September 23, 2009
That rumble you’re hearing? It’s the slow-motion train wreck unfolding in Auburn Hills.
By Peter M. De Lorenzo
(Posted 9/22, 3:30pm) Detroit. According to a report by Luca Ciferri in this week’s Automotive News, Chrysler-Fiat executives hinted at a “grand” brand plan in the works for the floundering automaker at the Frankfurt Motor Show, and said that “the plan” would be unveiled sometime in November.
This was good news, because everyone in the auto business genuinely hopes that CEO Sergio Marchionne and Co. have something up their sleeves. After all, they’ve gone “dark” out in Auburn Hills - with little news emanating from the Chrysler headquarters hard by the northbound lanes of I-75 - and we were all eagerly awaiting for some signs of life from this new enterprise.
But then the various executives started talking, and that microscopic pinpoint of light at the end of the tunnel started to reveal itself as something completely different, more like a freight train bearing down on the whole endeavor at great speed.
The most ominous statement came from Peter Fong, the former mid-level Ford regional executive who was plucked from virtual obscurity to become Chrysler brand CEO and head of sales for all of the company’s brands. Fong told AN that “We’re going to have to offer a broad array of products across every one of the segments.”
Uh-oh, there’s that dreaded “being all things to all people” mantra rearing its ugly head again - the one that has waylaid plenty of other car companies in this business - some even having much more going for them than the “new” Chrysler does at this point in time, as a matter of fact.
So how does that, ahem, “train” of thought work, exactly? Is this the best foot forward for a company that’s on life support? A company that even with all of Fiat’s resources working overtime couldn’t cover all segments in any given - and wildly optimistic - scenario in five years let alone in 22 months when they’re really supposed to have it goin’ on? Does it even make any sense at all?
I’ll answer that one for you - it doesn’t.
But Fong didn’t stop there, oh no. Next up was his declaration that Chrysler would be taken, “a notch above Lincoln, a notch above Cadillac.” Again, really? After all, it has taken Cadillac seven long years and well over $5 billion with a “b” to get to the point it occupies now. And that’s just to a level of respectability, mind you, nothing more. Does Chrysler-Fiat have that kind of investment money on hand, even if they do shortcut the process by employing Fiat technology?
And besides, Chrysler? Let’s think about that for a moment. Chrysler, the brand known more for its cool concepts at various auto shows - and the recently successful though fading 300 sedan - is suddenly going to be to be vying with Cadillac’s renewed mojo for American street cred? Not. So. Much.
And if Cadillac doesn’t sit well with you as an example for whatever the reason, let’s take a look at Audi. It has taken Audi ten years to get to the point where it’s now a legitimate contender for mainstream luxury superiority over BMW, Cadillac, Lexus and Mercedes-Benz. Ten years.
And yet Chrysler-Fiat is just going to snap its fingers and somehow come up with a magic formula that will shortcut the time it will take to establish the Chrysler brand as a real contender in the luxury segment, as opposed to a mo-faux pretender bristling with the usual assortment of European luxury design and engineering “cues” - ?
It’s just notgonnahappen.com, folks. Certainly not soon enough to make a difference in Chrysler’s immediate fortunes.
The rest of the Chrysler brand “plan” was hinted at, too, with Dodge becoming a “driver’s” brand, complete with Michael Accavitti, the new Dodge marketing honcho, telling AN that Dodge will go “from a middle linebacker to Lance Armstrong.” Uh, okay, but where does that leave its current car status as the police interceptor brand?
The Chrysler brand team is doing one thing right at least by all accounts, and that is that they’re keeping Jeep, Jeep. I guess one for three isn’t bad in the big picture of things, especially given everything we know so far about the “new” Chrysler.
The bottom line here is that Sergio Marchionne’s grand “plan” for this new Chrysler-Fiat enterprise leaves a lot to be desired by early indications. But then again there has been a surplus of delusional thinking up in Auburn Hills ever since Sergio and his troops took over, and the fact that it’s apparently still running unfettered and free doesn’t bode well for Chrysler at this juncture to say the least.
What does a car company like Chrysler - on the ropes and desperately needing a way out - need to focus on right now?
Build fewer, class-competitive or better yet, class-leading vehicles that will resonate with consumers rather than blanket the market with mediocrity just to be represented in a segment, for starters.
And memo to the Chrysler brain trust: Forget about what you dream to be on some idyllic planet in some galaxy far, far away and concentrate on what you can realistically accomplish over the next 24 to 36 months.
Redirecting Dodge car? You might have a legitimate shot of making progress in that direction at the end of that time frame, but that’s only if everything goes just perfectly. But reinventing the Chrysler brand? Three years won’t even get you half the way there, so you better pump that phrase “realistically accomplish” repeatedly over the public address system out there just so you guys don’t get caught up in the euphoria of “What if?”
It’s not going to go well for you if you don’t.
Oh and one more thing? Whatever you do don’t screw-up Jeep because if you do that, crafting a “new” Fiat North America is the only thing that you’ll “realistically accomplish.”
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, September 24, at 7:00PM EDT at www.autolinedetroit.tv. Subscribe via iTunes:
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See another live episode of "Autoline After Hours" hosted by Autoline Detroit's John McElroy, with Peter De Lorenzo and friends this Thursday evening, September 24, at 7:00PM EDT at www.autolinedetroit.tv.
Subscribe via iTunes: