November 4, 2009
They came, they saw, they bored us to death.
By Peter M. De Lorenzo
Auburn Hills. Okay, I must say right up front that the much-anticipated unveiling of Sergio Marchionne's five-year reinvigoration plan for the "new" Chrysler-Fiat was special. So special in fact that I was falling asleep 20 minutes in to it. If the organization of this death march is any indication of the kind of organizational "synergy" these guys are employing going forward, well then, watch out. Overwrought and overindulgent, this was by far the worst media event I've been to in ten years of doing this publication. Imagine beyond category tedious and then go sharply downward from there and you'd have at least somewhat of an inkling of what it was like.
After Chrysler board chairman Robert Kidder kicked-off things by saying a few words and then Sergio came out and gave his introduction - thankfully brief, I might add - the whole thing fell off a cliff. Imagine the wonderfully talented and engaging Ralph Gilles with a Shiny Happy Lobotomy, and you get the idea. Who knew that "being all things to all hip people" would constitute a "new" marketing plan? By the time he was finished, I not only didn't care about Dodge, I never wanted to hear about the brand ever again in my lifetime. Not that any of it wasn't earnest and well-intentioned, but, really, was there any real news going on here? Uh, not so much. (Okay, well maybe the 7-passenger CUV for Dodge was news, but after that, wow.) And then there was Fred Diaz. Oh my. (See "On The Table" for more Chrysler coverage - WG). At least Paolo Ferrero - the Fiat power train guru - had his proverbial shit together and had a sense of humor.
How about the nuts and bolts of the new Chrysler-Fiat? Are there going to be shared technologies and synergies - and reduced costs - throughout this unified company? Yes, of course, but then again, I would certainly hope so. And are there going to be shared power trains and vehicle architecture consolidations? If they have a snowball's chance in hell of competing in this global automobile market there better damn well be. Is there going to be quality? Well, they say there will be, and it is the minimal price of entry in today's automobile market, but given Chrysler's dismal quality reputation of late it's all going to be fixed by 2010? Really? I'm all of a sudden from Missouri.
Let's talk about the real raison d'etre for this meeting. The Fiat overlords - led by Sergio and his brain trust - had to show the world that the "new" Chrysler was going to be a revitalized player in the auto biz and that they had a Plan, enough of one to justify their existence, anyway. And on some level they achieved at least a modicum of that. But then again, there were no great revelations and no stunning, jaw-dropping, let's run through the wall voila! moment that made me believe that any of the hype was justified in the least. Frankly there were enough obvious stumbles and displays of business-as-usual-type thinking in the presentation to give me pause - a huge pause, as a matter of fact - and I am not totally convinced that this enterprise can survive the next two to three years on manufactured hype alone.
Let's talk about those next two to three years because that's the real crux of the issue here. Chrysler dealers are damn near on life support, hoping against hope that these guys know at least enough about what they're doing to help them stay in business until the reinvented Chrysler really gets it together in 2012, 2013, 2014. And I didn't see anything today that would lead me to believe that these dealers are going to have anything close to smooth sailing.
The bottom line in all of this?
Chrysler is a car company still very much on the mat with a plan to get off it, but that's it. It's only a plan. The painful reality for Chrysler is that it is far behind its domestic competitors, which means it is behind every other car company too. This in a global market that has no time for laggards and excuses. Chrysler sales numbers are pitiful, and its quality performance is flat-out inexcusable.
Chrysler has a reputation of being a perennial loser, thanks to gross mismanagement by Daimler and Cerberus compounded by a very publicly-financed bankruptcy that cannot and will not be fixed overnight. Yet Sergio and his troops actually believe all of this is going to get fixed with a creative five-year plan?
I'll put it succinctly for you: No frickin' way.
Thanks for listening.
See another live episode of "Autoline After Hours" hosted by Autoline Detroit's John McElroy, with Peter De Lorenzo and friends this Thursday evening, at 7:00PM EDT at www.autolinedetroit.tv.
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