DETROIT - The Chrysler group is reorganizing its field sales force, eliminating about 240 of the 1,000 staff positions in its 25 zone offices and creating five regional business centers.
The centers will run as independent, accountable units that decide how much to spend on advertising and incentives; where to spend it; and what kind of vehicle packaging works best in a region - all without approval from headquarters.
The five heads of the regional centers will make decisions about all three Chrysler group brands: Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge. They will report to Gary Dilts, Chrysler's new senior vice president of sales.
The regional centers will be operating in April, Dilts said.
Chrysler is desperate for leaner staffs and budgets to make up for low sales and high incentives. This move is aimed at more efficient spending, especially on incentives.
Despite the lower number of field representatives to deal with dealers, the dealers say they can still get things done, and probably faster, through the regions.
'The zones aren't empowered - they have to go back to Detroit for everything,' said dealer Jack Carroll, who serves on the executive committee of the Dodge Dealer Adverting Agency. 'We'll get a lot quicker response time now.'
The field reorganization was the idea of Chrysler CEO Dieter Zetsche. Dilts and Chrysler's new marketing chief, Jim Schroer, hammered out the details. Only two or three dealers were involved in the decisions, said Chrysler spokesman Marc Henretta.
Up to 60 of the cut zone employees will move to the regional offices. The rest will be fired.
Some dealers say the reduction in staff won't mean reduced access to Chrysler officials.
'With all the technology today, with a Web site for reporting, we don't have the factory coming into the dealership that much anyway anymore,' said Dick Withnell, chairman of the Dodge national dealer council.The number of dealership visits will increase under the reorganization, said Chrysler spokesman Jeff Leestma. 'The zone office structure will be smaller, so people will be moved out into the field,' he said.
The zones will lose responsibility for customer relations, vehicle distribution and warranties to the regional centers. The regional centers also will have responsibility for finance, legal, marketing, parts and service, fleet and training personnel.
'The most positive thing to come out of this reorganization is that the regions will have their own profit-and-loss statements and be accountable,' Withnell said. 'This is what Toyota and Ford have done for a number of years.'