Marchionne thanks dealers, demands more from them
Photo credit: JOE WILSSENS
LAS VEGAS -- Chrysler-Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne struck a conciliatory tone with dealers here last week. He thanked them for Chrysler Group's success and acknowledged that automakers no longer had the power to dictate terms to their retailing partners.
But the CEO also pointedly reminded dealers of the bargain that Chrysler Group had proposed to them in October 2010 in Orlando. There, Marchionne had promised that Chrysler would spend to improve its products if dealers improved the way they treated customers. And it was clear in Las Vegas that his patience was wearing thin.
"The exchange of a promise for a promise holds as true as ever," Marchionne, 59, told dealers during a surprise appearance at their Sunday morning make meeting at the National Automobile Dealers Association convention. "We are doing everything in our power to deliver on our promise. And I expect you to do the same."
Sergio Marchionne: Dealers sell cars, not Chrysler.
Photo credit: JOE WILSSENS
Chrysler Group suspended the rewards portion of its Dealer Standards program effective Jan. 1. The automaker said that the program had been successful in improving facilities but that customer-satisfaction scores had plateaued.
The automaker intends to rework the plan but has offered few details.
He also stared down the legislative stand of his hosts at the NADA convention, to whom he delivered the keynote welcome address on Saturday, Feb. 4. He called out NADA's opposition to the federal government's proposed 54.5-mpg standard for corporate fleets by 2025.
"This standard is 14 years out," he told reporters after delivering his 30-minute address. "If you start giving up on projects that are 14 years out, we might as well choose another occupation."
Because Marchionne was the only global auto CEO at the NADA convention, his appearance and comments put Chrysler Group center stage through much of the four-day event.
"It was great. Sergio was very focused," said Mark Greene, general manager of Lynch Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep-Ram in East Troy, Wis.
Craig Sigurdson, owner of Urban Sales & Service, a Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep-Ram dealership in Neillsville, Wis., agreed: "Everybody's really happy with his performance."
During his appearances, Marchionne also said:
-- Chrysler would maintain flexibility and transparency as it overhauls its suspended Dealer Standards program, saying all automakers "have to go beyond a system where the manufacturer issues top-down edicts" to dealers.
-- Pricing information now on the Internet means "price negotiating is being taken out of [dealers'] hands, and it is a trend that will only continue."
-- The praise that Chrysler has received for lifting sales is partly misdirected. "The truth is that Chrysler itself didn't sell a single car to consumers. It was Chrysler dealers who moved the metal, one vehicle at a time."
-- Chrysler will begin offering compressed natural gas-fueled vehicles, especially commercial ones, to gauge interest among consumers. "I can make them faster than you can think, but you have to have people that are going to buy them."
You can reach Larry P. Vellequette at firstname.lastname@example.org.