For 16 months, Chrysler Group dealers waited for face time with CEO Sergio Marchionne. When it finally happened last week, many said Marchionne -- quoting Dickens and Einstein and calling passionately for a Chrysler rebirth -- gave them confidence in their company and its leader.
Speaking to dealers as "chief executive to chief executive, because that is what you are," he called for a healing process within the company and said Chrysler must regenerate its tarnished greatness and reconnect to "the heart of the market."
Marchionne, who took control of Chrysler in mid-2009, spoke to a crowd of about 4,000, made up of dealers and their associates, at Chrysler's National Dealer Announcement Show in Orlando.
Reaction was enthusiastic -- in part because Marchionne and his brand bosses unveiled some tantalizing new products, such as a mid-sized sedan called the Chrysler 200, a reborn Dodge Viper and a possible Jeep pickup.
In a speech that was by turns solemn, philosophical and hilarious, he called on dealers to rally behind his team and the 17 vehicles Chrysler showed them.
He said Chrysler is financially healthy and is on track to post a $5 billion operating profit on sales of 2.8 million units by 2014. Last year, Chrysler sold 1.3 million units worldwide.
He acknowledged that many had waited a long time to hear news from the company. The last dealer announcement show, for example, was in Las Vegas in 2007, when Chrysler was owned by Cerberus Capital Management.
"We have traveled a long road since Las Vegas. A lot of that road was uncertain, uneven, unpleasant and left all of us with a deeply felt sense of discomfort. It left no clear direction as to the future," Marchionne said.
He called for a healing process with dealers, many of whom had been bruised by the financial crisis of 2009 and the company's rejection of 789 of their colleagues via bankruptcy.
"We know that the healing process goes beyond the relationship between Chrysler and its dealer body. What is ultimately needed is a reconnection to the heart of the market, of the brands to their customers," he said.