Chrysler-Jeep dealers are waiting for a string of new and revamped products to reach showrooms, including the 2005 Chrysler 300 sedan, the 2005 Chrysler PT Cruiser convertible and the 2005 Chrysler Town & Country minivan. The three models arrive this spring.
By the end 2004, the 2005 Chrysler Crossfire roadster, 2005 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited and redesigned 2005 Jeep Grand Cherokee also will be for sale.
Dealers need the new hardware to increase volume and boost profits after a lackluster 2003, says Ron Jelling, chairman of the Chrysler Jeep National Dealer Council. He spoke with Staff Reporter Mary Connelly.
What is the hot product for Chrysler-Jeep dealers? What is the weak link?
Jeep continues to be an across-the-board success. As always, we would like to have our new and expanded product lines sooner. But, in spite of that, Jeep is still going strong.
As far as Chrysler, our "relaunched" repackaged Pacifica is gaining volume every month. There are exciting things coming on minivan. I'm confident we will retain our leadership position in that segment. PT Cruiser has been a challenge. But with the new convertible coming, we are optimistic we can pick up the volume. Our weakest link is car. The new 300C should change that.
What is the top priority of the Chrysler-Jeep dealer council in 2004?
Increase profitability and through-put to be successful in our individual showrooms. We need to sell substantially more volume.
How involved is the dealer council in manufacturer-driven programs and decisions that affect dealers?
Many issues are passed through council, discussed and modified based on our input. I can't tell you that 100 percent of the time we are in total agreement with every decision. But I can guarantee you that we are not a bunch of guys that fly to Detroit with rubber stamps in our briefcases.
What has been the biggest disappointment to the dealer council in the last year?
Loss of share and declining profits in a pretty good automotive market.
What are the dealer council's top three concerns?
New product, aggressive marketing and pricing, and communicating.
Product: There is a barrage of new products coming in the next 18 months. We need to continue to expand our future product. We have a commitment that new product will be priced and leased competitively. We are not going to make the same mistakes that we made with the Pacifica.
Aggressive marketing and advertising: We have the start of a renewed approach to supporting the introduction of new products with aggressive advertising through national budgets.
Communication: We are concerned that sometimes the system doesn't allow for proper communication to the total dealer population. A lot of the progress we are making sometimes gets lost in a memo.
Chrysler management and council are going to work hard to do a better job getting the message out. Recent examples are the come-to-market strategy that was announced for 2004. The company's leadership will come directly to the (eight) market centers to communicate with the dealer body.
Are Chrysler-Jeep dealers satisifed?
There is some concern after a not-so-great showing in 2003. I think as the new product arrives, coupled with a better economy, that dealer satisfaction will improve. I believe that we have a don't-tell-me, show-me mentality.
Are Chrysler-Jeep dealers making mo-ney on new-car sales?
New-car-department profitability is a big concern in all domestic franchises. It is becoming even more important as quality improves and service and parts revenue diminishes.
We need to be much more successful in the car part of the business, to get our throughput to competitive levels similar to the successful imports. I think it's a more complicated situation than volume. We need to address margins in general to have new-department profitability.