Finally, some movement at Chrysler.
After nearly a year of taking a hard line with rejected dealerships, Chrysler Group changed course last week and offered to reinstate 50 stores.
The company also said it will enter settlement talks with an unspecified number of rejected dealerships and disclosed that 36 already have been reinstated nationwide.
One thing hasn't changed, though. Chrysler still favors dealerships that sell all four of its brands: Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and the recently added Ram truck brand. All 50 offers of reinstatement are to stores selling all those brands.
But despite the actions by Chrysler, problems remain.
Dealer lawyers say Chrysler hasn't budged in its approach to arbitration -- for example, demanding that arbitrating dealers sign confidentiality agreements blocking them from sharing Chrysler information with other dealers.
One dealer who received a call from a Chrysler official saying a letter of intent for reinstatement was coming said he was taking a wait-and-see attitude.
"We're looking at it with guarded optimism," said the dealer, who declined to be identified. He remains skeptical because Chrysler had given no previous indication it had any interest in bringing back any rejected dealerships.
A company spokesperson said Chrysler would continue to explore "mutually beneficial options outside arbitration" to settle with dealers who have filed for arbitration.
By offering to reinstate the 50, Chrysler reduced its arbitration caseload to 337, said a company spokesperson.
Ed Tonkin, chairman of the National Automobile Dealers Association, called Chrysler's intention to reinstate 50 dealerships "a move in the right direction." This, coupled with previous contracts awarded to 36 other closed dealerships, brings the total to 86 dealerships that could be reinstated.
In U.S. Bankruptcy Court last year, Chrysler canceled 789 dealerships.
"NADA views this as a good-faith effort and hopes that this carries forward in Chrysler's continuing settlement and arbitration discussions with the other terminated dealers," Tonkin said.