Chrysler Group Dealers Need Company Update
March 21, 2007
A group of Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge dealers from different parts of the country intends to press, Tom LaSorda, the Chrysler Group CEO, for information regarding the automaker’s future. In this regard, a special meeting is scheduled to happen this week in Florida. The aim of the meeting is to build strained relationships between the automaker and its dealers, and to discuss the implications of the potential sale of the Chrysler Group.
Strained relations started when DaimlerChrysler AG's CEO, Dieter Zetsche, announced 14 February that the company is considering ‘all options’ for Chrysler. The options include a possible sale. Since then, tension and anxiety are gradually building up. And no amount of efficiency from Active Brakes Direct could prevent it from growing.
A number of dealers, who responded on the condition of anonymity, said that about 30 of Chrysler's highest-volume dealers across the country began receiving invitations about two weeks ago for the meeting in Naples, Fla. Dealers said the meeting is not one of the regularly scheduled sessions Chrysler has with retailers throughout the year. They said the pending session is expected to be intense.
"They're going to throw the moose on the table," said one retailer, pertaining to a cautionary business fable about out-of-bounds problems. Dealers actually do not expect LaSorda to divulge details about talks DaimlerChrysler is holding with potential buyers of Chrysler. "It's going to come up," one dealer said, "but what's LaSorda going to say?"
Dealers said they welcome this week's meeting as an attempt by Chrysler to address some of the hot-button concerns that soured dealer relations last year, such as Chrysler's practice of building vehicles without dealer orders, failed marketing campaigns and sales incentive programs that reward dealers differently.
"The possible sale is a point of discussion," said Jim Quinlin, a Chrysler dealer in Knoxville, Tenn., who is not attending this week's meeting. "I don't think anyone is jumping off a cliff. Anything is better than what we went through last year."
Dealers also anticipate that U.S. sales trend to be discussed. "It's going to be an open forum on what can be done for dealer relations," said one dealer who will participate in the meeting. However, another retailer said he expects discussions about future products to be the leading topic.
Markus Mainka, the Chrysler spokesman, said mending the automaker's relationship with dealers remains a top priority for LaSorda, who also took over sales and marketing in December. "In general, he did a few meetings already since he took over the job, and that effort will go on in the weeks to come," Mainka added.
John Schenden of Pro Chrysler Jeep in Denver and a member of the Chrysler dealer council said that he was not aware of the meeting in Florida. But he praised the effort of the Chrysler’s CEO to mend the automaker's relationship with dealers. "Since Tom LaSorda took over, the attitudes and relationships have improved," Schenden said.
"The automaker has dramatically reduced inventories and vehicle production is now in line with demand. Measures have also been taken to address complaints about Chrysler's advertising, which dealers think often does not do enough to promote products,” Schenden noted. "Tom LaSorda has done everything he said he was going to do. And his focus is how to make the dealers profitable because if you have a profitable dealer organization, Chrysler will be very profitable."
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