PETER BROWN BLOG

First, admit you have a problem

DETROIT -- Mea culpa.

Things were pretty screwed up at Chrysler.

That's the flip side of the big "Chrysler business plan" extravaganza going on all day under the design dome. It's like a 12-step program.

Yeah, there are big hopes and plans for the future. (See elsewhere at autonews.com)

But here's what else we press, dealers, analysts, suppliers and local politicos heard:

• Dodge Nitro? Dull as dirt. Dodge chief (also design chief) Ralph Gilles showed how dumpy the existing SUV looks, and how cool it can be.

• Quality? Terrible perception, largely justified. Quality chief Doug Betts (ex-Nissan and Toyota) described a dysfunctional system that, for example, took an average of 71 days just to decide who would look into a possible quality boo-boo. He's been working on it, and he's adopting Fiat audit standards and durability testing.

• Product development? Baby-faced new engineering boss Scott Kunselman promised to use virtual tools to reduce weight and improve performance, a lot quicker than in the past. This is not cutting-edge stuff. It's really the price of entry.

• Powertrain? Fiat expat Paolo Ferrero described how Chrysler's stodgy "legacy" engines will be quickly replaced by small high-tech Fiat four-bangers and a new family of Chrysler V-6s.

Well, Gilles showed how Chrysler can -- even before getting competitive all-new vehicles -- make current cars more appealing without breaking the bank.

Identifying a problem is necessary to fixing it. But of course merely recognizing the problem is not sufficient.

Fiat/Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne has got the Chrysler team at least to the first phase of solving the problems.

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