Consolidation of Chrysler-Plymouth and Jeep dealerships is 71 percent complete, but the task is getting harder.
'We're getting to the tough ones,' said John MacDonald, DaimlerChrysler senior vice president of sales and service.
'The closer we get to 2000, the tougher some of these deals are going to be,' he said after the Chrysler-Plymouth-Jeep make meeting.
The weaker dealerships have been consolidated, leaving mainly healthy dealers who are unwilling to sell.
The consolidation, called Project 2000, is far enough along that this year's make meeting could combine Chrysler-Plymouth and Jeep in one session.
'If you were to picture a Chrysler-Plymouth dealership across the street from a Jeep dealership and they are both doing well, who gives in?' MacDonald said. 'One offers $1 million. The other says, 'That's not enough.' There are families, there are livelihoods involved in these stores. When you are trying to put two people together, there's always a little resistance by one of them.'
Project 2000 was scheduled to be completed by the end of 1999, but it probably will stretch until the end of 2000 at the earliest, MacDonald said. The goal still is to eliminate all stand-alone Chrysler-Plymouth and Jeep dealerships.
To complete Project 2000, another 800 dealerships must be consolidated, said Joe Shady, vice president of dealer operations. So far, 2,200 have been consolidated.
Some dealers feel that getting some of the highly successful stand-alone dealerships to consolidate is 'mission impossible,' Shady said. But, he added, 'We've solved a high majority of those mission impossibles.'
Mike Lowe, 1999 chairman of the Chrysler-Plymouth-Jeep National Dealer Advisory Council, said that both Chrysler-Plymouth and Jeep dealerships are doing well; put them together, and 'it's electric.'
Lowe, of Jasper Chrysler-Plymouth-Jeep-Dodge in Jasper, Ga., said the make meeting went smoothly.
'Everybody is pulling like partners, so it's not a we-and-them thing anymore,' Lowe said. 'Chrysler's really got a good thing going, and everybody's dialed in.'
The dealers asked about a sport-utility larger than the Jeep Grand Cherokee with a third row of seating.
They received no commitment, but 'Chrysler's pretty astute when it comes to product,' Lowe said.
The dealers also asked about the future of the Plymouth brand.
'We said we're watching it very closely, and the market will ultimately decide,' said Bud Liebler, DaimlerChrysler senior vice president of marketing.
'We've extended the Chrysler brand and are doing so even more with the PT Cruiser,' Liebler said.
A Plymouth version of the redesigned 2000 Neon will go on sale March 15, he said.