoming products, but at every level of its business.

The Chrysler consensus is summed up by analyst Joe Phillippi of Autotrends Consulting, who tells the DetN:

Chrysler is much better off because the cost structure is dramatically improved. But without a portfolio of new products to trumpet, it’s tough to get consumers excited. They have to be much more visible. There are not even spy shots out there creating a buzz

This desire to create the impression that Chrysler has a viable new product strategy is echoed by the Canadian Auto Workers’ boss Ken Lewenza. The DetN sums up Lewenza’s critique, which centers on Chrysler’s next product launch, the Jeep Grand Cherokee, thusly:

The first significant new product on the way is the remade Jeep Grand Cherokee. Production begins next month in Detroit, and the SUV hits showrooms in June. A concept version was shown at the 2009 New York auto show, but the vehicle has been under wraps since then.

I don’t know why (Chrysler) is being so secretive,” said Ken Lewenza, president of the Canadian Auto Workers union.

He respects Marchionne’s decision not to show vehicles too far in advance, but said the argument breaks down when a model launch is imminent. Lewenza sees Grand Cherokees on the road for testing, but nothing at auto shows or in the media. He contrasts that with General Motors Co.’s strategy: “They dominate the ads. They are the leader in bragging about their products right now.”

And the Grand Cherokee is by far Chrysler’s most visible future product. In contrast, the next-gen Chrysler 300 and Sebring, Dodge Charger and Avenger, and the rest of Chrysler Group’s 14 product re-launches that are scheduled to take place by the end of 2011, are nearly invisible to the buying public. This radio silence gives consumers no reason to think of Chrysler as anything but the moribund, bankrupt, second-tier automaker it is supposed to no longer be.

And unfortunately, the problems don’t end with consumers. Even inside Auburn Hills, there are concerns that Chrysler isn’t changing fast or completely enough.

Outside of Chrysler’s executive ranks, workers complain that middle management remains wed to practices in place when the automaker filed for bankruptcy on April 30, 2009.

Marchionne’s vision is inspiring, but it hasn’t reached the middle and lower ranks of the company, said one veteran product development employee who asked not to be named because workers are discouraged from speaking publicly without Chrysler approval.

I drink the Kool-Aid. In many cases, I’m making it. Senior management is getting it. At lower levels some get it, some don’t.
And according to the DetN, Knott’s suppliers aren’t getting it either.
some see opportunities to win bigger global contracts, given the $68 billion in combined purchasing spending by Chrysler and Fiat. Others are afraid to quote jobs and invest hard-won capital only to get caught if Chrysler doesn’t survive…. “Suppliers are starting to see transparency,” [Knott] said. “It has not driven all the way down yet but we are working on it.
Which might explain why we aren’t seeing new products. In any case, all of this is making Chrysler’s remaining dealers extremely nervous. So nervous, in fact, that they’re downright nostalgic about the bad-old-days under Cerberus. One dealer claims:
A year ago, even though it was horrific times, there was more trust and pulling together
Another adds:
Chrysler “will never be the transparent company it was in the past.”
Of course, few complain about secrecy at companies like Apple, which consistently produce new products that resonate with consumers. The problem at Chrysler is that nobody knows what to expect, and that secrecy tends to lead observers to conclude the worst. And now, nearly all of Chrysler’s stakeholders seem to agree. Chrysler Group is spending plenty of money on new advertisements for old products, but now the company needs to show that it’s not just in survival mode. Chrysler needs to show dealers, suppliers, consumers and yes, even its own employees, that the company actually has a future. Otherwise, everyone will assume it doesn’t… and if that happens, they’ll be right.
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22 Comments on “Chrysler Dealers, Workers And Analysts Agree: It’s Time To Start Showing Off The New Chrysler...”

  • avatar
    Amendment X

    They are being secretive because they HAVE NOTHING to show.

  • avatar

    Chrysler needs to find a medium between their strategy of speaking and showing absolutely nothing, and GM’s strategy of flaunting and hyping and telling every detail of a new model right when a designer makes the first sketch and it is not expected to launch for five years.

    • 0 avatar

      The Volt takes the prize on this subject.

      Hyundai, however, didn’t have much run up for the 2011 Sonata, and started selling them in Feb (?) 2010, while dealers are left with gazillions of stranded 2010 models. I love the new Sonata, but I think they hurt their dealers with its super-early introduction.

    • 0 avatar

      Hyundai was being secretive because they HAVE NOTHING to show. Really. Nothing. What? New Sonata? New Accent? New Elantra? Sh|t! Who saw that coming?

  • avatar

    May I suggest a slight correction? “This radio silence gives consumers no reason to think of Chrysler as anything but the moribund, bankrupt, second-tier automaker it continues to be.”

    No doubt Fiasler hoped its clandestine nature would build anticipation for upcoming products, and generate greater buzz than the new vehicles warrant. Face it, few consumers are truly excited about a new Grand Cherokee, and even less with a newish Sebring/Nassau or Avenger. Even the Charger/300M appear to have run their course, and the updates don’t appear to be all-that extensive.

    The company has nothing worth considering until at least 2012, so it makes little sense for it to do anything but play coy. By that time, though, Fiasler will likely be only so much dust under Marchionne’s shoe.

  • avatar

    Chrysler could get a lot of mileage out of some Grand Cherokee publicity right now. Ford is winding down on the Explorer, and a good fresh GC will have that market virtually to itself. From everything I have seen, the new GC is supposed to be an impressive vehicle. With its launch so close, I agree with the crowd who thinks that Chrysler needs to do a little promotion.

  • avatar

    if i recall from yesterday, even tesla has one up on chrysler in the marketing hype department.

  • avatar

    While it would give the enthusiasts, analysts and journalists something to talk about, there’s not much business sense in releasing photographs/stats of what are essentially refreshes seven months before they arrive in showrooms. Sales are about as bad as they’re going to get so there’s no downside at this point. Chrysler is right to keep the cards close to its vest to maximize the impact (small as it is likely to be in the next 2 years) of new product launches.

  • avatar

    Hyping the camaro and the volt, did not save GM from bankruptcy.

    Not even the governments of the world did.

  • avatar

    All Chrysler need to generate some hype is for some test driver to ‘forget’ his new Chrysler product and leave it parked outside a bar with the keys in it. Then it can be ‘stolen’ and sold to TTAC for an undisclosed fee and then ‘reviewed’.

    And then TTAC headquarters will be ransacked by the local Police Department.

  • avatar

    How about some more power point presentations full of neat-o photo chops of electric 500C’s with hemi batteries!!!! HA HA HA HA HA HA

  • avatar

    What Chrysler needs is someone who can serve as the public face of the company. Whatever Sergio’s merits as a leader, he’s no Lee Iacocca. At least GM has Ed Whitacre out there making his case to the public, even if his claim about paying GM’s loan in full with interest five years ahead of schedule amounts to financial legerdemain.

  • avatar

    “They have to be much more visible. There are not even spy shots out there creating a buzz”

    Hello! I’ve seen plenty of spy shots of the 300 and Charger on Auto Blog and other sites. Also, has it dawned on this guy that in order to have “spy” shots someone has to spy on the product. Does he really think that SPY shots are to be produced by Chrysler (or any manufacturer)? Does he realize how stupid he sounds?

    “A concept version was shown at the 2009 New York auto show, but the vehicle has been under wraps since then.”

    Hello again! They just posted photos of production ready GC’s testing on the ‘ring in Autoblog. Do these people live in a cave?

    ‘He contrasts that with General Motors Co.’s strategy: “They dominate the ads. They are the leader in bragging about their products right now.”’

    Yea, and the Camaro looks like it’s been out for 5 years already.

    I could now post about 20 links to articles on Allpar and Autoblog that show future plans, directions, renderings, etc. But why bother these guys with the information they say they are not getting? But hey, at least the Detroit News got to print something that created a buzz.

    • 0 avatar

      Same with the Cruze.Seen it for a couple of years already. Next !!!

      Allpar has been right on top of the latest “reveals”. Where have these stooges been ? Spying on each other ?

  • avatar

    Chrysler may be worried that if they show the new models too soon, people will simply decide to wait, and not purchase the current model, and let’s face it, Chrysler needs every sale they can get right now.

  • avatar

    Take it as you will, but I’ve talked to some people in Fiat Brazil who have been to North America and they are shocked at what they see. Very old almost worthless technologies and practices, not to mention labor management. Fiat was/is/has been taken aback by the level of commitment it’ll take to bring Chrysler up to 1st level. However, they are commited to it and it’ll take a while.

    As to secrecy, get used to it. The crucial (in Brazil) new Palio is less than a year away and nothing, zilch, zero has come out. But the factory people are sure excited. It is a way to build up anticipation.

  • avatar

    So is the New Chrysler..

    Or the New, New, New Better than the last new Chrysler?

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