Minivan was a Chrysler idea
Your Nov. 16 issue carried an article headlined 'Chrysler's long bumpy ride is over.' The writer said that 'Ford Motor Co. expatriates brought the (minivan) idea to Chrysler after it was rejected in Dearborn.'
They may have brought their enthusiasm for the concept to Chrysler, but they did not bring the idea. I know because I was director of product planning at Chrysler from 1968 to 1975.
In the early and mid-1970s, our advance design, advance engineering and advance product planning offices designed first-generation versions of the minivan. The scope of the program was to design a station wagon-type vehicle that was not derived from another vehicle, i.e., from a passenger-car sedan or a commercial van.
The first-generation designs were rear-wheel drive because we did not have front-wheel-drive engines or transmissions at that time.
Product planners, designers and engineers were enthusiastic about the minivan (which we called a 'garageable van') but were unable to get management approval to go forward with a unique product concept that had a special tooling bill (not including facilities) of more than $100 million.
The first designs never went beyond the clay model, advanced design and seating buck stage, but the interest in the concept in the Chrysler design and product planning offices continued.
The second-generation design in the late 1970s was essentially the production design and was done by Chrysler design office personnel under the capable and enthusiastic director Hal Sperlich, who had come from Ford.
By then we had fwd Omni/ Horizon vehicles under way, so the minivan design became fwd, which afforded significant improvements in overall height and interior package dimensions.
Sperlich contributed greatly to the success of the program with his enthusiastic involvement, aesthetic input and overall guidance.
Lee Iacocca, another Ford alumnus, gets credit for his support and the 'guts' decision to go ahead with an even more expensive fwd product at a time when the corporation was having trouble paying its bills and maintaining product competitiveness in existing market segments.
In summary, Hal Sperlich and Lee Iacocca should get credit for the final design execution and the decision to go ahead with production of the minivan program at Chrysler - but not for the idea.
Dealer slaps Ford takeover strategy
Auto dealers have sold about 15 million new cars and trucks annually for several years. Concurrent with strong sales, we have seen measured increases in customer satisfaction with the dealership sales and service process and the product.
Why, then, are the manufacturers intent on disparaging and destroying the current retail system?
The answer - in spite of the self-righteous pronouncements of improving customer satisfaction and all the warm, fuzzy phrases designed to win people over - is corporate greed.
The manufacturers are not content with their billions from making vehicles; they want it all from all phases of the business. They willingly take from those who have invested their lives, capital and loyalty in building a retail, community-focused business. They show no regard for the people who have labored and represented them through good times and bad.
In your Nov. 21 issue, you featured Ford Chairman Alex Trotman (who apparently considers us nothing more than outside delegates). He revealed the above to be true in greater scale than imagined.
When the Ford Retail Network was launched, the company said it was an experiment to help Ford and its dealers serve their customers better.
It is quite apparent that that was nothing more than a subterfuge to camouflage Ford's true intentions.
Ford's plans are a challenge to the very being of retail dealers. It proves once again that in regard to dealers, the only time most factory executives aren't lying is when their lips aren't moving - and then they're probably thinking about ways to lie.
MARK W. PORCARO
North Clinton, N.J.
Who made Garfield an expert on cars?
In a Nov. 16 column, Bob Garfield discussed the current Saturn ads and made some interesting and professional observations from his advertising background.
Embedded in the column is the startlingly gratuitous pronouncement: 'While the cars are solid and dependable, they aren't as good as the Japanese competition.'
I would be interested in further guidance from Garfield as to the comparative merits of various medical products, cinema and stage presentations and, perhaps, a few brands of sneakers.
The world is full of eager advisers on almost any subject they are asked about, but not too many trade publications would go afield to solicit judgmental opinion. Most people in our own trade would, like me, probably refrain from making personal choices under the guise of accepted fact.
DaimlerChrysler makes no sense
The Comment column by Juergen Schrempp, co-chairman of DaimlerChrysler AG, in your Oct. 26 issue, purported to explain the 'How, why of DaimlerChrysler,' but it actually underscored the merger's uselessness.
The few particulars he lists are arguments against, not for, the merger.
Schrempp points out that both Mercedes and Chrysler have streamlined their operations, while refocusing their energies on product development. 'You have to know what you are good at,' he intones.
He recognizes that Chrysler excels at high-volume, low-cost cars, while Mercedes dominates lower-volume, high-cost cars.
Yet those are two entirely different market segments, and innovations in one are not applicable to the other.
Moreover, Mercedes has already invested billions learning to design and build higher-volume, lower-cost cars with the A class, the M class and the Smart.
Similarly, the Mercedes worldwide dealer network cannot possibly help Chrysler globalize because Chrysler products cannot be sold alongside Mercedes products. Besides, Chrysler already has spent considerable sums developing respectable dealer networks of its own in Europe and Japan.
Finally, the suggestion that Mercedes cars can be assembled in Chrysler's North American factories - known for low quality - is laughable and, at best, inadvisable.
In the final analysis, the rationale behind the merger is unspoken but obvious. Daimler-Benz executives are empire building, seeking to best BMW once and for all, while Chrysler executives are inflating their recent stock options, which had been worthless with Chrysler stuck at around $40. Hopefully, Chrysler's continued success will not be compromised by German meddling.
KARL von SCHRILTZ
The writer is a trade attorney.
Dodge dealer has plea for Schrempp
There is something to be said for the phrase 'If it's not broke, don't fix it.'
Dodge has had a record year, with the truck line leading the charge.
In your Oct. 26 issue, Juergen Schrempp observed that the 'individualization of demand has created many product niche markets and strong local markets. The message is clear: Fan out your product line and build a strong position in each regional market in which you operate.'
As a metro New York dealer - where the imports hold 64.8 percent of the car market and Dodge has 2.1 percent - I can only hope that this philosophy filters down to gaining back our share of this lucrative market.
Great cars! Great trucks (thank God)! Great dealers. DaimlerChrysler, don't forget us.
HAROLD REESE JR.