Editor's note: A chart accompanying an earlier version of this story (also on Page 8 of the Feb. 22 issue) incorrectly spelled the name of Steve Zanlunghi, newly appointed director of Chrysler's Mid-Atlantic Business Center.
Chrysler Group's new dealer council got a peek at some new advertising last week and was pleased to see messages focused more on selling cars.
Some dealers had been unhappy with recent ads geared toward brand-building, such as a Jeep spot that showed clocks but no Jeeps.
"We're beyond that," said Eric Nielsen, newly elected chairman of the Chrysler National Dealer Council and owner of Chrysler dealerships in Sussex and Rockaway, N.J.
The council saw new advertising for all four brands at meetings in Orlando after the National Automobile Dealers Association convention.
"The current stuff we're running now is good," Nielsen said. "I think it gets better with the stuff dealers were shown in Orlando."
The dealers met to elect new National Dealer Council officers, the first such elections in several years after two tumultuous ownership changes and a bankruptcy. The dealers are adjusting to a new factory management style, a new leadership team and new ways of doing business from a company devoted more to brand-building than metal-moving.
The new advertising strategy is one of the biggest changes. Since Fiat S.p.A. management took over last June, and Chrysler parted ways with its longtime ad agency, BBDO, and hired new creative agencies for the Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and Ram truck brands.
But the dealer body faces other issues beyond ad messages.
Some dealers are struggling to get used to a new ordering system. Some say they're short of vehicles. Dealers now place orders for April production in February. Formerly, they would have ordered a month in advance.
Said Nielsen: "We could definitely use some more production.This company is committed to keeping supply down. It's a learning curve. We're used to calling that morning and by the end of the week we've got some cars. You're going to run a little skinny until you get used to their system."
Dealers also must get used to the fact that Chrysler won't be handing out hefty incentives. The company, for several years the biggest incentive spender, slashed its average incentive per vehicle from $4,291 in January 2009 to $3,061 in January 2010.
For the first time in several years, Chrysler has new leaders of the National Dealer Council. At the Orlando meeting, Nielsen was elected to a one-year term as chairman. Alfred Flores, dealer principal at Spring Chrysler-Jeep-Dodge-Ram in Spring, Texas, is vice chairman; and David Kelleher, owner of two Chrysler dealerships in Philadelphia, was elected secretary.
Nielsen's term is scheduled to expire next year at the NADA convention. Flores will step up to chairman, Kelleher will become vice chairman, and a new secretary will be elected.
But a Chrysler spokesperson said the bylaws still could change.
The annual election marks a change from the past several years, when Chrysler kept the council in place to counter turmoil at the company. Daimler sold Chrysler to Cerberus Capital Management in 2007. Then Chrysler slid into a government-sponsored bankruptcy, and Fiat took a controlling stake last June.
Chrysler also recently shuffled executives in several of its regional business centers.