Chrysler's success is taking its toll
Larry P. Vellequette covers Chrysler Group for Automotive News.
The term "dog years" is used to describe the short life span of man's best friend relative to human life. Frankly, I'm starting to wonder whether we should introduce a new term into the lexicon: "Chrysler years."
I don't know whether a Chrysler year is at the same 7:1 ratio to a regular human year as a mutt's year, but judging by the haggard look of its executives -- and the suddenly rebellious nature of hourly workers -- the automaker's frenetic comeback is exacting a toll.
It has been just over three years since Chrysler Group emerged from its 2009 brush with death, a heart-stopping trip through bankruptcy that took a piece of each of the automaker's employees, its dealers and the country as a whole.
But Chrysler's remarkable recovery -- its sales through the first eight months of this year are up 70 percent compared with that same period in 2009 -- has come with its own costs.
The price can be seen on the faces of its brand executives, whose appearances seem to be an experiment in time-lapse photography. These are the faces of sleep-deprived men, whose rest is often interrupted by the buzzing BlackBerry devices with which they say they share their pillows.
And you also see evidence in many of Chrysler's manufacturing plants in the United States, where unionized workers bristle more about forced overtime and seven-day workweeks than over pay and benefits.
Of course, many people will argue that Chrysler's executives and its hourly workers are "lucky to have a job," and they're right. After Chrysler's bankruptcy, the executives and workers bet that Fiat S.p.A. and CEO Sergio Marchionne were tickets to a different future, and they rededicated themselves to making better automobiles that people would want to buy.
Chrysler's executive ranks seem almost free of the turf-building and infighting that show up from time to time at Ford Motor Co. and General Motors. That's largely because Chrysler executives all have at least two big jobs they're responsible for in the chaotic weave that Marchionne has designed to manage Chrysler. They're exhausted, and it's starting to show.
Ultimately, humans are finite creatures who become increasingly aware of their own mortality with the passage of time. Hard work and single-minded dedication to one's profession may bring their own rewards, but they are of little use to those who have sacrificed their health or life in those pursuits.
With so much of the automaker's future now dependent on keeping up with -- and even accelerating -- the pace at which it does business, you have to wonder what the cost is in Chrysler years.
You can reach Larry P. Vellequette at firstname.lastname@example.org.