TURIN, Italy -- CEO Sergio Marchionne is willing to meet with Chrysler Group's surviving dealers as he strives to rebuild confidence in the automaker's turnaround effort.
"I'd be lying if I told you that the American consumer thinks that Chrysler is completely out of the woods and that it deserves a second chance," Marchionne said in an interview here.
Despite recent weak sales, Marchionne said, Chrysler's surviving dealers emerged from the company's bankruptcy in surprisingly good financial condition.
"The dealers that have been retained have actually fared relatively well, even during the bankruptcy period," he said.
"If you look at the operating margin and the return on equity that these dealers have had on the average, pre- and during bankruptcy and even now, you would be impressed. I am confident that they will be able to go forward and continue to perform well."
Chrysler dealers are healthier than Fiat dealers were when Marchionne took over Fiat Group in 2004, Marchionne said.
"A very methodical approach" rebuilt consumer confidence in Fiat, he said. At Chrysler, Marchionne said, his emphasis on building distinct and compelling brands will help.
Marchionne has met with dealer council members and addressed dealers in a taped August Webcast, where he took no questions. He made no promises but said: "I have absolutely no objection to bringing all the dealers together. The only question that we have to answer is whether it's effective or whether it's needed.
"It is something in which the whole management team needs to engage. I will be part of that process, but I alone will not be able to put all their issues to bed."
As for the 789 dealerships cut in U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Marchionne said: "The future could not have supported such a distribution network. That decision is irrefutable, and I think that it was done on equitable grounds."
Bradford Wernle contributed to this report